With all the rapid hormonal changes and genuine difficulties of growing from a child into an adult, it's often hard to tell if your teen is just going through a natural phase or struggling with a developing mental illness. It's especially difficult to separate the two when you're considering anxiety disorders. If your teen is starting to struggle with daily life and you're concerned that they may not be able to pull it together with your help alone, check for these five signs of anxiety so you can make an appointment with a psychiatrist early in the process.
Breakdowns in High Stress Situations
It's perfectly normal to feel nauseous or shaky when trying something new for the first time or preparing for a big exam. However, teens who completely breakdown in high stress situations might be suffering from panic attacks, a common component of numerous anxiety disorders. Symptoms of a panic attack include
- Overwhelming dread and fear
- A racing heart beat
- Fainting or near fainting
- Vomiting and diarrhea with no physical cause
- The undeniable need to flee the situation, regardless of the consequences.
If your teen bolts out of an exam or faints while trying to give a book report, they need immediate screening for anxiety disorders because panic attacks can greatly interfere with their studies and social life.
Withdrawal from Usual Activities
You don't need an in-depth report from your teen about how they feel to notice this sign of anxiety. Is your child canceling plans with friends and avoiding outings or events they used to look forward to for weeks? When anxiety interrupts the usual balance of emotions, the things a person once loved often become too painful to enjoy any longer. While it's not entirely unusual for a teen to withdraw after an embarrassment or fight with friends, that withdrawal period shouldn't last longer than a few weeks.
Your A+ student suddenly falls behind on their homework and can't seem to get above a C on tests. Unless they're acting out in other ways, there's a good chance the problem is due to anxiety interrupting their attempts to focus on studying. Many students working under a lot of pressure develop performance anxiety as their workload increases, sabotaging their best efforts to stay at the head of the class. Lecturing them about the problem only intensifies the feelings further, causing your attempt at motivation or tough love to backfire.
Does your child clamp up completely and refuse to say a word in social settings with unfamiliar people? While it might just be shyness, selective mutism is an early indicator of social and generalized anxiety disorder. Many kids and teens with anxiety talk constantly with trusted friends and family members, then stay silent when exposed to any situation triggering their anxiety. The problem can keep your child from asking questions in class, standing up for themselves against a bully, or even getting a job if the problem continues into young adulthood.
Finally, pay close attention to complaints about feeling ill. Teens with anxiety often mistake their own anxiety issues for another health complaint due to physical symptoms that include
- Unusual fatigue and sleepiness
- Trouble sleeping, despite fatigue
- Aching joints and muscle pains that come and go at random
- Low appetite
- Uncontrollable sweating
- Headaches and upset stomachs, especially during situations that trigger high levels of anxiety.
With all the medications, types of therapy, and self-help techniques available to the anxious teen, there's no need to let a mental health problem interrupt your child's natural development. Of course, you must let a qualified psychiatrist or other health professional diagnose your teen instead of trying to decide what's bothering them just with a list of symptoms, but looking for the early warning signs is a good way to know you need an appointment with an adolescent psychiatry specialist.