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Key Driver of Teen Anxiety. What is the Main Catalyst?

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key driver of teen anxiety<

Why Do So Many Teens Suffer From Anxiety?

Anxiety is a stress response that plays a role in protecting us and alerting us to things that need our attention. Anxiety is a natural feeling teens all experience in response to various life events, such as taking an exam or meeting new friends at school. Most types of anxiety are based around a specific cause and can last for varying lengths of time but the anxious feeling usually passes.  However, anxiety disorders arise with excessive anxiety and related behavioral disturbances. According to a study reported by the National Institute of Mental Health:
  • An estimated 31.9% of adolescents had any anxiety disorder
  • 8.3% had severe impairment
  • Higher for females (38.0%) than for males (26.1%)
  • And only 7% of young people who need mental health help receive it
And the COVID-19 pandemic heightened anxiety in children and teens, with disruptions in their normal routines in school, family life, and relationships with peers. Primary drivers of teen anxiety include:
  • Parental expectations to perform well academically at school and get in to a good college or university (for some, but not all)
  • Ever-present social media driving FOMO (fear of missing out) in response to a constant flow of messages and notifications, many of which may prey on teenage social anxieties
  • Social pressure to fit in with the “right” groups
  • Concerns about body image, reinforced by social media such as TikTok and Instagram where there is a constant comparison to certain norms of ideal body types, especially for girls but also boys
  • Family dynamics in which instability in the home can cause worry or anxiety for teens
  • Future uncertainty for teens preoccupied with college or university, jobs, environment and the state of the world
Of these, parental expectations for academic achievement is arguably the key driver of teen anxiety.

What Makes Teen Anxiety So Special?

There are two key factors at play during this special period of adolescence:
  • Hormonal changes are a defining aspect of teenage growth and changes. Testosterone surges in boys and hormonal fluctuations with menstruation in girls can cause sudden shifts in mood and associated anxiety
  • Developing brains are the second-most important aspect contributing to teenage anxiety as full brain development doesn’t occur until the early to mid-twenties or later Uncertainty about how to fulfill expectations from home and school can be frustrating leading to anxiety
what causes teen anxiety

Causes of Teenager Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are most likely caused by a combination of environmental and biological factors. Anxiety tends to run in families, and is more common in girls than boys. The main causes of anxiety include:
  • High expectations from home and school with academics, sports, after-school activities, volunteering, social commitments and jobs mean teens have a full plate of concerns that may cause anxiety. Conforming or rebelling against their parents also brings with it anxiety as teens are sometimes caught on this rollercoaster. Combined with frequent lack of sufficient sleep, teens are sometimes caught up in a perfect storm of anxiety, unsure what to do, when and how
  • Identity formation and peer pressures to develop a unique personality and fit in socially can cause performance anxiety if teens don’t measure up to peer-defined standards, or social anxiety if they are shy and have difficulty making friends
  • Drinking and drugs are often commonly used by teens, despite knowing their parents will disapprove. Teens may feel conflicted about rebelling in this way, and anxious about their parents’ response and consequences. Worse, some may become addicted which only increases their anxiety about how to deal with this
  • Traumatic experiences or significant life changes, such as shootings and school lockdowns, moving, divorce, or loss of a loved one may cause anxiety for teenagers as they struggle to cope with these situations.
  • Other mental health conditions, particularly depression may develop in tandem with anxiety. Teens may not be aware of the symptoms and attempt to mask their depressed feelings, leading to a worsening of their health with repercussions at home and school

How to Know if My Teen Suffers From Anxiety

Knowing if your teen has an anxiety disorder can be challenging as it shares some symptoms with other mental health issues and doesn’t always have physical signs. Teens might keep their feelings to themselves making it hard to know what’s going on.  Sometimes anxiety can appear as stress or attention issues or other health problems. Each person expresses anxiety differently which may make a doctor’s diagnosis more difficult if they don’t know your teen. And things can change over a period of time. There are several different types of anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, and other specific phobias. Some children also have separation anxiety with fear and distress about being away from home. The three most common types of anxiety in children are separation anxiety, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety. Common behavioral symptoms of anxiety include:
  • Recurring fears and worries about routine aspects of life
  • Changes in behavior, such as irritability  
  • Avoiding activities, school, or social interactions
  • Dropping grades or school avoidance
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Substance use or other risky behaviors
  • Chronic physical complaints, such as fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches
Common physical symptoms include: Social Anxiety:
  • Blushing
  • Trembling
  • Stammering or stuttering
  • Sweating
  • Staring
  • Crying or throwing a tantrum
  • Freezing in place
  • Clinging to a peer or parent
  • Shrinking back to make oneself less noticeable
Panic Disorder:
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach distress
helping teens with anxiety in texas

How to Help Teens With Anxiety

  • Talk Openly: Provide a safe space where your teen will be comfortable talking. Share your own feelings and experience with anxiety in a non-judgmental way to express your observations and concerns. Listen attentively without interruption. Seek to understand above all so that your teen’s feelings and viewpoints may be validated
  • Stress Reduction: Encourage techniques your teen can use to lower their feelings of stress. These may include exercise, artistic expression, journalling, yoga or mindfulness meditation
  • Limit Screen Time: Discuss setting limits on screen time to reduce the negative impact of comparison culture on social media
  • Promote Self-Care: Look after yourself with balanced diet, exercise, adequate sleep and meditation. This will ground you better so you can help your teen without being reactive.
  • Professional Support: Professionally trained counselors such as we have at Clearfork Academy can help your teen and you address the issues and develop a supportive treatment plan if needed


National Institute of Mental Health. Any Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety in Children and Teens: A Parent’s Guide. 2024.

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