Does my teen have anxiety? : What to look for and how to help

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Many teens are struggling with high levels of anxiety without anyone knowing. You might wonder how this is possible. Teens are experts in hiding their true thoughts and feelings. Additionally, anxiety can be difficult to notice as there is no “one shoe fits all” definition. Anxiety does not discriminate. However, it is important to learn about potential symptoms, so that you can provide the appropriate support to a teen who might be struggling. You might notice your teen spending hours on their phone daily, an increased focus on external appearance, the constant need to perform well at school or in sports, avoidance, or difficulty making friends.

3 Symptoms of Anxiety in Teens:

1. Withdrawing from Social Situations

Always available on their phone, responding to messages, snapchats and dm’s, scrolling through the instagram feed and up to date on the newest reels and tiktoks. Yet, not fully present when hanging out with friends or family. Concentration is lacking and avoidance observed. Your teen is preoccupied with how others might perceive them. They do not want to be embarrassed or viewed as stupid. Withdrawing can be a way of coping with these worries.

2. Sensitivity to Criticism

Your teen worries about the way they look or what they wear. They fear not being “good enough” or liked. Hours spent studying to achieve straight A’s or feeling so overwhelmed that they avoid studying all together. Needing to be perfect in several areas of their lives can be apparent. Teens can become emotional or shut down, once they perceive feedback or interpret behavior as criticism.

3. Mood Swings

Your teen may be laughing and joking in one minute and crying in the next. You as a parent find it difficult to understand what is going on, or why their reaction is so intense. Hormonal changes are expected during this time of life, and so are mood swings. However, the combination of irritability, avoidance, fear and sensitivity can potentially indicate symptoms of anxiety.

How can you help your teen?

Be present.

In the midst of a hectic week, juggling homework, dinners, practices and school drop off, you might find yourself forgetting to be present in the now. Teens can find it challenging to feel seen, heard and understood. Not being present as a parent can contribute to this feeling of being overlooked. Let me guess, your teen has at one time or another said something along the lines of “you don’t understand what it’s like to be a teen”. So, how address this? Show them that you are present and open to understanding.

Ask questions.

Your teen is probably claiming that you ask too many questions; anything from whom they are hanging out with to how their grades are going. However, I encourage you to ask questions about how they are feeling. How you can support them. What they need from you as a parent. We all need to feel validated at times, and teens are no different.

See a counselor.

Sometimes symptoms of anxiety inflict on day-to-day activities, making it difficult to live life to the fullest. You might be noticing that your teen is presenting more of the symptoms discussed above, maybe your teen is refusing to talk to you, or maybe you have noticed self-harm and panic attacks. A counselor can help your teen understand anxiety better, find effective tools in dealing with symptoms and have someone - other than a parent or a friend - to talk to.

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Mari Eik, LPC Associate

Mari is passionate about building connections with the individuals and families she serves. She enjoys working with children, teens and young adults, addressing anxiety, grief, trauma, parenting, depression, life transitions and interpersonal conflict. When working with your child, Mari will invite them to express themselves through play to process conflict, big emotions and for them to make sense of the abstract world we adults navigate. For older children, she will utilize various techniques to best meet your child’s needs. This modality consists of traditional “talk therapy”, as well as creative interventions and movement.

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