9 Types of Anxiety Disorders Commonly Found in Teens

Anxiety Disorders that Commonly Affect Adolescents

Anxiety disorders can prevent teens from participating in activities. Ray Kachatorian/Getty Images

It’s normal for all teens to experience anxiety sometimes. Feeling nervous about going on a date, worrying about a big test or feeling afraid before giving a presentation are normal reactions. But, some teens experience more serious bouts of anxiety that interfere with their daily functioning.

Anxiety doesn’t become a diagnosable condition until it causes educational, social or occupational impairment.

A teen who stops going to school because he becomes too anxious to be around people or a teen who worries so much that she can’t concentrate in class, may have diagnosable anxiety disorders.

Just like there are several different types of depression that impact teens, there are also several different types of anxiety disorders that can appear during adolescence. Although teens experience similar symptoms as adults with anxiety disorders, there are times where symptoms present slightly different. 

1. Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety

An adjustment disorder occurs when someone has difficulty adjusting to a change in life circumstances. For example, a teen who moves to a new school and develops a lot of anxiety about going to school each day may have an adjustment disorder if it lasts for several months. A teen with an adjustment disorder may benefit from short-term therapy to help him cope with the changes he’s experiencing.

2. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder involves a persistent worry about a variety of things that lasts for at least six months. For example, a teen may worry about his health, natural disasters and failing all of his classes. The anxiety would need to cause problems, such as difficulty sleeping and difficulty concentrating before it would be considered to be an anxiety disorder.

The worry has to be out of proportion given the actual danger. Normal worry, such as worrying about a parent who has been diagnosed with a serious illness, wouldn’t constitute an anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety is often very treatable with therapy.

3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves unwanted and intrusive thoughts. These obsessions lead to compulsive ritualistic behaviors. Sometimes teens recognize that their OCD is irrational but other times, they think it makes complete sense. One common obsession includes a fear of germs and contamination. It can lead to compulsive hand washing. OCD may be treated with therapy, medication or a combination of both.

4. Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a condition where someone experiences out-of-the blue panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by emotional distress and physical symptoms of anxiety, such as an increased heart rate or dizziness. In severe cases, panic disorder leads to agoraphobia, a condition where people become too anxious to leave their homes.

5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur when a teen experiences a life-threatening or severely traumatic situation, such as a serious car accident. It causes flashbacks, nightmares and avoidance of anything that reminds the person of the trauma. It can get worse without treatment but with counseling, it’s usually very treatable.

6. Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder is most common in younger children, but it can also occur in teens. Teens with separation anxiety disorder experience extreme anxiety when separated from a caregiver. Sometimes children with separation anxiety can tolerate being away from a caregiver during the day but experience extreme anxiety if they try to spend the night away from home.

7. Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is sometimes referred to as social phobia. Teens with social anxiety disorder worry that other people are staring at them and judging them. As a result, they may have difficulty being in crowds or answering a question in front of the class. Treatment usually involves exposure therapy where teens slowly gain confidence in their ability to handle social situations.

8. Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is most common in younger children, but it can persist into the teen years. A teen with selective mutism is unable to speak in certain situations. For example, a teen with selective mutism may not speak at all at school but may speak with family at home normally. Therapy is usually the recommended treatment.

9. Specific Phobias

A specific phobia refers to an irrational fear of an object. A teen may experience a phobia about almost anything but common phobias include the fear of needles, insects or certain animals. Teens often do not see their fears as being irrational and don’t recognize that their reaction is extreme. Exposure therapy can help desensitize teens and relieve their symptoms.

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