Teen Anxiety: What are the Signs?

by Don Laird, LPC, Contributing Writer, Luminari

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life. It can be a normal reaction to stress, and sometimes it helps us deal with overwhelming situations. For teens, things like speaking in front of a class, tests and exams, sports competitions, theater or music events, or even going out on a date can cause feelings of stress, worry and concern that manifest both physically and emotionally.

There are times, however, when anxiety extends beyond these typical responses to negatively impact relationships, participation in school activities, and even schoolwork itself. When feelings of anxiety interfere with daily living, it is time to take action. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 25% of teens may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder on an annual basis.

Teenagers are teenagers. They have teen problems. So spotting an anxiety disorder in contrast to what is the normal teenage struggle may be more difficult than spotting it in an adult.  However, do not write off warning signs as hormones or teen drama.  Here are a few red flags that may be markers for anxiety in your teen:

Mood or emotional changes

  • Irritability or easily upset
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Feeling “on edge”
  • Restlessness
  • Outbursts of anger

Social changes

Anxiety can negatively impact close friendships. If your teen suddenly avoids her or his favorite activities or friends, talk with them about it.

  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Avoiding activities that were once enjoyable
  • Isolating from friends and peers
  • Spending increased amounts of time alone

Physical changes, including sleep

Pay attention to patterns. A couple of headaches or stomach aches now and then or an occasional poor night’s sleep shouldn’t be cause for alarm, but frequent headaches or stomach aches without medical causes are a red flag for anxiety. Watch and listen for these common complaints:

  • Stomach problems
  • Recurrent headaches
  • Unexplained aches and pains with no medical cause
  • Constant and excessive fatigue
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Changes in appetite

Poor grades or academic performance

Understanding anxiety can impact everything from sleep to eating habits to missing school due to physical complaints or worried avoidance; it is no surprise that poor academic performance can also result from untreated anxiety.

  • Significant drop or jump in grades
  • Frequently missed assignments
  • Describes feeling overwhelmed by workload
  • Procrastinates on homework assignments

If your teen appears to be struggling with overwhelming anxiety that is interfering with school, friendships, family relationships, activities, or other areas of daily functioning, it’s important to get an evaluation from a licensed mental health professional. Anxiety is treatable and, in most cases, teens can learn to cope with and manage their anxiety without the use of medications.


About the author: Don Laird is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Nationally Certified Counselor with more than 16 years of experience in providing help to adults, teens, couples, and families who are struggling with a wide range of issues including but not limited to: anxiety, depression, self esteem and confidence. Don is a published author and adjunct professor who teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in professional counseling and psychology at Carlow University. Additionally, he facilitates workshops in the areas of dreams, self growth, and stress reduction.

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