Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety in Adolescents

Understanding Anxiety

Learn about anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives when they’re feeling stressed or go through something traumatic. And while everyday anxiety typically comes in waves, clinical anxiety occurs when those distressing feelings won’t break. When a person’s anxiety impairs their ability to function at work, school, or in relationships, it may be a sign of a deeper, underlying anxiety disorder.

There are numerous types of anxiety disorders that can impact your health and happiness:

Generalized anxiety disorder describes a person’s overall anxiety that cannot be pointed to a specific cause or event. Those with generalized anxiety disorder might feel a chronic sense of worry, trepidation, and sometimes panic over certain people, places, or events. Generalized anxiety disorder can prevent an individual from truly enjoying their day-to-day life.

Social anxiety disorder is a condition involving intense fear or worry over social interactions. Such fear over social exchanges can include meeting new people, attending a party or other function, or speaking in public. A person who has social anxiety is often afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of others, and will avoid meeting with people or going to events in order to alleviate their discomfort.

Separation anxiety disorder is usually, but not always, caused by a specific traumatic event that involved the loss of, separation with, or abandonment by a loved one. Someone with separation anxiety often struggles with the constant fear of losing a loved one. People experiencing separation anxiety typically believe that their loved one may be at risk of physical danger. This often results in the individual clinging tighter to the person they’re afraid of losing, which can damage healthy relationship boundaries and limit true intimacy.

Panic disorder is an overwhelming anxiety disorder characterized by chronic and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are abrupt episodes of intense fear and overwhelming anxiety, and they might come with chest tightness, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Panic attacks can come at any time and in any place, so they can greatly limit daily function and activities.

Specific phobia occurs when a person has a certain dread or fear of a specific object, person, or situation. Some phobias could be fear of heights, snakes, dentists, or even germs. A person with a phobia might do everything they can to avoid or suppress their fear, which can limit their ability to function in their daily life. Although everyone is afraid of something, someone with a diagnosed phobia has feelings of fear and discomfort disproportionate to the possible threat that the object or situation actually poses.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

There are certain symptoms that can help you determine if you live with an anxiety disorder. While the following disorders all fall within the category of “anxiety disorders,” their specific symptoms can vary. As such, some anxiety disorders will produce more physical symptoms than emotional symptoms. For example, someone who lives with a panic disorder may experience more physical symptoms, while someone who lives with social anxiety may exhibit more emotional symptoms. Please note that this list is not extensive or complete.

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms:

  • Restlessness (bouncing leg, shaking hands, cracking knuckles)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Sleeping too much
  • Muscle tension

Social anxiety disorder symptoms:

  • Avoiding social events or activities
  • Canceling social engagements
  • Refusing to leave your house or neighborhood
  • Avoiding other people
  • Dodging conversations
  • Having intense panic or dread before meeting people, attending parties, or having conversations

Separation anxiety disorder symptoms:

  • Refusing to be alone
  • Denying relationship problems for fear of being left or “abandoned”
  • Clinginess, either physically or emotionally
  • Irrational worrying or “catastrophizing”
  • Complaints of frequent stomach aches
  • Panic attacks before being left alone, even if temporarily
  • Nightmares about separation
    • Note: Some people who suffer from separation anxiety experience headaches, nausea, or stomach problems such as vomiting when they know their loved one is about to leave or has already left.

Panic disorder symptoms:

  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Shortness of breath or the inability to inhale a full breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Crying

Specific phobia symptoms:

  • Avoidance of certain objects, people, or situations
  • Instant and intense fear when put in contact with feared object, person, or situation
    • Note: Some physical responses a person may experience when put in contact with the object of their phobia include increased heart rate, rise in blood pressure, chest tightness, shortness of breath, inability to move, dizziness, and crying.


Effects of anxiety

Short-Term EffectsIf left untreated, those with anxiety disorders can suffer various short-term effects. These short-term effects can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Inability to complete basic self-care tasks, such as eating, running errands, and completing chores and/or cleaning
  • Neglect of personal hygiene, such as bathing, brushing teeth, and grooming
  • Conflict with friends, family members, and/or coworkers
  • Isolation or withdrawal from family or friends
  • Difficulty concentrating at work, school, or home
  • Job loss
  • Financial difficulties
  • Decline in happiness and sense of wholeness or wellbeing
  • Drug and alcohol experimentation
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or actions

Please note that the above short-term effects for anxiety disorders can vary according to the individual. Be aware that just because the effects are deemed “short-term” does not mean that they will necessarily go away or are not worthy of treatment. Anyone who experiences any effects of anxiety disorders should seek professional treatment.

Long-Term Effects: If further left untreated, those with anxiety disorders may experience from more long-term, or chronic, effects. These long-term effects can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Permanent loss of relationships
  • Inability to form new relationships or engage socially
  • Continual unemployment
  • Chronic financial problems
  • Overall feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, and/or hopelessness
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or actions

Please note that the above long-term effects for anxiety disorders can vary according to the individual. Anyone who experiences any of the effects of anxiety disorders should seek professional treatment.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for individuals with anxiety disorders to also experience a co-occurring disorder, or another mental illness at the same time. Furthermore, individuals may experience the symptoms of more than one anxiety disorder at a time. Some common co-occurring disorders of anxiety disorders include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance use disorder (addiction)

At Southstone Behavioral Health in South Boston, Virginia, adolescents who live with anxiety disorders learn the necessary skills to manage their anxiety and are equipped to build themselves a more enjoyable and sustainable future.