Anxiety has become the most common mental health disorder in the country, and unfortunately, it does not only affect adults. According to the National Institute of Mental health, almost 32% of adolescents have an anxiety disorder. However, the troubling part of this statistic is that anxiety is only becoming more prevalent as the years go on, increasing 20% since 2007. So why are anxiety disorders in teens on the rise?
What is Anxiety?
First, what is anxiety exactly? When your body perceives stress and threat, physical and psychological changes occur in your body. These changes happen with the activation of the fight or flight response that humans and animals alike experience. This response allows us to escape or fight danger. Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress and threat. So why is this a problem?
The problem with anxiety for many people is that it never turns off. For most people, their body has a stress response that comes and goes in reaction to perceived present threats. Anxiety that doesn’t turn off anticipates potential threats – it is a fear of the future. When you perceive a threat, your body reacts the same, whether it is a physical or psychological threat. And if you’re always afraid of something in the future, you may be living in a chronic state of anxiety.
9 Possible Reasons Anxiety Disorders in Teens is On the Rise
There are many reasons that contribute to the rise of anxiety disorders in teens. Research shows anxiety disorders come from a combination of factors. Here are a few factors to consider:
1. Biological factors, such as temperament, genetics, brain chemistry, and puberty
Biological factors alone do not cause anxiety; however, it can make us more vulnerable. Here are some ways this happens:
- A recent study on stress in rhesus monkeys by Dr. Ned Kalin, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered genetically inherited overactivity in three brain regions may cause someone to be more vulnerable to developing anxiety.
- Another biological factor to consider is temperament, with those having more sensitive temperaments being more vulnerable because they experience anxiety symptoms with higher intensity, frequency, and duration than those less sensitive.
- Hormonal, mental, and physical changes associated with puberty may also leave teens vulnerable to anxiety.
2. Personality type
There is growing evidence that shows a correlation with childhood personality styles and anxiety, specifically the behavioral inhibition (BI) personality type. People with behavioral inhibition tend to be nervous, fearful, or distressed in new situations. For children, this is seen as shyness and withdrawal from new people or places.
A BI personality type isn’t a guarantee that anxiety will develop and the idea that it could is still relatively new. However, studies suggest it could be an indicator to help enable earlier treatment. Learn more about the link between behavioral inhibition and anxiety here.
3. Stressful and traumatic life events
Some studies have shown a link with stressful life events and worsening anxiety symptoms, specifically events related to health and family discord having the most substantial effect. Stressful and traumatic life events may lead to anxiety by causing an individual to become more self-focused on bodily sensations, experiencing anxiety more acutely, thus associating anxiety symptoms with negative consequences.
So, it isn’t necessarily the stressful situation itself, but how it is interpreted and internalized by the person who experiences it that may lead to anxiety symptoms. Research has also associated a decreased in perceived quality of life with an increase in anxiety symptoms.
Related Reading: Can Childhood Trauma Cause Anxiety? Yes, and Here’s How
4. High expectations
Anxiety occurs throughout all demographics, including those disadvantaged and privileged. However, according to Suniya Luther of Arizona State University, privileged teens are amongst the most distressed.
“These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,” she said. Still, there’s “contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting … there’s always one more activity, one more AP class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”
It is not just high standards and expectations of parents that may be causing anxiety disorders in teens. Many teens internally put the pressure on themselves. According to an annual survey by Higher Education Research, 41% of incoming first-year college students surveyed expressed feeling overwhelmed by all they have to do; that is a 13% increase when compared to 2000.
5. Social media
Today’s teens live in a world where they grew up with technology, so naturally, they are always connected to it and social media. Interestingly, the sharp rise in anxiety among teens correlates to the advent of Facebook, MySpace, and other social media popular with teens. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why large amounts of social media exposure are detrimental to mental health, and for some, it can make anxiety symptoms worse. Here’s how:
- Teens who overuse social media can develop skewed views of their life and worldview based on the posts they see. It’s hard not to compare yourself to the posts of others on social media.
- Those who spend lots of time on social media can have lower self-esteem, weaker friendships, and an increased risk of stress, depression, and internet addiction.
- Social sites create an unrealistic expectation of what is typical in life and can spark feelings of inadequacy. It creates a perception that you are somehow deficient because you don’t have a partner, the perfect job, an exciting experience, fun new clothes or toys, etc.
- Social media can be captivating, absorbing much of your time without realizing it. Staying up late using social media can lead to poor sleep habits, and lack of sleep can worsen anxiety.
Related Reading: 12 Ways to Practice Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety
6. Lack of the right support
Additionally, parents may not know how to find the balance between challenging their teen’s anxiety and overdoing it. That is, encouraging their anxious teen to challenge fears but not push so far as to cause a panic attack.
7. Ever-present fear lacing everything
With the prevalence of information and the ability to spread news quickly, our world is looking scarier and scarier for many teens. And few things sell better than fear in the world of media. Whether it’s politics, the environment or climate concerns, what we put in and on our bodies, the media is filled more with stories of what’s wrong than what’s right.
While the data is mixed on whether public shootings and terrorist attacks are increasing, the 24 hour news cycle makes it feel like it is. And teens are fully aware it happens – at places they frequent like schools and movie theaters. Many teens wonder if it’s safe to go to these places.
8. An anxious nation
According to the WHO’s Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders Global Health Estimates report released in 2017, America has a higher prevalence of anxiety disorders compared to other countries around the globe. With this in mind, are we inadvertently teaching our children to be just as anxious as we are?
Children look to parents, caregivers, and role models as examples of how to act, with evidence showing children of anxious parents are more likely to show anxiety themselves as a result of genetic risk factors and learned behaviors.
But if you’re a parent, don’t lay on the self-blame quite yet. Learning to manage anxiety and stress will not only help you, but will also model appropriate coping strategies and behavior to your child. Consider reaching out to a mental health professional for depression or anxiety therapy to learn how to manage your anxiety successfully.
9. Increased awareness of anxiety
In modern society, good mental health is a goal. And when that is the standard, we may just be noticing and discussing anxiety more.
It’s Not Just One Thing
Anxiety disorders develop through a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors, with no one element causing anxiety. However, whatever the reason for the rise of anxiety disorders in teens, it is a real and severe issue that needs to be addressed. Why? Because it can lead to more serious mental health problems, like substance abuse and suicide. Anxiety can also manifest physically, causing issues like headaches, chronic pain, digestive issues, and heart disease later in life.
Related Reading: 10 Strategies for Dealing with Depression and Anxiety Without Meds
If you are noticing signs of anxiety in your teen, or have concerns that he or she may suffer from anxiety, reach out to a mental health counselor. Currently, 80% of kids with anxiety disorders are not getting the treatment they need, even though anxiety is very treatable!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety. Our counselors at Life Care Wellness can help you learn what is causing your anxiety and how to work beyond the fear. It is one of the most treatable mental health disorders – let us help. Call Life Care Wellness at (630) 423-5935 to schedule an appointment at either our Glen Ellyn or Chicago (Jefferson Park) office.