5 Types of Anxiety In Children And Teens

anxious girl studying

When the Child Mind Institute determined that anxiety disorders are the “most common mental health disorders of childhood and adolescence,” you might have wondered what defines an anxiety disorder. What are the symptoms? How are teens struggling?

Because of an anxiety disorder, teens might have difficulty socializing, behave unusually or awkwardly, struggle to learn or lack self-confidence. The damage to their school performance can be severe.

Recognizing signs of anxiety isn’t always easy, as symptoms vary and anxiety disorders range. But, five types of anxiety disorders commonly appear in teens.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder In Teens

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, involves persistent and intense worry about a wide assortment of issues. 

Teens with GAD might worry excessively about their performance in class or on schoolwork, situations at school or people they encounter in or outside of the school environment. They might also feel extremely anxious about the possibility of events, even if it is highly unlikely.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), those diagnosed with GAD have trouble controlling their anxiety for at least six months, and they have at least three symptoms.

Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Excessive need to plan for a future event
  • Excessive worry about a future event
  • Difficulty dealing with pressure
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Restlessness
  • Nervous when alone
  • Isolation

Separation Anxiety In Teens

Separation Anxiety Disorder emerges at an average age of nine or ten and is characterized by an older child or teen’s extreme fear of being apart from caregivers or other family members.

Contrary to the separation anxiety that typical toddlers experience, older children and teens with Separation Anxiety Disorder have a very difficult time calming down or controlling their anxiety while their caregiver is away. They might fear for their caregiver’s well being or have difficulty being distracted by another enjoyable activity. The disorder might even trigger a strong fear of sleeping alone, and so they will insist that a caregiver sleep in their room.

Older children and teens with Separation Anxiety Disorder can experience severe distress at the mere thought of leaving for school. Their anxiety might produce real physical pains, such as stomachaches, headaches, and dizziness, prompting parents to keep them at home. A vicious cycle of school refusal could ensue.

According to Stanford Children’s Health, older children and teens who show signs of Separation Anxiety Disorder should present symptoms for more than four weeks to be diagnosed.

Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Severe distress when apart from caregiver
  • Fear of sleeping without a caregiver
  • Nightmares about being alone
  • Frequent, unreasonable worry about the safety of family members and self
  • Excessive clinginess
  • School refusal

Social Anxiety Disorder In Teens

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) appears, on average, during adolescence. Teens with Social Anxiety Disorder, or SAD, feel deeply fearful of being “on display” in front of other people. 

In fact, ADAA says that “the defining feature of [SAD] is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated or rejected in a social or performance situation.”

Social situations, including class, extracurricular activities and time with friends can cause severe distress. Sometimes teens can even acknowledge that their anxieties are unreasonable, but they are unable to ease their worries or control their anxieties. They might try to avoid social situations as much as possible.

SAD can interfere with teens’ ability to participate in school, as they will often decline to answer questions in class or volunteer to complete exercises on the board. Socializing in the cafeteria or the hallways, even with friends, can be extremely difficult.

Symptoms of SAD include, but are not limited to:

  • Avoidance of social situations
  • School refusal
  • Extreme blushing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Isolation
  • Jitters

Panic Disorder In Teens (Panic Attacks)

Panic attacks are a sudden onslaught of severe, anxious, even crippling emotions, which might seem to occur for no reason at all. Attacks can last for minutes or hours. According to the ADAA, Panic Disorder is diagnosed when a child has at least two panic attacks, plus one month of excessive worry that another panic attack will occur.

Panic Disorder commonly develops during adolescence, although some children experience it, too. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry says that the intense fear of an impending panic attack can negatively impact teens’ daily lives.

Fearing that they could experience another attack, teens might avoid going out with friends, attending large events or even going to school. This can lead to further anxieties and mental health issues, such as agoraphobia, depression, or suicidal thoughts.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder include, but are not limited to:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Intense fear
  • Jitters
  • Extreme, unreasonable fear that something bad is about to happen or is happening

Sleep Anxiety In Children & Teens

Not surprisingly, anxiety disorders generally disrupt sleep patterns. For teens who are growing rapidly and notorious for odd sleep patterns, this is a troublesome complication. As teens stress over their anxieties, they might also stress that their anxieties cause them to lose sleep, which only furthers a terrible cycle of sleep deprivation.

Teens who spend their days suffering under the weight of intense anxiety usually have little success getting restful sleep at night. Anxiety can lead to several different sleep disorders. Intense stress and worry can make a person’s mind race, unable to quiet down and settle into sleep.

Sleep disturbances might include:

  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Panic attacks while sleeping
  • Night terrors

Recognizing Signs & Types Of Anxiety Disorders In Children & Teens

Overall, anxiety disorders can cause children and teens to fall behind in school and lose valuable time developing meaningful relationships. 

While diagnoses aren’t a one-size-fits-all process, parents and teachers can stay alert for some highly common signs of anxiety.

Learn More About Recognizing The Signs Of Anxiety