An anxious teen often has obsessive racing thoughts. That can be challenging for adolescents and parents alike, and lead to a variety of detrimental outcomes. A teenager with a restless mind needs positive and productive ways to channel their mental energy. Often, social interactions, family dynamics, and schoolwork are negatively affected by the constant racing thoughts that go hand in hand with an anxiety disorder.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen anxiety and racing thoughts are sometimes the result of not outgrowing the fears and worries characteristic of young children. In the majority of young people, childhood fears are left behind as perspective widens and awareness expands. But for teens with anxiety disorders, these fears are harder to shake.
The Challenge of a Restless Mind
Many teenagers are subject to daily anxiety and constant racing thoughts, making it a common problem for adolescents. Therefore, parents need to remind anxious teens that they are not alone and their experience is not shameful or unusual. Indeed, teens across the United States and around the world experience anxiety—regardless of economic status, ethnic background, or gender identity.
New statistics show that more than 30 percent of adolescents suffer from a diagnosable anxiety disorder, and some 80 percent of those never receive any form of treatment. Moreover, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found that children with untreated anxiety disorders are at higher risk of performing poorly in school, missing out on important social experiences, and engaging in substance abuse.
Using data from the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement, the National Institutes of Health estimate that the following statistics reflect the prevalence of teen anxiety in the United States in 2019:
- An estimated 31.9 percent of adolescents had an anxiety disorder.
- Of adolescents with an anxiety disorder, an estimated 8.3 percent had a severe impairment. (DSM-IV criteria were used to determine impairment.)
- The prevalence of an anxiety disorder among adolescents was higher for females (38 percent) than for males (26.1 percent).
The Various Types of Teen Anxiety Disorders
Several types of anxiety disorders affect young people nationwide. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the types of anxiety disorders affecting anxious teens in America include the following:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Social anxiety (fear of social situations and interactions)
- Specific phobias (fears about particular things or situations)
- Panic disorder (repetitive episodes of intense fear and panic)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (anxiety component in OCD behavior)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (anxiety component in PTSD Stress)
The Symptomology of Anxious Teens
A restless mind is evident when a parent comes face-to-face with a shaking teenager overcome by constant racing thoughts. However, there are other symptoms of anxiety that can help parents identify the disorder.
Below are 10 symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and other forms of anxiety.
- Trouble sleeping and nightmares when sleeping
- Feeling tired or exhausted a majority of the time
- Easily startled and scared by everyday phenomena
- Trembling or twitching for no apparent reason
- Physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches
- Isolating behavior, including refusal to leave a bedroom or the home
- Extreme fears about a specific thing or situation, like dogs or going to the doctor
- Fearful of social situations like parties or going to school
- Very worried about failing in the future and about bad things happening
- Feeling out of breath or lightheaded for no apparent reason
Early intervention can help teens with anxiety address the root causes of the problem, and learn coping skills for navigating everyday life.
Supporting Anxious Teens with Obsessive Racing Thoughts
As a result of the prevalence of teen anxiety disorders, a teenager with a restless mind is not the exception to the rule in any classroom or social situation. Since obsessive racing thoughts affect a young person’s academic and social performance, teachers and peers often tend to be aware of such difficulties. Thus, the issue extends beyond the family home.
Once they learn to recognize these signs of anxiety and fear, teachers, coaches, and other responsible adults can help teens get the help they need. Such support often prevents a challenge from becoming a full-fledged disorder.
Ultimately, an open line of communication and a supportive approach is most beneficial for an anxious teen.
Mindfulness Strategies to Calm a Restless Mind
There are all-natural tools that can support adolescents who are troubled by a restless mind. Enhancing mindfulness of thoughts and increasing awareness are significant first steps.
Here are six mindfulness strategies for addressing anxiety.
Staying in the Present
By staying in the present moment, through using breath and meditation practices, a teen can avoid drowning in worries about the past or future.
Trust the Process
For these tools to work effectively, a teen has to trust that they will work. Thus, a big part of this trust is a leap of faith that these tools will lessen their psychic pain.
Through mindfulness exercises, a teen learns to take a mental step back from the fearful thoughts and emotions.
Reducing the Need to Catastrophize
An anxious teen tends to turn almost everything into a potential catastrophe. Hence, a teen finds freedom by learning to place challenges in their proper context.
Setting the Critic Aside
Anxious teens tend to be their own worst critics. Through mindfulness, an anxious teen can come to understand that self-compassion is a more effective strategy for well-being.
Getting Out and Into Nature
Unplugging from electronic devices and connecting with the natural world is proven to help calm anxiety.
In summary, an adolescent who suffers from a restless mind has options for shifting the way they think. Furthermore, when obsessive thoughts stem from a potential anxiety disorder, assessment and treatment by a mental health professional is essential.
National Institute of Mental Health
National Institutes of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. 2018:47(2).