Anxiety and worry can be part of a child’s normal growth, keeping them safe from potentially harmful situations. Children and adolescents with generalized anxiety disorder, however, can’t turn off these feelings. If your child is experiencing emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety, contact us to schedule an assessment with mental health professional.
What Is General Anxiety Disorder?
Worry, fear, and anxiety are a part of life for all of us, including adolescents. It’s typical for teens to have concerns about work, school, friends, or family. But when severe anxiety interferes with everyday life, it’s a sign that there may be a more serious problem.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive, frequent and uncontrollable worry about events or situations. People with GAD live in a constant state of fear, worry and dread. Their anxiety is ever-present and interferes with daily activities and interactions.
When left untreated, anxiety disorder in children can progress to adolescence and adulthood. GAD can impact a child’s ability to live a normal life. Severe anxiety can cause children and teens to fall behind in school or work, and struggle in relationships with friends and family members.
GAD is one of many several anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and various phobia-related disorders. Without intervention and treatment, these disorders will worsen over time. Adolescents diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder tend to worry about a wide range of things, from natural disasters and the health of family members to their performance in academics or in extracurricular activities.
Symptoms of Teen General Anxiety Disorder
Children and adolescents with GAD experience excessive anxiety and unwarranted worry that doesn’t subside over a short period of time. Children and adolescents with GAD are often extremely self-critical and avoid activities in which they feel they may not perform perfectly. They are often self-conscious and need constant reassurance from parents or caregivers, teachers, and other adult figures about their performance.
A diagnosis of teen generalized anxiety disorder would be appropriate if the adolescent finds it difficult to control worry more days than not for at least six months, and they are experiencing three or more anxiety symptoms. Children and adolescents with GAD may experience symptoms that include:
- Feeling restless, nervous or on edge
- Inability to control feelings of worry and anxiety
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Sensation of impending danger or panic
- Feeling dread or doom
- Extreme anxiety about school, work, family, or other issues
- Trouble sleeping
Emotional signs of GAD can lead to physical symptoms in children and adolescents that may include:
- Being easily startled
- Rapid heartbeat, sweating and/or trembling
- Difficulty breathing (hyperventilation)
- Headaches, muscle tension or aches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains
- Problems with memory
- Nausea, stomach pain
- Gastrointestinal problems
Is GAD Common in Children and Teens?
Anxiety has becoming more and more common among young people in the last few years. About 1 in 10 children and adolescents is diagnosed with anxiety—an increase of 27 percent since 2016. In addition, anxiety mental disorders affect women at a greater rate than men. Because of the high prevalence of and multiple problems associated with untreated anxiety, experts recommend routine anxiety screenings for women and girls aged 13 and older.
GAD most commonly occurs alongside other mood and anxiety disorders, including major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, children and teens with GAD often experience accompanying chronic conditions like migraines, gastrointestinal pain, or backaches, which can lead to many healthcare visits and missed school or work.
H2 Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Adolescents
Both biological and environmental factors are known to cause GAD in teens.
Genetics: A recent study found that children of parents with GAD have about a 30 percent chance of inheriting the disorder.
Childhood trauma: Researchers have also found that external factors, such as experiencing a traumatic event in childhood or being exposed to a stressful environment, put children and adolescents at higher risk for developing anxiety disorders like GAD.
Collective trauma: The impact of collective trauma was substantiated during the COVID-19 pandemic. A study conducted during the first year of the pandemic revealed that, globally, 19 percent of children and adolescents experience clinically significant anxiety.
Common Worries of Adolescents with GAD
Adolescence is a time of change and growth, making it a difficult time in life for some. Hormonal and physical changes are happening at a rapid pace. More peer pressure, comparison and competition, and constant exposure to social media can all contribute to increased anxiety. Common themes among anxiety disorders in children and adolescents include excessive anxiety and worry about things such as:
- Physical appearance
- Living up to parents’ expectations (achievements, awards, grades)
- Past behaviors or embarrassing events
- Future events
- Being accepted by peers
- Family dynamics, issues
- Perceived shortcomings
What’s the Difference Between Normal Teen Anxiety and GAD?
The main difference between being anxious and a teen anxiety disorder is the severity and frequency of the symptoms. Children and adolescents with GAD worry about the same things as their peers who do not have an anxiety disorder.
But teens with GAD are significantly distressed about everything and have no control over their anxiety. Furthermore, the anxiety interferes with their everyday lives. Teens with frequent anxiety find it difficult to relax, concentrate, or calm themselves, whereas an adolescent with normal levels of anxiety can reduce their anxiety on their own.
How to Help a Teen with Anxiety
Parenting a teen with anxiety can be difficult. But parents can play a critical role in their child’s treatment by providing support and understanding. Here are some ways you can support your child or adolescent with GAD:
- Educate yourself. Learn about anxiety disorder in children to gain a sense of empathy and understanding for what your teen is experiencing.
- Provide reassurance that nearly all children worry from time to time, but the worry they are feeling is more intense than what the situation calls for.
- Be a good listener. The more you engage in conversation with your child, the more they will open up about stressors they may be experiencing at school or online. Bullying, both in person and on social media, is a serious problem that could be a key contributor to the anxiety.
- If your child is struggling in school, let educators know about your child’s diagnosis and how they can best to support their needs at school.
- Find support from local community services. Talking with other parents who have a child with GAD may be helpful.
When to Seek Help for Teen Anxiety Disorders
If your child is experiencing severe anxiety symptoms, has difficulty paying attention, and voices physical complaints like frequent stomachaches, headaches, or fatigue, consult a qualified mental health professional for an assessment. Your child could be suffering with a mental health condition that is highly treatable.
Childhood anxiety can worsen and progress into adulthood without intervention. Untreated, GAD can lead to chronic illness and early onset of GAD is linked with greater risk for developing other anxiety and depressive disorders later in life. A child psychiatrist or other clinician can determine the best course of action to get your child on the path to healing.
Treatment for Teen General Anxiety Disorder at Newport Academy
We provide a full continuum of care at Newport Academy to address adolescent mental health conditions, including teen residential treatment centers, a full suite of outpatient programming, telehealth, and alumni programming. Our residential and Partial Hospitalization Programs include an academic component in addition to clinical programming.
Each teen’s treatment plan includes a variety of modalities to address their specific needs. Long-term healing from teen anxiety often requires a combination of medication and psychotherapy, with the guidance of a team of experienced behavioral healthcare professionals. Our staff includes a variety of medical and clinical specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, family therapists, registered dieticians, and nurse practitioners.
Additionally, our clinical model includes experiential therapy programs, in which therapists utilize activities and creative outlets as a way of building a deeper connection with teens. Ultimately, our teen treatment for generalized anxiety uncovers and heals root causes and help teens build the confidence and self-regulation needed to overcome anxiety.
Our Therapeutic Modalities for Anxiety
Each teen will take part in regular sessions with an individual therapist, as well as family therapy sessions and group therapy. Participating in therapy with peers who also struggle with anxiety helps teen realize that they are not alone and that positive change is possible.
Below are some of the generalized anxiety disorder treatment approaches used at Newport Academy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is considered the most effective modality for teen anxiety disorders, including GAD. During regular CBT sessions, therapists help teens build skills to challenge and change unhelpful thought and behavior patterns and replace them with new, more realistic thoughts.
Psychiatric Care and Medication Management
A comprehensive assessment of your teen at intake will include recommendations for medication to treat GAD, if needed. Some antidepressant medications, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) have shown success in helping teens reduce excessive anxiety.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy
For teens who have GAD in addition to OCD, exposure to the triggers that cause overwhelming fear and anxiety is often the best way to break the cycle of avoidance. ERP, paired with mindfulness activities, gives teens the tools to manage their anxiety and over time weaken their association between feared objects, activities, or situations.
Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT)
Children and adolescent treatment for GAD will include ABFT. Family involvement in adolescent GAD treatment is a critical piece of each teen’s treatment plan. ABFT helps restore trust and connection within the family unit. Building trust within the family ensures teens get the extra support and understanding they need during times of extreme anxiety.
Newport Academy offers a wide array of experiential therapies. These sessions use music, art, and other recreational activities to support teens to overcome challenges, build self-esteem, and grow their connection with peers. Depending on location, we offer Adventure Therapy, art and music therapy, yoga and meditation, and other physical modalities, like Mixed Martial Arts.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT for generalized anxiety disorder helps teens learn to accept their thoughts without trying to alter or reduce them. It also teaches teens with anxiety to focus on the present situation, take note of their surroundings, and take action on their values rather than letting the anxiety control their decisions.
Insurances We Accept
Our Team of Medical and Clinical Experts
At Newport Academy, teen social anxiety treatment is delivered by a team of experts with a range of clinical and medical expertise that is unparalleled in the behavioral health industry. Clients’ treatment teams include psychiatrists, family therapists, nurse practitioners, counselors, art therapists, music therapists, adventure therapists, registered dietitians, teachers and tutors, and more.
By combining their talents and areas of expertise—medical, psychiatric, clinical, experiential, and academic—our treatment teams create transformative care experiences with long-lasting impacts. In addition, every teen’s treatment plan is informed by research, including our own treatment outcomes studies, which show that our programming creates significant improvements in teen anxiety in a matter of weeks.
Newport holds the Gold Seal of Approval® from The Joint Commission, the nation’s oldest and largest healthcare accrediting body, and is affiliated with a wide range of national organizations and certification bodies.
Get Started Today
To find out more about how we treat social anxiety in teens, contact us today. We provide teen mental health assessments at no charge, either in person or virtually.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the symptoms of GAD in adolescence?
Adolescents with GAD experience excessive and uncontrollable worry and anxiety that is disproportionate to the situation. Younger children and adolescents with GAD may worry excessively about their performance in academics or sports, their own safety and the safety of family members, or natural disasters and future events.
Can someone with GAD live a normal life?
GAD typically doesn’t go away on its own. When untreated, it can lead to comorbid psychiatric disorders like depression and substance use disorder. With treatment from a mental health professional, people with GAD can begin to control severe anxiety, stop avoidance behavior, and live a full and a meaningful life.
Is there a trigger for teen GAD?
There is not one specific trigger for GAD in adolescents. For some, the thought of tackling each day produces anxiety. But for others, specific places or events may trigger a response. This is why teens with GAD often try to control situations or avoid them altogether.
What can be misdiagnosed as GAD?
Because GAD can be accompanied by physical symptoms like gastrointestinal issues, sleep problems, rapid heart rate and nausea, diagnosis can be difficult. Medical professionals will often rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and sleep apnea.