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Young Adult and Teen Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is as serious as it is common, with rates of anxiety among young people doubling in recent years.

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What is anxiety? 

We all experience feelings of worry, fear, or stress from time to time. Schools, schedules, and socializing can sometimes feel overwhelming. But if these feelings begin to interfere with your everyday life, work performance, grades at school, or relationships with friends and families, you may have an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety disorders can keep you on permanent high alert, leaving you feeling panicked and anxious more often than not. Mentally, feelings of anxiety trigger a sense of dread and nervousness. Physically, anxiety can make your heart race, or make you sweat, shake, or feel dizzy with worry.

Luckily, anxiety disorders in teens and young adults are highly treatable with a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. If anxiety is starting to take over your life or you’re concerned about a loved one struggling with anxiety, a virtual intensive outpatient program could be an appropriate treatment option.

Teen girl in therapy online for anxiety

Signs & symptoms of anxiety in young adults and teens

When your body's fight-or-flight response is triggered, your body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Even if the danger isn't real, these hormones can trigger physical symptoms of anxiety. After the threat is gone, your body will usually return to normal. 

If you have an anxiety disorder, feelings of intense fear and danger can come up during times of normal, everyday stress.

While the signs and symptoms of anxiety are different for everyone, anxiety disorders often involve a combination of psychological and physical symptoms. Some of these include: 

  1. Feeling restless, wound-up, or on edge
  2. Struggling to concentrate
  3. Constantly feeling tired
  4. Getting sick all the time
  5. Aching muscles and other pains
  6. Trouble controlling your emotions
  7. Feeling overwhelmed

Causes of young adult and teen anxiety

The exact cause of anxiety is unknown, but research points to genetics, stress, and environment as potential factors.

Anxiety disorders can be inherited so having a family history of anxiety may increase your chances of developing it at some point in life. Other studies have found that certain genes might exacerbate feelings of anxiety or even cause an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety can also be the result of traumatic life events. For example, young people and teens who grew up in an abusive household face a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder later in life.

At Charlie Health, we utilize a combination of personalized groups, individual therapy, and family therapy to create holistic treatment plans for young adult and teen anxiety and other mental health issues.

Types of anxiety

There are several different types of anxiety, including:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD is the most commonly diagnosed form of anxiety disorders. It's characterized by frequent, intense feelings of worry, fear, and stress.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that's defined by frequent, unwanted thoughts (also known as obsessions) that cause people to engage in repetitive behaviors, or compulsions, that interfere with daily life.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is a specific form of anxiety. The official diagnosis requires that you’ve had at least two panic attacks and then spent at least a month afterwards worrying about having another one. 

Phobias

A phobia is an extreme fear of something. Read more about the dozens of different types of phobias and how they are related to anxiety disorders here

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” A PTSD diagnosis requires that symptoms related to the event last for longer than three months.

Separation anxiety disorder

Separation anxiety disorder is primarily associated with younger children, though it can affect teens and young adults as well. This type of anxiety disorder shows up when excess anxiety is induced when separated from a loved one (usually a parent). This anxiety is usually debilitating and seriously affects the person’s ability to function or socialize. 

Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder

As our Chief Clinical Officer has written, “Social phobia, now commonly known as social anxiety disorder, is a type of anxiety disorder defined by extreme fear or anxiety in social situations.” Some common social settings that may trigger social anxiety are restaurants or cafeterias, parties, public gyms, or public restrooms. 

Teen with anxiety with her hands on her head

Young adult and teen anxiety treatment

A combination of psychotherapy and medication is usually the most effective way to treat anxiety. While every person is different, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used form of therapy to help people navigate their anxiety. CBT helps young adults and teens recognize the thoughts and patterns that may be contributing to their mental health issues, including feelings of anxiety and/or panic. Once you can recognize the thoughts and behaviors that might be holding you back, your therapist can help you shift and reframe them.

There are a series of cognitive distortions that can exacerbate anxiety such as “should” thoughts (“I should be able to do everything on my to do list in one day no matter what”) or black and white thinking (“If I don’t finish everything on my to do list today, I am a failure.”) CBT directly addresses these distortions, among other issues that might be contributing to your anxiety. 

Medication for anxiety depends on your unique circumstances but may include antidepressants (SSRIs) or anti-anxiety medication (benzodiazepines). It’s important to talk to your primary care provider and other mental healthcare specialists to figure out which option works best for you. Charlie Health’s dedicated staff of clinicians and mental healthcare providers can help you find the right treatment option for your unique needs. 

Help for young adult and teen anxiety at Charlie Health

Whether you're experiencing occasional anxiety or living with intense anxiety symptoms, it's essential to seek professional help. Living with anxiety can feel unbearable and isolating, but it doesn't have to be.

At Charlie Health, we offer virtual intensive outpatient treatment for adolescents, young adults, and their families. Unlike traditional online mental health programs, our high acuity care program focuses on individual talk therapy, supported, and family therapy to provide comprehensive mental health support for mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders. Our supportive, masters-level therapists and providers are here to listen to your needs, help you explore your treatment options, and reconnect you with you.

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