Could it be anxiety or is it something else? 

Now that school is underway is this just normal emotionality in response to academics or is it more?

What is going on with your teen? Why are they behaving in this *fun* new way?

Perhaps you have noticed they are more on edge. Or they are becoming withdrawn or acting out. Maybe their eating, sleeping, or social habits have changed. 

Something seems amiss and your connection with them is starting to wobble a bit. 

Of course you want to get back on track with them. Read on to learn more about the experience of anxiety in teens.

Anxiety is a perfectly normal and healthy response to a situation that seems insurmountable. When we don’t feel we have the tools or ability to cope with something difficult, we experience tension in our body and racing thoughts in our head that scream “Oh no!! How will I handle this?” Anxiety is our body saying there is danger ahead and we need to know what to do about it, and fast!
Anxiety isn’t exactly what we see in movies: it doesn’t have to be heavy breathing into a paper bag, or having a crying fit, or shaking. Anxiety can be quiet and unassuming. 

  • Your teen staying in their room more or declining to go to social events they used to enjoy
  • Talking back more, raising their voice to tones that seem more frantic or annoyed when they speak with you
  • Short answers to questions, or a lot of “whatever”, “nothing”, or “it’s fine”
  • Statements like “why do you even care?” Or “get off my back” or “leave me alone”
  • It can look like more sensitive emotions – perhaps they cry more easily, or get upset more quickly
  • They may be spending increased time in front of the TV, phone, or video games

The first step in helping them is to understand exactly what they are feeling. 
When you understand their experiences and what it is really like for them, you can better support them. Sometimes we make assumptions about what they are going through, and our solutions as a result miss the mark. Knowing what they are feeling helps you know what to do, what to say, and what resources or interventions will be most appropriate for them. 
Here is what anxiety can feel like for a teen:


It is a genuine sense of being scared or on edge that something truly bad is going to happen, but you don’t know what or when. You just have a deep sense that at some point soon you are going to feel the worst feelings you have ever felt and that you will be trapped in those feelings forever. 


Why trapped? Because anxiety also says there is no solution. Anxiety says “this won’t work” “this is going to end badly” “I’m going to experience great pain, humiliation, disappointment, or loss” and it is going to be awful and there will be no way to cope or make it better. It is being truly truly convinced of a negative outcome and a genuine belief that positive alternatives aren’t possible!
It says I can’t do this, no matter what I try, I will not get through this, there is no one who can help me, I am alone. And these feelings will never go away or get better. Anxiety says there is no hope. 


As you can see, this is a terrifying place to be. As parents we want to take away their pain and suffering by offering them logical solutions. But solutions don’t work. Why? Because solutions are practical. And teens and teens are in an emotional state, not a practical one. Therefore the support we need to offer needs to first tend to their emotional state.