Health And Wellness

9 Evidence-Based Reasons Why Anxiety Disorder In Teens Is On The Rise

Photo: - YuriArcurs, Younes Kraske | Canva
teenage girl with anxiety, crippled to the floor

Anxiety has become the most common mental health disorder in the country. Unfortunately, it does not only affect adults.

According to the National Institute Of Mental Health, almost 32 percent of adolescents have an anxiety disorder.

However, the troubling part of this statistic is that anxiety is only becoming more prevalent as the years go on, increasing by 20 percent since 2007.

So, why is anxiety in teens on the rise?

RELATED: How To Immediately Know If Your Teen Is Suffering From Anxiety — Or Just Stress

First, what is anxiety, exactly?

When your body perceives stress and threats, physical and psychological changes occur. These changes happen with the activation of the fight-or-flight response shared by humans and animals.

This response allows us to escape or fight danger. Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress and threat.

Why is this a problem among today's teenagers?

The problem with anxiety for many people is that it never turns off. For most people, their body has a stress response that comes and goes in reaction to perceived present threats.

Anxiety doesn’t turn off anticipated potential threats — it is a fear of the future.

When you perceive a threat, your body reacts, whether it is a physical or psychological threat. And if you're always afraid of something in the future, you might live in a chronic state of anxiety.

There are many reasons for the rise of anxiety disorders in teens. Research shows that anxiety disorders come from a combination of factors.

RELATED: The Simple Way To Tell If Your Child Has Anxiety (Or Is Just Stressed)

Here are 9 evidence-based reasons why anxiety disorder in teens is on the rise:

1. Biological factors like temperament, genetics, brain chemistry, and puberty

Biological factors alone do not cause anxiety, but these factors can make teens more vulnerable.

A recent study on stress in rhesus monkeys by Dr. Ned Kalin, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin—Madison discovered genetically inherited overactivity in three brain regions may cause someone to be more vulnerable to developing anxiety.

Another biological factor to consider is temperament, with those with more sensitive temperaments being more vulnerable. More sensitive teens experience anxiety with higher intensity, frequency, and duration.

Hormonal, mental, and physical changes associated with puberty may also leave adolescents vulnerable to anxiety.

2. Personality type

Growing evidence shows a correlation between childhood personality types and anxiety, specifically the behavioral inhibition (BI) personality type.

People with behavioral inhibition tend to be nervous, fearful, or distressed in new situations. For children, this is shyness and withdrawal from new people or places.

A BI personality type isn’t a guarantee anxiety will develop, and the idea it could is still relatively new. However, studies suggest it could be an indicator to help enable earlier treatment.

3. Stressful and traumatic life events

Some studies have shown a link between stressful life events and worsening anxiety symptoms, specifically events related to health and family discord having the most substantial effect.

Stressful and traumatic life events may lead to anxiety by causing an individual to become more self-focused on bodily sensations, so they experience anxiety more acutely. Thus, they associate anxiety symptoms with negative consequences.

So, it isn’t necessarily the stressful situation itself, but how it is interpreted and internalized by the person who experiences it may lead to anxiety symptoms.

Research associates the decrease in perceived quality of life with increases in anxiety symptoms.

4. High expectations

Anxiety occurs throughout all demographics, including those disadvantaged and privileged. Suniya Luther of Arizona State University states that privileged teens are among the most distressed.

"These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic," she said.

"Contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting ... there's always one more activity, one more AP class, one more thing to do to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they're not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse."

It is not just the high standards and expectations of parents that may be causing anxiety disorders in teens. Many teens internally put pressure on themselves.

According to an annual survey by Higher Education Research, 41 percent of incoming first-year college students surveyed expressed feeling overwhelmed by all they have to do — a 13 percent increase compared to 2000.

5. Social media

Today’s teens live in a world where they grew up with technology. So naturally, they are always connected to it and social media.

Interestingly, the sharp rise in anxiety among teens correlates to the advent of social media popularity among teens.

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why large amounts of social media exposure are detrimental to mental health. For some, it can make anxiety symptoms worse.

Teens who overuse social media can develop skewed views of their lives and worldviews based on the posts they see. It's hard not to compare yourself to the posts of others on social media.

Those who spend lots of time on social media can have lower self-esteem, weaker friendships, and an increased risk of stress, depression, and internet addiction.

Social sites create an unrealistic expectation of what is typical in life and can spark feelings of inadequacy. It creates a perception that you are somehow deficient because you don't have a partner, the perfect job, an exciting experience, fun new clothes or toys, etc.

Social media can be captivating, absorbing much of your time without realizing it. Staying up late using social media can lead to poor sleep habits, and lack of sleep can worsen anxiety.

RELATED: 9 Mental Health Apps That Can Help Kids & Teens With Anxiety & Depression

6. Lack of the right support

With the increasing awareness of anxiety disorders in teens, many organizations and groups are advocating awareness and working on connecting kids with the support they need. However, it’s not easy.

One issue teens may not understand is there isn't only one way to manage anxiety. They may become discouraged from seeking help if the first or second possible solution doesn't help.

Additionally, parents may not know how to balance challenging their teen’s anxiety and overdoing it. That is, encouraging their anxious teen to challenge fears but not push so far as to cause a panic attack.

7. Ever-present fear lacing everything

With the prevalence of information and the ability to spread news quickly, our world is looking scarier and scarier for many teens. And few things sell better than fear in the world of media.

Whether it’s politics, the environment, or climate concerns, what we put in and on our bodies, the media is filled more with stories of what’s wrong than right.

While the data is mixed on whether public shootings and terrorist attacks are increasing, the 24-hour news cycle makes it feel like it is.

And teens are fully aware it happens in places they frequent, like schools and movie theaters. Many teens wonder if it’s safe to go to these places.

8. An anxious nation

According to the WHO’s Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders Global Health Estimates report released in 2017, America has a higher prevalence of anxiety disorders compared to other countries around the globe.

With this in mind, are we inadvertently teaching our children to be as anxious as we are?

Children look to parents, caregivers, and role models as examples of how to act, with evidence showing children of anxious parents are more likely to show anxiety themselves because of genetic risk factors and learned behaviors.

But, if you’re a parent, don’t lay on the self-blame quite yet. Managing anxiety and stress will help you model appropriate coping strategies and behavior for your child.

Consider contacting a mental health professional for depression or anxiety therapy to learn how to manage your anxiety successfully.

9. Increased awareness of anxiety

In modern society, good mental health is a goal. And when that is the standard, we may be noticing anxiety more.

Anxiety disorders develop through a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors, with no one element causing anxiety.

However, whatever the reason for the rise of anxiety disorders in teens, it is a severe issue that needs to be addressed.

Why? Because it can lead to more serious mental health problems, like substance abuse and suicide. Anxiety can also manifest physically, causing headaches, chronic pain, digestive issues, and heart disease later in life.

Currently, 80 percent of kids with anxiety disorders are not getting the treatment they need, even though anxiety is very treatable!

So, if you notice signs of anxiety in your teen or have concerns that they may suffer from anxiety, reach out to a mental health counselor.

If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.

RELATED: 12 Ways To Help An Anxious Teen Practice Mindfulness

Stephanie Gutzmer, Au.D., E-RYT is a certified yoga instructor and life coach, specializing in health and mindfulness coaching, holds a doctorate in audiology, specializing in tinnitus, and is pursuing her masters in clinical counseling. She is a counselor at Life Care Wellness.

This article was originally published at Life Care Wellness. Reprinted with permission from the author.