Crittenton offers treatment for conditions like adolescent anxiety disorders based on evidence-based therapy interventions to ensure the best outcomes for our patients.

When Your Teen Has an Anxiety Disorder

When Your Teen Has an Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is a normal part of life. This feeling of worry alerts people to threats. And it gets them to take action. But anxiety can get so bad for some teens that it causes problems in daily life. Anxiety can be treated. There are ways to ease symptoms and help your teen feel better. This sheet tells you more about anxiety and how to get your teen help.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is like an alarm bell in the brain. The alarm goes off when you're threatened. It tells your body to protect you. People feel anxious when they're in danger and need to get to safety. The need to succeed often causes anxiety. Teens may feel anxious doing schoolwork or learning to drive. In many cases, feeling anxiety is normal.

What are symptoms of an anxiety disorder?

With an anxiety disorder, the body responds as if it's in danger. But the response is more than needed. The anxiety may be way out of balance with the threat that triggers it. Or anxiety can happen when there's no clear threat or danger. An anxiety disorder often disrupts a teen's work, school, and relationships.

Your teen may have any of these signs and symptoms:

  • Constant fear for their safety or safety of loved ones
  • Clingy behavior
  • Problems focusing or relaxing
  • Being grouchy
  • Critical, self-conscious thoughts
  • Worry about what others may be thinking
  • Not wanting to go to parties or other social events

An anxiety disorder can cause physical symptoms such as:

  • Frequent headaches or dizziness
  • Stomach problems
  • Sweating or shakiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension
  • Startling easily

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder. The symptoms are a bit different from other anxiety disorders. Someone with OCD has constant, intrusive fears. These are called obsessions. They may have constant fears about germs. They may worry about leaving the door unlocked or the stove on. The person then does behaviors to help ease the fear and anxiety. These are called compulsions. These can include washing hands over and over or checking a lock or stove constantly. If your teen shows any of these signs, talk to their healthcare provider:

  • Too much handwashing

  • Checking things over and over, like lights or locks

  • A very strong need to do some tasks in a certain order 
  • A very strong need to have items arranged in a certain way
  • Anger or upset if they can’t do the routines or habits 

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is another type of anxiety disorder. It causes panic attacks. These are sudden feelings of intense fear along with physical symptoms. A panic attack can happen with little or no warning. The symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling of impending doom or sense of unreality
  • Feeling of being smothered
  • Feeling like they’re about to lose control

Often, teens will stay away from any place where they’ve had a panic attack. This is because they’re afraid of having another one. Some teens who have had panic attacks get so afraid of having another attack that they stop leaving their homes. This is called agoraphobia.

What's the next step?

Get help for your teen right away if you think they have any kind of anxiety disorder. Contact their healthcare provider. There is no single test for anxiety disorders. But your teen’s healthcare provider will ask questions. And your teen may need tests to rule out other problems. If not treated, an anxiety disorder can affect the quality of their life. This includes schoolwork, activities, and relationships. It can also lead to self-harm.

Treating an anxiety disorder

An anxiety disorder is often treated with therapy, medicines, or both.


Therapy is also called counseling. It can be a good treatment for anxiety. It’s done by a trained healthcare provider. Therapy helps a teen learn to manage anxiety.


Medicines can help manage symptoms. They can work well. But finding the best medicine for your teen may take time. Your teen may have 1 or more medicines prescribed to treat an anxiety disorder. Medicines may include:

  • Anti-anxiety medicines. These can ease symptoms and help your teen relax. These may be taken on a regular schedule. Or they may be taken only when needed. Follow the healthcare provider's instructions.
  • Antidepressant medicines. These are often used to treat anxiety. They help balance brain chemicals. They can be used even if your teen isn't depressed. These are taken on a schedule. They take a few weeks to start working.

If medicines are prescribed:

  • Follow the instructions carefully.
  • Tell the healthcare provider how your teen is doing on the medicine. Tell them if you see any changes.
  • Never change the dose or stop your teen’s medicine without talking with the healthcare provider first.
  • Don’t give your teen herbal remedies or other medicines.
  • Check with a pharmacist before giving your teen any over-the-counter medicines. This includes medicines for colds or the flu.

Other ways to help

Getting better from any illness takes time. Getting better with an anxiety disorder is no different. While your teen is recovering, here are things that can help them feel better:

  • Be understanding. Your teen’s behavior may give you stress. Try to keep in mind that they’re still learning how to cope. Your support can make a huge difference.
  • Help your teen talk about their worries and fears. Being able to talk about them can help your teen learn to work on them.
  • Have your teen exercise regularly. Exercise has been shown to help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression.

When to call a healthcare provider

  • Has side effects from a medicine

  • Has new symptoms or symptoms that get worse

  • Becomes very aggressive or angry

  • Shows signs or talks of hurting themselves(see below)

Suicidal thoughts are a medical emergency

Anxiety and depression can cause your teen to feel hopeless. Their thoughts may get so bad that suicide can seem like the only option. If you're concerned that your teen may be thinking about self-harm, ask them about it. Asking about suicide does not lead to suicide.

If your teen talks about suicide, act right away! Suicidal thoughts or actions are not a harmless bid for attention. They are a sign of extreme stress. They shouldn't be ignored. If the threat is immediate and your teen has a plan and the means to carry it out, call or text 988. You will be connected to trained crisis counselors at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. An online chat option is also available. Lifeline is free and available 24/7. Don’t leave your teen alone. Remove any means, such as guns, rope, knives, or pills.

If the threat isn't immediate, call your teen's healthcare provider. Or call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) or 988 right away. It's open 24 hours a day, every day. They speak English and Spanish. And they have an option for those who are hard of hearing. You can text the Crisis Text Line ( text HELLO to 741741). Or visit the lifeline’s website at for more information and an online chat option. This resource gives crisis help right away and can direct you to local resources. It's free and private.

To learn more

Understanding Anxiety in Children

Understanding Anxiety Disorders in Children

It’s normal for children to have fears. They may be afraid of monsters, ghosts, or the dark. At times, they might be scared by a book or movie. In most cases, these fears fade over time. But children with anxiety disorders are often afraid. Or they may have fears that go away for a while but come back again and again. This may cause them great distress. It can prevent them from having a normal life. Children with anxiety disorders can have problems with sleep, appetite, and focusing. They can have problems with social situations and school.

Girl doing homework, talking to woman.

What is an anxiety disorder?

An anxiety disorder causes children to be intensely fearful in situations that would not normally cause fear. They may be afraid of certain things, such as dogs or snakes. Or, they may fear a situation, such as being alone in the dark. Sometimes they may be too afraid to leave the house.

What is separation anxiety disorder?

Some children may have separation anxiety disorder. This means they dread being away from a parent or other loved one. They may worry that they’ll be harmed. They may worry that they'll never see their loved one again. In some cases, the child may refuse to go to school. They may have physical symptoms. These can include nausea or stomachaches.

Working on anxiety

Most children with anxiety can be helped with behavior therapy. This is done by a licensed healthcare provider trained to work with children. This may be any of the below:

  • Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)
  • Clinical psychologist (PhD)
  • Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with a mental health specialty
  • Psychiatrist (MD)

The therapy is done in steps. When your child feels safe with 1 step, they can go on to the next. This helps your child slowly face and cope with their fears. For example, your child may be asked to just think about the feared object. They see that nothing bad happens as a result. The next step may be looking at a picture of the feared object. Later, they may face the feared object in person, with support and encouragement. Over time, your child will be less afraid. In some cases, certain prescribed medicines may help lessen a child’s anxiety.

Your role

Parents should talk to their child's healthcare provider first. They will need to rule out any physical problems that may cause the symptoms of anxiety. If anxiety is diagnosed, the healthcare provider can refer you to support for both your child and the family. They can help you learn ways to support your child’s mental health. Your love and support can help your child overcome their fears.

To learn more

Understanding Anxiety Disorders

Understanding Anxiety Disorders

Almost everyone gets nervous now and then. It’s normal to have knots in your stomach before a test. Or for your heart to beat fast on a first date. But an anxiety disorder is much more than a simple case of nerves. In fact, its symptoms may be overwhelming. But treatment can ease many of these symptoms. Talking with your healthcare provider is the first step.

Man talking to mental health professional.

What are anxiety disorders?

An anxiety disorder causes very strong feelings of panic and fear. These feelings may occur for no clear reason. And they tend to happen again and again. They may prevent you from coping with life. They may cause you great distress. You may then stay away from anything that triggers your fear. In extreme cases, you may never leave the house. Anxiety disorders may cause other symptoms, such as:

  • Obsessive thoughts that are unwanted and you can’t control

  • Constant nightmares or painful thoughts of the past

  • Upset stomach, sweating, and muscle tension

  • Trouble sleeping or focusing

What causes anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders tend to run in families. For some people, childhood abuse or neglect may play a role. For others, stressful life events or trauma may trigger these disorders. Anxiety can trigger low self-esteem and poor coping skills.

Types of anxiety disorders

  • Panic disorder. This causes a very strong fear of being in danger.

  • Phobias. These are extreme fears of certain things, places, or events.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This makes you have unwanted thoughts and urges. You also may do certain things over and over.

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This occurs in people who have been through a terrible ordeal. It can cause nightmares and flashbacks about the event.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. This causes constant worry. It can greatly disrupt your life.

Getting better

You may believe that nothing can help you. Or you might fear what others may think. But most anxiety symptoms can be eased with treatment. Having an anxiety disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Most people do best with treatment that combines medicine and individual and group therapy. These aren’t cures. But they can help you live a healthier life.

How daily issues affect your health

Many things in your daily life impact your health. This can include transportation, money problems, housing, access to food, and childcare. If you can’t get to medical appointments, you may not receive the care you need. When money is tight, it may be difficult to pay for medicines. And living far from a grocery store can make it hard to buy healthy food.

If you have concerns in any of these or other areas, talk with your healthcare team. They may know of local resources to assist you. Or they may have a staff person who can help.