Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Teens


Updated on April 20, 2020

Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Teens

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health issue, requiring the diagnosis and intervention by qualified mental health professionals, as symptoms are often similar to other serious disorders.

Teens suffering from GAD tend to have much more fear and worry with no apparent cause, which may seem more intense than the situations justifies, than other youngsters.

While all children and teens especially have some normal anxieties as part of the process of growing up, troubled teens with GAD often have more fears than most, such as worries over:

  • Past behaviors
  • Being accepted socially
  • School and academic abilities and performances
  • Family issues
  • Future events
  • Their own abilities and expectations in dealing with life’s challenges

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Symptoms of GAD may include:

  • Muscle tension and aches,
  • Extreme fatigue (often mistaken for depression)
  • Problems sleeping 
  • Inability to focus on schoolwork or other tasks
  • Irritability and  moodiness
  • Frequently startled by normal interruptions
  • “Clingy” behavior to family members or others seen as “safe” people
  • An inability to relax
  • Stomach aches, digestive issues, headaches and other manifestations of stress and anxiety
  • Refusing to attend school, especially if bullying is a factor
  • Thoughts or threats of suicide, which will require immediate intervention by patents and professionals

Possible causes of GAD

Behavior experts believe that GAD can have multiple causes in troubled teens, with environmental as well as biological influences, including one or more of the following:

  • Chemical imbalances in the brain (serotonin and norepinephrine)
  • Unrealistically-high expectations by family and the educational system as well as teens themselves.
  • Anxiety in parents or other family members creating “learned” responses to situations and stressors or simply possibly inherited from parents
  • Accidents, death of a parent or other close family member and other traumatic events

Treatment options for GAD

Treatment goals include decreasing symptoms and risk of relapse while improving functioning to promote eventual recovery, including:


One of the most effective treatments is psychotherapy, also called “talk therapy” which helps the brain do a better job of controlling thoughts and emotions. The form of psychotherapy most beneficial to teenage GAD is “cognitive behavioral therapy” (CBT) which has been proven to help users control their fears. This consists of several components, including Exposure (gradually exposing the teen to his or her fears within a safe environment and teaching effective coping strategies) and Cognitive Restructuring, which helps change the way the teenager thinks and feels about his/ her fears.

Support from the school

Schools may make certain adaptations to help a teenager manage symptoms and better cope with academic and social stressors.

Community support

Support from the larger community includes teen peer support groups, family support groups and additional resources.

Maintaining a regular routine

Keeping a regular and healthy routine helps reduce stress caused by adapting to changes, and helps teens to better ground and focus on necessary tasks.

While some anxiety can be helpful, such as motivation to study for a test, when social, work or academic success is negatively impacted, it’s time to seek help to enable your teen to take charge of their life.

Other Resources

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Video

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