Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Teens

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a common disorder that is characterized by excessive worry that is irrational and uncontrollable.  Anxiety and worry are two feelings that everyone has experienced before, but Generalized Anxiety Disorder is different. Some teenagers grow to learn that life is unpredictable and tragedy can strike at any moment.  The possibility of death, disaster and unpredictable outcomes impact the behavior of the adolescent and the decisions they make.

Whereas phobias are focused on specific things (spiders, heights, etc.), Generalized Anxiety Disorder encompasses everything in the teen’s life.  It causes a great deal of ongoing discomfort and fear that precludes the ability to calm down or relax. GAD can leave a child unwilling or unable to go to school, interact with peers or function like a typical teenager.

Worry, fear and doubt are normal parts of life.  It’s natural to be anxious about an upcoming test or social event.  The difference between normal worrying and GAD worrying is that persons with generalized anxiety have worries that are:

  • Excessive
  • Intrusive
  • Persistent
  • Debilitating

For example, a news report about a robbery in the neighborhood would leave a normal person with a temporary sense of worry or unease.  On the other hand a person with generalized anxiety may be awake all night in fear, frequently checking the doors to be sure they are locked.

Please take a moment to watch this parent testimonial about Anxiety Disorders treatment at Adolescent Growth:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms in Teens

An adolescent who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder may not be aware that their worries are out of control or extreme. Their concerns often center around school, peers, future, family, past behaviors and events and their own personal abilities. The following are symptoms to look out for in an adolescent that is struggling with Generalized Anxiety.

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Inability to relax
  • Hot flashes
  • Irritability/agitation
  • Twitching
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Inability to tolerate uncertainty or a desperate need to know what will happen in the future
  • Pervasive feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Rashes
  • Numbness
  • Nausea
  • Fidgeting
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trembling
  • Perfectionism, unrealistic expectations of self
  • Excessive self-criticism
  • Demobilizing fears about possible future events
  • Insecurity and a great need for reassurance
  • Feeling that accidents and unpleasant events are inevitable and will happen to them
  • Believing that worrying will prevent tragedy and mishaps.

Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Ruling Out Medical Problems

The first step in treatment is to assure that there is no physical medical condition that is causing the client’s discomfort and distress.  Among the conditions that produce symptoms similar to those of anxiety are too much or too little calcium, low blood sugar and certain heart problems.  A thorough evaluation by one of our medical doctors will determine if any of these conditions are the cause.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The treatment that is most often used for GAD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  CBT is a process wherein the teen learns to recognize the negative and maladaptive thought patterns that they are trapped in and replacing them with more effective, realistic ones. Exposure strategies are used to help the teens confront their fears in a safe and controlled environment.  Research has shown that therapist-assisted exposure is an effective way of treating anxiety and phobias.

A teen with GAD describes his or her worries as generated by external sources.  Family, peers, and events outside of their control are usually blamed. In actual fact it is the individual that is the source of all that stress and worry and the sufferer’s environment is only the trigger.  Our treatment team teaches the client to cope with distorted thoughts of excessive worry and replace them with positive alternative ones.


Medication may be useful for alleviating symptoms of GAD and our psychiatrists often prescribe medication in conjunction with talk therapy.  Different anxiety disorders have different medication regimens.

Physical Fitness

Our treatment for generalized anxiety includes a strong physical component.  Most teens who struggle with GAD are aware of the mental impact of their disorder, but usually they are out of touch with the fact that it has many physical symptoms as well.  The muscles tighten, the heart begins to race, breathing increases and fists and jaws clench. In a relaxed state the opposite happens. Muscles begin to relax, heart rate slows down and breathing is slow and steady.

Our program includes daily trips to the gym and yoga in order to treat the physical symptoms of generalized anxiety.  Both are excellent ways to help the client relax, focus on their physical fitness and ultimately lessen their anxiety.  Part of cognitive behavioral therapy is learning to recognize physical symptoms as well as psychological ones.


There are several forms of meditation that are proven to reduce anxiety.  In particular mindfulness meditation shows great promise for anxiety relief.  With regular practice, meditation boosts activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for feelings of joy and serenity.  Our clinicians are trained in mindfulness and meditation.

Deep Breathing

It is common for anxiety and panic sufferers to hyperventilate.  Hyperventilation only exacerbates anxiety by causing lightheadedness, dizziness, tingly hands and feet and shortness of breath.  We teach clients several deep breathing techniques which are proven to reduce anxiety symptoms.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation involves systematically tensing and releasing different muscle groups in the body.  Adolescents are taught the progressive muscle relaxation technique to help them seize the moment and reduce psychological anxiety symptoms by combating the physical symptoms.