What Are the Causes of Anxiety in Adolescence?

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  • Written By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2019
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Anxiety in adolescence does not necessarily have a single cause, but generally, causes include genetics and early learning, the fight or flight response and brain biochemistry, all of which are connected to some degree to the environment and social interactions. Experts believe that anxiety in adolescence arises as the interaction of biological (internal), and environmental or social (external) factors.

During early years, a person's brain stores data about his experiences and emotions. Essentially, he becomes trained about what situations pose a physical or emotional threat, which is a major survival tool. When an adolescent is exposed to situations similar to those that produced anxiety in the past, his brain recalls data about those experiences and stimulates anxiety as a response. Sometimes the anxiety is justified, but other times, it happens because previous experiences have trained the adolescent to overreact to situations that should not be problematic, turning on the fight or flight response when it isn't necessary. Connected to this idea, people model behavior, so sometimes being around people who are constantly anxious can teach an adolescent to be anxious and to expect the worst.


Additionally, genetic disorders sometimes cause anxiety in adolescence. Although personality is not a "disorder," per se, genetics plays a role in how aggressive or shy someone is, which impacts the amount of anxiety they experience. Similarly, sometimes genetic issues that normally do not impact anxiety can create anxiety based on how they affect social interactions, such as if a person who has Down's Syndrome gets teased at school.

Some of the anxiety in adolescence relates to the physical body changes that occur as the adolescent matures. This happens in two ways. First, hormonal shifts and other issues can affect brain function and, therefore, emotional reactions and stability. Secondly, adolescents don't always know what to make of their new bodies or how others will view them, so anxiety is a result.

Physical changes are only a portion of the shifts that adolescents go through. Factors such as the struggle to assert independence despite parental demands, new social situations, educational expectations, pressure from friends to avoid or participate in activities and real dangers such as learning how to drive safely or navigate poor neighborhoods all can create anxiety.

Recognizing the causes of anxiety in adolescence is important because it allows adolescents and their loved ones to form a game plan for how to address the emotional problem. Depending on the cause of the anxiety, for instance, some behavioral therapy or medication might help. Helping the adolescent work through their anxiety can provide stability for his adult life.



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