Signs of anxiety in tweens and teens

For tweens and teens, life can be a giant emotional roller coaster, with mood swings, unpredictable behavior, and endless drama. You can chalk some of it up to hormones. But kids this age also face a lot of pressure — especially kids who learn and think differently.

School and their social lives are getting more complicated. Plus, they’re supposed to start thinking about their future. This stress can build and lead to anxiety.

Here are signs of anxiety to look out for, according to John Piacentini, PhD, and Lindsey Bergman, PhD, experts from the UCLA Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support (CARES) Center.

Physical signs of anxiety

  • Often complains of headaches or stomachaches, with no medical reason

  • Refuses to eat in the school cafeteria or other public places

  • Changes eating habits suddenly

  • Won’t use restrooms away from home

  • Gets restless, fidgety, hyperactive, or distracted (but doesn’t necessarily have ADHD)

  • Starts to shake or sweat in intimidating situations

  • Constantly tenses muscles

  • Has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep

Emotional signs of anxiety

  • Cries often

  • Becomes cranky or angry for no clear reason

  • Is afraid of making even minor mistakes

  • Has extreme test anxiety

  • Doubts their skills and abilities, even when there’s no reason to

  • Can’t handle any criticism, no matter how constructive

  • Has panic attacks (or is afraid of having panic attacks)

  • Has pressing fears or phobias

  • Worries about things way off in the future

  • Often has nightmares about losing a parent or loved one

  • Has obsessive thoughts or worries about bad things happening or upsetting topics

Behavioral signs of anxiety

  • Avoids participating in class activities

  • Stays silent or preoccupied when expected to work with others

  • Refuses to go to school or do schoolwork

  • Avoids social situations with peers

  • Refuses to speak to peers or strangers in stores, restaurants, etc.

  • Becomes emotional or angry when separating from family or loved ones

  • Begins to have explosive outbursts

  • Starts withdrawing from activities

  • Constantly seeks approval from parents, teachers, and friends

  • Has compulsive behaviors, like frequent handwashing or arranging things

How you can help

If you see some of the signs of anxiety on a regular basis, use the anxiety tracker below to take notes. See if you can pick up on patterns.

Anxiety trackerPDF - 120.1 KB

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Share this information with the people who can find the best ways to help. Parents, caregivers, teachers, and pediatricians can work together.

Learn about the difference between typical anxiety and an anxiety problem.


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