HCA Virginia - April 22, 2019

You can probably spot jitters before a bio test. Or know that your unusually quiet kid is thinking about the big game. But can you spot debilitating anxiety?

Anxiety is actually a normal reaction to stress. Feeling uneasy or nervous, and having nausea, an increased pulse or excessive sweating are clear signs that the brain is experiencing anxious feelings. For some teens, anxiety goes beyond these normal symptoms and feelings and impacts school work, friendships and other relationships, and normal activities. Despite the big impacts, teens might not mention it or look for help on their own. Parents can offer help by noting symptoms on their own.

Some of the most common red flags are big changes. A normally good student gets a string of bad grades, or a teen who doesn't sleep in starts spending the whole weekend in bed. Parents are often the first to notice new patterns of behavior. Look for:

Physical changes:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Complaints of not feeling well with no obvious medical cause
  • Changes in eating habits

Emotional changes:

  • Excessively worried
  • Feeling or acting on edge
  • Developing an extreme or new fear
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Unexplained outbursts

Social changes:

  • Avoiding social interactions or usual friends
  • Avoiding extracurricular activities
  • Isolating from peers
  • Spending increased time alone

Sleep changes:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Not acting refreshed after sleep

School changes:

  • Significant jump in grades
  • Sudden avoidance of school
  • Frequently missed assignments
  • Overwhelmed by workload
  • Procrastinates on assignments more than usual
  • Difficulty completing or concentrating on homework

Anxiety can develop suddenly or increase slowly over time. Occasionally teens face a situation that causes a panic attack. These attacks can be scary and teens may not understand that the root cause is anxiety. Sometimes the attacks are confused for other health issues. Panic attacks include a sudden onset of rapid heartbeat, sweating and trembling, dizziness, difficulty breathing and chest pain. Teens may describe the feeling as if they are dying or going crazy.

If your child is showing signs of anxiety or panic attacks that interfere with school, friendships, family relationships, sports and hobbies or daily life, it’s important to get evaluated quickly. Anxiety is treatable. Teens often benefit from talking about their worries or struggles and can learn the manage their anxiety. A good first step is your family doctor or online evaluation.

Dominion Hospital serves Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. Contact one of our first-step counselors to discuss your concerns, 24/7 at (703) 538-2872.