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  • Writer's pictureOliver Roberts

What is teen angst, and when should parents worry?

Updated: Apr 24


what is teen angst?

Parenting a teenager is both exciting and challenging. During adolescence, your child's moods and behaviors may undergo significant changes. It's essential to understand that these changes are a part of typical teenage development, often referred to as "teenage angst." In this informative guide, we will explain teenage angst, when parents should be vigilant, and what constitutes normal teenage behavior.


I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and have worked with teens and families for a decade. I'm an expert in Family Systems and was the Clinical Director of an adolescent treatment center for teens for many years, and have some experience dealing with teenage angst! For more information on Family Therapy and me - click on the hyperlinks.


What Is Teen Angst?

Teen angst is a powerful sense of unease or uncertainty about life or circumstances that shows up as moodiness, anxiety, and irritability. This is age-appropriate existential anxiety that can often involve an increase in irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and withdrawal. Adolescent angst, then is an intense feeling of anxiety and apprehension commonly coupled with depression seen in teenagers. During adolescence, various factors, such as hormonal changes, the development of the amygdala, peer pressure, and social influences, contribute to the experience of episodic anguish. Still, this issue can be incredibly challenging, distressing, and occasionally terrifying for both teenagers and their parents.


Looking Out For Signs Of Teen Angst.

Teenage angst occurs at the same time as natural development occurs in adolescents, a phase that involves profound self-discovery and identity shaping, often causing teens to grapple with feelings of being overwhelmed, confused, or misapprehended. Throughout this period, teenagers may adopt a more critical perspective of both themselves and their surroundings. Some of the changes you might see in a teenager do actually constitute a fundamental facet of the teenage developmental journey.


When should parents be concerned?


Identifying the warning signs of when teen angst might be more serious:


  1. Frequent Complaints: If your teenager consistently expresses anxiety, depression, worry, fear, or nervousness, take it seriously.

  2. Substance Abuse: Turning to drugs or alcohol or other self-destructive behaviors as a way to cope with emotional challenges is a clear red flag.

  3. Sleep Troubles: Persistent sleep issues can signal underlying anxiety.

  4. Unexplained Fears: Feelings of anxiety are commonplace, but developing irrational fears that disrupt daily life should raise concerns.

  5. Overreactions: Reacting to stressors with extreme anger or aggression is a cause for worry.

  6. Social Withdrawal:  Social isolation is a big red flag for me. If your teen starts isolating themselves, avoiding social activities, and steering clear of once-enjoyed hobbies, it's time to pay attention.


Helping parents discern when these signs warrant concern and then guide them on to seeking the appropriate assistance is part of a family therapist's job in family therapy. As an expert in family systems therapy and having run treatment programs for teens, I often guide parents in identifying between typical teen angst and diagnosable mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. 


Teenage Angst or Is Perhaps Depression?


When it comes to our teenagers and teen angst, it's hard to spot mental health issues like anxiety disorders or mood disorders like depression from normal teen behaviors. It's not uncommon for them to experience mood swings, irritability, and moments of emotional turbulence as part of adolescent brain development. This period of adolescence is often referred to as teenage angst, which is a normal part of their development. However, there are times when those feelings of worry and emotional ups and downs can signal something more serious - depression.


Teen angst is characterized by typical teenage behavior, including moodiness and irritability. It is a natural response to the physical and emotional changes that come with adolescence. During this time, the frontal cortex of the brain, responsible for problem-solving and decision-making, is still developing.


On the other hand, depression goes beyond the typical ups and downs of teenage emotion. It is a diagnosable mental health disorder that can affect a young person's daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. There are differences between angst and depression, which often lasts for a longer period of time and is associated with a significant amount of anxiety and sadness.



what is teen angst and what is teen depression

Less Obvious Signs of Depression in Teenagers 


Anger: An Unconventional Sign

Traditionally, depression is associated with a glum and despondent affect, characterized by isolation and withdrawal from social activities. However, in teenagers, one unexpected manifestation of depression is anger or a sudden onset of aggressive outbursts. Hormonal changes and the challenges of adolescent development can predispose teens to increased bouts of anger and unpredictable behaviors, which might be angsty behaviors, but could also be fueled by anger. 


What sets apart anger related to depression is its intensity and persistence. Teens experiencing depression may exhibit angry outbursts, including yelling, throwing objects, or losing control of their behavior. These outbursts are markedly different from their previous behavioral baselines and are not to be confused with typical teenage mood swings.

It's essential to note that not every angry adolescent is depressed, but when anger is associated with depression, it tends to be more intense and has been building over time. Most teens who experience this type of anger feel remorse afterward, which can further contribute to their depressive cycle.


Physical Symptoms: A Silent Cry for Help

Another unconventional sign of depression in teens is the manifestation of physical symptoms without underlying medical causes. While untreated depression in adults has been linked to health issues, in teenagers, these physical symptoms can be one of the initial signs of underlying depression.


Teens struggling with depression may complain of various psychosomatic symptoms, such as headaches, stomach pain, and gastrointestinal issues. Studies have indicated a connection between psychosomatic complaints in adolescence and mental health symptoms in early adulthood, highlighting the importance of recognizing and addressing these concerns promptly.


Once medical concerns have been ruled out, it's crucial to delve deeper into the potential underlying mental health issues. These physical complaints are real to teens and should be addressed holistically rather than in isolation. Acknowledging these potential underlying issues can provide relief to adolescents and their parents or caregivers and help them proactively cope with developing mental health problems.


Marked Changes in Activity: A Warning Sign

Unlike adults who often withdraw from social interactions when experiencing depression, adolescents primarily function in group and social settings. Hence, marked changes in their interpersonal, academic, and social functioning can serve as significant warning signs of depression.


Adolescents undergoing personality development and seeking independence naturally explore new activities and interests. While some changes in interests are typical during adolescence, it becomes concerning when these changes are consistent and occur across multiple domains of a teen's life.


For example, if a teenager who excelled in academic performance in school suddenly starts failing classes and withdraws from extracurricular activities simultaneously, or if a teen who was dedicated to a particular hobby abruptly loses interest, these red flags need attention. Similarly, a teen who needs ten hours of sleep suddenly needs much less, which is a cause for concern. 


Recognizing the difference between teen angst and depression is crucial for parents and caregivers. It requires paying attention to the problematic feelings' severity and duration. If your teenager is experiencing persistent feelings of deep anxiety, prolonged sadness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in important aspects of their life, it may be worth exploring the possibility of depression.





 

Differences Between Angst and Anxiety In Teens



what is teen angst

Anxiety is a normal part of life and can affect anyone. However, when anxiety becomes overwhelming and doesn't go away, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

A growing body of research highlights a rising trend of anxiety among teenagers and college students. This increase often brings along other mental health challenges like depression and addiction.


Statistics on Anxiety In Teenagers


 

Understanding Anxiety in Teenagers

Anxiety disorders in teenagers can cause distress and interfere with their daily lives and can manifest in various ways, such as feeling constantly agitated, having frequent worry, and being overly sensitive to criticism, which sounds very similar to adolescent angst. The difference between angst and anxiety is if this escalates to worrying excessively about unlikely events, avoiding anxiety-inducing situations, and experiencing physical symptoms like a racing heart, dizziness, sweating, and headaches.


Types of Anxiety Disorders in Teenagers

Not all teenagers experience the same symptoms, as various forms of anxiety disorders can affect them, the differences between teen angst and an anxiety disorder is the severity, duration and ability to give a diagnosis, and treat it. 


  • Social Anxiety Disorder - one of the more common mental disorders we are seeing in teens. 

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder - this is a more persistent trouble with anxiety. 

  • Specific Phobias

  • Panic Disorder - these are acute feelings of anxiety or panic. a

  • Agoraphobia

  • Separation Anxiety


Diagnosing and Treating Anxiety

I would suggest taking complaints of anxiety seriously and seeking treatment options for anxiety disorders, which can include psychotherapy, such as family therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can be adapted for teenagers and offered in-person or online. In some cases, a mental health assessment and medication may be recommended, with close monitoring by a mental health clinician.


Where Can Teenagers Get Help for Anxiety?

Teenagers often face the challenges of anxiety, which can impact their well-being and daily life. Seeking help is a crucial step towards managing anxiety effectively, especially if this anxiety goes beyond adolescent angst.


1. Talk to a Doctor

One of the first steps in addressing anxiety is consulting a healthcare professional. Search for a doctor in your region who specializes in adolescent mental health. They can provide guidance, assessment, and potential treatment options.


2. ReachOut Worry Time App

ReachOut.com offers the ReachOut Worry Time App, a useful tool for teenagers to manage everyday worries and anxieties. It provides techniques and exercises to regain control over their thoughts and emotions.


3. The Brave Program for Teenagers

The Brave Program equips teenagers with essential information and coping skills to tackle worries and anxiety effectively. It's an excellent resource for learning how to navigate these challenges.


4. This Way Up

This Way Up offers digital mental health treatments and online programs specifically designed to support individuals dealing with anxiety. It's a convenient and accessible option for teenagers seeking help.


Remember, reaching out for help is a sign of strength, and there are various resources available to support teenagers on their journey towards managing anxiety.

 

Tools and Resources For Parents

If you are uncertain whether this is adolescent angst or something more worrying, you could think about using a problem-specific screening tool, such as these:


Problem-specific screening tools are your own use, and a professional mental health assessment is needed before a diagnosis is given, but these could help you get clearer on what's going on before talking to a mental health professional.


How Parents Can Support Their Teen

Parenting an adolescent experiencing adolescent angst can pose challenges, but there are various techniques you can implement to provide them with the necessary assistance. Through attentive listening, promoting open dialogue, and cultivating a secure and accepting atmosphere, you can cultivate a robust and reliable bond with your teenager. Below are some practical suggestions to help you navigate this challenging period side by side.


Active Listening

To effectively assist your adolescent who may be experiencing a period of emotional turmoil, it is crucial to engage in active listening. This entails providing undivided attention, refraining from interruptions or judgment, and acknowledging their emotions. Additionally, conveying your availability and support is essential. Encouraging an environment conducive to open and honest communication will enable them to freely express themselves without apprehension of being criticized.


Open Communication

Establish a setting that fosters open dialogue. Ensure your accessibility for conversations and communicate to your adolescent that they can approach you with any worries. Refrain from making hasty judgments or disregarding their emotions. Instead, employ open-ended queries to facilitate substantial exchanges. Display empathy and comprehension, even if their encounters may not be entirely relatable to you.


Creating a Secure and Accepting Atmosphere

Establishing a sense of trust with your adolescent is of utmost importance in the current phase. Construct an environment that is safe and devoid of judgment, allowing them to freely express their thoughts and emotions. Refrain from criticizing or diminishing their feelings, but rather provide reassurance and assistance. Be patient and empathetic as they confront the hurdles that come with adolescence.


Strategies for Dealing with Stress and Managing Coping Mechanisms

Provide your adolescent with constructive strategies for handling their turbulent emotions. Motivate them to participate in activities that bring them joy, such as pursuing hobbies or engaging in physical exercise, as a means of alleviating stress. Aid them in acquiring proficient problem-solving abilities and offer support in maneuvering through challenging circumstances. Additionally, consider introducing relaxation methods like deep breathing or mindfulness, which can contribute to their emotional welfare.


When it comes to supporting your troubled adolescent, it's crucial to approach the situation with patience, empathy, and a sincere willingness to provide assistance. Despite the difficulties that may arise, your support can have a profound impact on their emotional welfare. Make sure to maintain open lines of communication and consider seeking professional guidance if necessary. By working together, you can effectively navigate this stage and safeguard your teenager's overall welfare.


When To Seek Professional Help

When parental assistance is insufficient in dealing with and relieving the emotional distress experienced by teenagers, it becomes imperative to seek expert assistance. Mental health experts have a critical role to play in identifying and addressing more severe mental health issues in young individuals. Below are essential factors to keep in mind when searching for professional support for your troubled teenager.


Different Treatment Options

There are numerous treatment alternatives accessible to adolescents who are experiencing difficulties with their emotional state. Recommendations frequently include therapy and counseling as viable approaches that offer a secure and nurturing setting for teenagers to communicate their emotions and worries openly. By means of therapy, teenagers can cultivate proficient coping strategies, deepen their self-understanding, and acquire valuable skills to handle their emotions and navigate the complexities of this demanding stage of life.


The Significance of Mental Health Experts

Experienced professionals specializing in mental health, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors, possess the necessary expertise to evaluate and diagnose various mental health issues. Their role involves distinguishing between typical emotional challenges faced by teenagers and potential underlying mental health disorders. By offering valuable insights and guidance, these experts facilitate a holistic comprehension of the situation for both parents and teenagers.


Selecting the Ideal Expert for the Job

When seeking professional help, it's important to choose a mental health professional who specializes in working with teenagers. Look for professionals who have experience and expertise in adolescent development, as this ensures that they understand the unique challenges and specific needs of this age group.


Consider asking for recommendations from trusted sources, such as pediatricians, school counselors, or other parents who have had positive experiences with mental health professionals.


Above all else, make sure your teen likes them - the relationship your child has with their therapist is often just as important as how qualified they appear to be to you. 


Act Sooner Rather Than Later

In order to ensure the well-being of your teenager, it is crucial to comprehend the significance of promptly acknowledging and addressing the requirement for professional aid. By taking early action, you can effectively minimize the potential negative consequences and promote positive emotional development. It is important to bear in mind that seeking assistance is not a sign of weakness, but rather a proactive step to nurture your teenager's mental health.


Ultimately, when parental assistance proves inadequate, it becomes crucial to seek professional assistance to address the emotional turmoil experienced by teenagers effectively. Engaging in therapy and counseling and relying on the proficiency of mental health experts significantly contribute to offering the essential guidance and treatment options required for adolescents struggling with emotional distress. By taking this proactive approach, you are demonstrating a prioritization of your teenager's emotional welfare and offering them the necessary support during this arduous stage of their lives.


Helpful Resources

Seeking help is a crucial step in managing teenage angst and anxiety. Early intervention can lead to healthier emotional development and well-being. If you or someone you know requires mental health support, consider reaching out to professionals or resources like these:

 

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and there are numerous resources available to assist teenagers in managing their emotions effectively. If you're concerned, don't wait to see if it passes, call a therapist or any mental health professional, most will give you a 15-20 minute consultation call which may alleviate all of your concerns.


Frequently Asked Questions


What Is Teenage Angst?

Teenage angst involves feelings of anxiety, worry, and stress that often accompany the challenges and transitions of adolescence. It can also share similarities with common mental illnesses like anxiety disorders or teen depression.


Are Teenage Mood Swings Typical?

 Yes, teen mood swings are common and a normal part of adolescence. However, if they persist or become intense, it may signal an underlying issue that requires attention.


Is Teen Angst a Part of Growing Up?

Yes, teen angst can be a part of growing up and becoming an adult. It is often a result of the experiences and challenges that teens face during their teenage years.


What Causes Feelings of Angst in Teens?

Various factors can cause feelings of angst in teens, including unexpected events, big life changes, hormonal changes, facing uncertainty, and a need for privacy and independence. Peer pressure and concerns about appearance, friendships, and relationships can also contribute.


What Are Some Common Triggers of Angst in Teens?

Teens can have different triggers for angst, but common ones include unfamiliar or unexpected events, social media, feeling unsafe or lacking trust, fear of not fitting in, worrying about the future, and alcohol or substance use.


How Does Angst Affect Teenagers?

Angst can affect teenagers mentally, physically, and socially, influencing how they perceive themselves and interact with others.


How Long Does Teenage Angst Last?

Teenage angst can last from the preteen years to the teen years, typically between the ages of 13 and 19. It is less persistent and constant than anxiety.


How Does Adolescent Angst Manifest Itself?

Adolescent angst can manifest through arguments, heightened emotions, social withdrawal, rebellious behavior, irritability, and even isolation. These behaviors may also indicate other mental health concerns like depression.


Is It Teenage Angst or Depression?

The main difference between teen angst and depression is that depression is a severe and persistent mental health disorder, whereas angst is a normal part of growing up. It's essential to seek professional help if you're unsure.


How Is Angst Different From Anxiety?

Angst and anxiety share similar feelings and signs, but anxiety is typically more persistent and intense. Anxiety can take various forms, including worry, irrational fears, social anxiety, or phobias.


When Should I Reach Out for Help?

If you notice persistent or worsening angsty behaviors in a loved one, it's essential to start a conversation and seek professional support if needed. If you're experiencing challenges yourself, reach out for help to address any underlying issues.


Do Adults Have Angst?

While teenage angst is a common term, adults can also experience similar feelings of anxiety, worry, and stress, although the causes and manifestations may differ.

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