Causes & Effects of Anxiety

No one experiences anxiety the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of anxiety is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Anxiety

Learn about anxiety

When children and adolescents experience chronic, pervasive, and ongoing feelings of fear, worry, and/or apprehension, it is likely that they are suffering from an anxiety disorder. There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and separation anxiety disorder. Each disorder has its own unique set of symptoms, but all will inevitably elicit extreme disturbances in most, if not all, areas of an individual’s life when left untreated. Youth who struggle with anxiety disorders may find it difficult to perform appropriately in academic settings, as well as in social settings. The obsessions, compulsions, and ritualistic thinking patterns that often define these disorders can become so all-consuming that these young people are unable to grasp hold of their own thoughts and behaviors, ultimately leading to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Fortunately, there are many options for treatment for anxiety disorders that can successfully help children and adolescents overcome the debilitating symptoms.


Anxiety statistics

Studies have shown that approximately one out of every eight children under the age of 13 are afflicted by some form of anxiety disorder, and the National Institute of Mental Health offers estimates that the lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders in adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 is around 25%.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for anxiety

Researchers in the field of mental health agree that a combination of physiological, environmental, and genetic factors come into play in the development of anxiety disorders. Consider the following explanations:

Genetic: Anxiety disorders, like most mental health conditions, are known to run in families, suggesting a strong genetic component to its development. Young people who have first-degree biological family members who struggle with anxiety disorders are especially susceptible to experiencing the onset of this mental health condition. Additionally, genes play a role in determining aspects of a person’s personality and temperament, both of which impact how a person experiences and manages stressful situations that may be anxiety-provoking.

Physical: When certain chemicals in the brain become imbalanced, mental illness can be the result. For those who are struggling with anxiety disorders, the neurochemical serotonin becomes imbalanced, and as a chemical that is responsible for regulating feelings of contentment, when one’s serotonin levels are not balanced, stress, worry, and anxiety may begin to consume an individual.

Environmental: The environment in which a young person is engrossed can have a significant impact on whether or not he or she will develop the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Chronic exposure to chaos or settings in which a child does not have control can elicit feelings of nervousness and worry that can be exacerbated into symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Similarly, being victimized can bring about a sense of pervasive fear and paranoia, which can ultimately result in the onset of anxiety disorders. Additionally, children and adolescents who are denied a nurturing environment where they are made to feel safe, secure, and comfortable are more susceptible to developing anxiety disorders.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of anxiety or other mental illnesses
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Being exposed to violence
  • Being exposed to environments that are ripe with inconsistency, chaos, and unpredictability
  • Being pressured to perform a certain way, or at a certain level, athletically or academically
  • Feeling as though one is constantly being compared to siblings and/or peers
  • History of abusing substances

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

When children and adolescents are suffering from any type of anxiety disorder, the various signs and symptoms that may be displayed will differ based on a number of factors. A child’s age, temperament, and personality can all affect the way in which symptoms are exhibited, and the specific type of anxiety disorder will be the defining factor as to which symptoms are most prominent. The following are examples of some signs and symptoms that may be displayed by a young person who is struggling with an anxiety disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Engaging in repetitive behaviors
  • Engaging in compulsive behaviors
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Restlessness
  • Rapid, slowed, or repetitive speech patterns
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Sudden angry outbursts / temper tantrums

Physical symptoms:

  • Frequent urination (due to feelings of nervousness)
  • Chronic headaches or migraines
  • Chronic stomachaches
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Altered eating habits
  • Altered sleeping habits
  • Muscle tension

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impatience
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Racing thoughts
  • Repetitive thinking patterns

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Oscillating moods
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Pervasive feelings of nervousness and worry
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Increased feelings of irritability and agitation


Effects of anxiety

When left untreated, the symptoms of anxiety disorders will likely continue to worsen over time, exacerbating the amount of strife that children and adolescents face. The following are examples of long-term effects that can arise when an anxiety disorder remains untreated:

  • Academic failure
  • Difficulties in finding and maintaining steady employment
  • Social isolation
  • Relationship discord
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Increased risk for requiring hospitalization
  • Beginning to use drugs and/or alcohol
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety and co-occurring disorders

When children and adolescents are suffering from an anxiety disorder, it is not uncommon for them to experience symptoms that are synonymous with other mental health conditions as well. Additionally, the presence of one type of anxiety disorder may elicit symptoms of another type of anxiety disorder. For example, youth who are suffering from generalized anxiety disorder may begin suffering from panic disorder as well. The following are further examples of disorders that are known to co-occur alongside anxiety disorders in children and adolescents:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Learning disorders
  • Substance use disorders
What Past Clients Say

I was struggling severely with anxiety and constant panic attacks. The counseling I received at DBI was honestly life-changing. I'm so much happier now and even my grades have gone up!

– A former client