Stress or Anxiety?

By Alison Seponara, MS, LPC Licensed Psychotherapist in Lafayette Hill, PA

You are a parent of a teen. You mostly want to rip your hair out on a daily basis, yet wish that today will be the day that your teenage child starts to talk to you. Nope. Not happening. So how do you as a parent know when your teen may be struggling with significant stress levels that interfere with learning, relationships, and other areas of functioning? Keep reading to find out. 


Stress Vs. Anxiety

Sometimes with teens, there is often a less direct source of stress, and they may become less aware of what they are even anxious about. They may even feel anxious about being anxious! 

The key between stress and anxiety is a sense of helplessness and the ability to affect their daily functioning. Many times, when teens experience fear, they feel helpless. As an adult, you may be more likely to dive into the problem causing the stress and know how to problem-solve more easily. With an anxious teen, they have not yet learned how to master this.  


What to Look For

Many times, teen stress can manifest in different ways, and it is important to know what to look for when it comes to teen anxiety. 

  • Emotional changes: Your teen might appear irritable, agitated, excessively worried, or depressed. Pay attention to changes in behavior. 
  • Behavioral changes:Look for changes in eating or sleeping habits, and avoidance of normal daily activities or refuse to engage in new experiences (especially school avoidance). Teens may also isolate and avoid their usual activities, have less interest in hanging out with friends. IMPORTANT: **In an attempt to diminish or deny their fears and worries, they may engage in risky behaviors, drug experimentation, or impulsive sexual behavior.** 
  • Physical changes: Anxious teens are more likely to complain of stomachaches, headaches, or pain in the limbs and back. Teens may also notice their heart beating fast, have shortness in breath, and tense muscles. 
  • Cognitive changes: Your teen may exhibit decreased concentration, daydreaming, forgetfulness, or sullen, moody, and rebellious. 


When to Seek Help 

In some cases, common teen stress can become concerning if your teen starts experiencing an excessive or unrealistic amount of worry, anxiety, and fear. Anxiety that is excessive and unrealistic is different than the ‘normal’ level of stress that a teen may experience. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a diagnosis given to those who experience excessive and irrational worry for at least six months. The excessive anxiety interferes with the ability to function and usually consists of extreme anxiety for everyday matters. 

If you notice any of these changes in your teen, he or she may be experiencing high anxiety. First, try your best to communicate with your child effectively. It is crucial to keep the lines of communication open, spend more one-on-one time each week with your teen, and listen carefully and respectfully without discounting their feelings; this may increase the likelihood that your teen will open up to you when he or she is feeling overwhelmed. 

If your child still needs extra support, find a therapist in your community who specializes in anxiety disorders, preferably a therapist who is trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT techniques are effective in addressing adolescent anxiety disorders and can help your teen recognize the exaggerated nature of his or her fears and develop a corrective approach to the problem. Cognitive-behavioral therapy also tends to be specific to the anxiety problem, and the teen actively participates, which usually enhances their understanding. To find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist in your area, visit

About the Author

Alison Seponara


Alison Seponara, MS, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Private Practice in Lafayette Hill, PA. With over 15 years of experience, Alison brings her expertise in Anxiety, ADHD, & Autism into her practice, but stays dedicated to her holistic approach based on the needs of each individual client. Alison also works closely with women going through a major life change or transition and helps them find purpose and joy in their life. 

Alison is very dedicated to the special needs community. With her school counseling background, Alison not only provides therapy to families and children with special needs, but she also offers her expertise on how to better advocate for their special needs child in the education system. 

Alison feels so lucky to be working in a career that she is not only passionate about but truly feels is her life’s mission. Alison believes everyone deserves to be heard in a safe and non-judgmental space and feels the most rewarding part of her job is to be able to help others feel there is hope for the future while guiding them towards a journey of self-discovery. 

To contact Alison: (610) 952-4169 or