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The Impact of Anxiety Disorders on Teen Academic Performance

By October 4, 2023October 14th, 2023Anxiety

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) asserts: “Anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions, each having unique symptoms. However, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.” The exact cause for developing an anxiety disorder remains unknown. Research suggests that it is likely due to a combination of contributing factors such as psychological, environmental, genetic, and developmental factors. There are different types of anxiety disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Approximately 20% of the U.S. population is affected by anxiety disorders at any given time, and reports indicate that on average nearly 8% of teens between the ages of 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder with symptoms commonly appearing around the age of 6. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Empirical evidence confirms that untreated anxiety can have a significant impact on teenage academic performance:

  • One study examining the role of anxiety symptoms on school performance, determined that “Anxiety symptoms are associated with impairment of memory and cognitive functions, and can contribute to poor school performance and academic failure, which can, in turn, lead to further psychiatric disturbances.”
  • Anxiety can cause the hippocampus (area of the brain connected to learning and memory) to shrink. The hippocampus connects to the amygdala, and together they control emotional memory recalling and regulation. Damage to the hippocampus can harm long-term memory and interfere with one’s ability to form new memories. This can hinder a student’s ability recall key concepts or facts and impede his or her ability to retain information.
  • Anxiety and inability to focus appear to be interconnected. As anxiety symptoms escalate, the mind struggles to stay on task which interrupts one’s ability to pay attention in class or while studying.
  • Prolonged stress and anxiety can alter protective immune responses, increasing one’s susceptibility to infections, such as colds, the flu, and other viral and bacterial disease, which can lead to excessive absences from school, interfere with a student’s ability to complete assignments, etc.
  • Anxiety can adversely affect one’s excretory and digestive systems, leading to loss of appetite, stomachaches, nausea, diarrhea, and other digestive issues. These physical sensations can be distracting and prohibit a student from allocating their undivided attention to learning.

The stress and emotional turmoil associated with anxiety can interfere with a student’s ability to concentrate, study effectively, and perform well in school. Still, it is important to bear in mind that the symptoms of anxiety can be varied and complex, as anxiety can manifest in different ways and may affect academic performance differently from one teen to another.

For Information and Support 

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Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


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