How Does Anxiety Manifest Differently in Teenage Boys?
While it is generally accepted that anxiety disorders are more prevalent among females than males, anxiety disorders are still one of the most common mental health struggles among teenage boys. Anxiety in boys is frequently ignored or attributed to other factors, especially as boys are seen as less likely to share their experiences with mental health struggles. This is why it can be helpful for boys to receive treatment in a single-gender setting that understands how anxiety may present differently.
Signs of Anxiety in Teenage Boys
When people think of anxiety, they may picture excessive worrying and avoiding situations that may potentially put them on edge. Teenage boys who struggle with anxiety are more likely to be recognized for being “antisocial,” having angry outbursts, or struggling to focus in a classroom setting. As a result, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with substance use disorders, ADHD, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder.
We are quick to point out male externalizing behaviors but it takes a double-take to consider how they internalize emotions. Often, difficulty expressing emotions and managing symptoms of anxiety are underlying causes in the above scenarios.
There is a growing recognition among psychologists that males are more likely to complain of physical symptoms of anxiety, like headaches, difficulty sleeping, and muscle pain, and that anxiety in men often manifests as anger and irritability.
“Anxious men may present as loose cannons, but they are worriers,” suggests clinical psychologist, Kevin Chapman. “Aggression tends to be more socially acceptable for men to display than anxiety.”
Gender Differences in Anxiety Disorders
One explanation for gender differences in anxiety disorders is that the male sex hormone testosterone is thought to reduce levels of anxiety. This may explain why teenagers going through puberty are more vulnerable to experiencing anxiety, as anxiety typically peaks during hormonal changes. Similarly, when people are going through stressful situations, the stress hormone cortisol reduces the body’s ability to make sex hormones that protect individuals against the effects of stress and anxiety.
Another key difference is that women are more likely to be socialized to reach out for help. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to be tough, self-reliant, and in control of situations. This makes it difficult for boys to feel comfortable acknowledging their struggles, let alone to share this information for other people. It is possible that boys and girls experience physical symptoms of anxiety at similar rates, but that girls are just more likely to be diagnosed with symptoms based on anxious emotions and thoughts.
Despite gender differences in generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and PTSD, men and women experience similar levels of social anxiety. This suggests that the unique way boys and girls are socialized may have a smaller effect on their confidence in connecting with others and that while girls may be more vocal about it, boys struggle a lot with social anxiety in relationships too!
Why Choose A Single-Gender Treatment Program?
Based on some of the reasons listed above, it makes sense that teenagers often gravitate towards socializing within their gender group rather than between genders. Teenagers seek out friendships with people that they feel are more similar to them and that may be able to understand where they are coming from. Operating as a single-gender treatment program makes it easier for students at Equinox to develop trust with their teammates through group therapy, academic classes, and recreation activities.
What we have found is that teenage boys feel most connected to their peers through shared activities. This explains why quality time is a common value among male friendships, while emotional support is typically something they seek from family members or romantic interests, rather than their friends.
This can make it easier for boys to pick up where they’ve left off with friends they don’t talk to frequently but may also leave them feeling like they lack a consistent support system.
By working with this specific population, we are better able to adapt our programming to meet the developmental needs of teenage boys, taking into account how symptoms of mental health struggles many manifest differently or that they may respond differently to certain types of treatment. For example, as boys tend to have a harder time opening up about their emotions in a group setting, a lot of our programming is rooted in experiential therapies, where boys are more motivated to be active participants.
Equinox RTC Can Help
Equinox is a residential treatment center that helps boys ages 14-18 who struggle with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and addictive behaviors. Equinox offers a unique treatment program designed to fit each individual’s specific needs. This treatment center has a supportive environment that helps students heal from the inside-out. Students develop a healthy sense of social and emotional awareness and learn how to incorporate good habits into their daily lives. Equinox enforces a positive change in the lives of young men and offers them a fresh start at a happy and healthy future. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 877-279-8925 to learn more.
Kyle received his Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Texas Tech University. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Kyle has worked in a variety of clinical settings over the last seventeen years. His career has focused on treating both boys and girls, with specialization in trauma, processing difficulties, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, OCD and difficult family systems.