How to Combat Teen Anxiety
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 8% of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder, while another study states that 1 in 5 young adults experience regular anxiety. Famous stars such as Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Zayn Malik, Bill Clinton, Emma Stone, and Jennifer Lawrence (among others) have opened up about their anxiety. Here are some ways to support your teen if they are experiencing stress or anxiety.
Recognize your teen’s anxiety
If your teen displays excessive worry about minor physical symptoms, has an abundance of negative ‘what-if’ thoughts, or demonstrates panic, dread, an avoidance of people and situations, anger or crying, they could be struggling with anxiety. Stress and anxiety might manifest in physical symptoms, as well. If your teen complains of a racing heart, chest tightening, butterflies, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, or has difficulty sleeping, your child might be experiencing anxiety. Pay attention to your child’s behaviors and note any changes or irregularities. If your teen isn’t able to connect their symptoms with anxiety or stress, you might be able to.
Teen anxiety is a normal reaction to stress
Whether it’s a test, public speaking event, sports competition, or the thought of the annual school dance, anxiety can easily surface. Teach your child about anxiety, how to recognize it and how to manage it. Help explain to your child what anxiety is and use personal examples if you have experienced any anxiety. Your child may not recognize anxiety (in the form of a stomach ache or fatigue) and believe that something is wrong with them. Teach them to be self-aware and give them the tools to prepare and manage.
Give your child the chance to open up about their worries and fears- and be patient. Start by telling your child about things you were afraid of when you were their age, especially if they are similar to what you believe your child is experiencing. Creating an open dialogue will provide a positive and secure channel for stress relief.
Support your teen to face fears
Once you and your teen figure out the source of his or her anxiety, encourage them to face the challenge, step by step, with incremental progress. Become a coach and support your teen while they push themselves through uncomfortable situations. Anxiety usually subsides or begins to lessen after being in the situation for 20-45 minutes; the initial entrance is the most difficult part.
There’s a fine line between how much a parent should push their child and how much help to provide. Don’t let them avoid doing things that they need to do to succeed socially and/or academically. Letting your child skip choir practice or allowing him or her to sleep in bed with you is avoiding the cause of the issue and it will either remain the same or get worse.
The mother hen in you might make you want to take over and take control of a situation that you see needs help but be careful not to do too much. Instead of calling the school and talking with his or her teacher, make your teen call and explain an absence or missing assignment. Don’t take over the situation completely- it decreases competence and confidence in your teen.
Help develop a plan
The simple act of making a plan can help ease anxious feelings. Make overwhelming and seemingly impossible tasks less stressful by breaking it down and creating steps. Write it down and get specific. Teach your teen how to structure and complete a plan the first time so that they have the tool if they need to use it when you’re not there. Is your teen nervous about a class presentation? Note it on the calendar and work up to it.
Set an example
Your child will do what you do. If you face your fears, your teen is more likely to find the courage to do the same. Teens continue to observe a parent’s behavior during their teen years and will subconsciously or purposely imitate it. A stressed parent does not soothe an anxious teen. If you are dealing with stress and anxiety due to personal or career-related problems, don’t hide your issues all of the time, but show your teen how you successfully manage what life throws at you. Your teen will feel a sense of relief knowing that their mom or dad experiences stress but has found a way to lead a healthy life. A parent’s response to a teen’s anxiety has a profound impact on how the teen handles their emotions.
Practice relaxation techniques
Your child can reduce anxiety and negative thoughts by practicing meditation techniques such as deep abdominal breathing. Encourage your child to try relaxation exercises, listen to calming music or participate in yoga or tai chi. Scheduling 20 minutes during the day for purposeful relaxation without phones or electronics will help your child to better manage stress.
Help to maintain a healthy regimen
Make sure that your teen has time to exercise, eats healthy and gets enough sleep. Stick to a routine and try to maintain it over the weekend. The healthier your teen is, the easier stress management will be.
Seek professional help
If your child is experiencing extreme physical distress that is regularly interfering with daily life and limiting things like school attendance, it might be beneficial to speak with a school counselor or outside help.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to helping your teen with anxiety. Be patient and open-minded and act as sounding board for their concerns. Remember, many teens develop more anxiety about the thought of having anxiety. As a parent, you can help them through the process of recognition and management.