Anxiety, Teens

7 Strategies for Helping Your Teen Manage Anxiety

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When your teen was younger, it might’ve been fun to point out things that gave them “butterflies,” like driving down a steep hill or reaching new heights on a swing set. But butterflies in your stomach can signal something a little darker: anxiety. Your teen may be experiencing normal nerves and emotions, but do you know if your teen is suffering from something more serious? Research shows that one in every three teens experiences anxiety that goes above and beyond normal teenage worries.

Characterized by muscle tension, shakiness, nausea and sweating, anxiety is the feeling of intense worry. Anxiety can be a great flagging device for danger, but for a teenager who’s navigating a new social landscape and significant brain development, anxiety can make it hard to function. When anxiety begins to interfere with multiple areas of your teen’s life it may be time to seek help.

While therapy and medication are proven to be effective treatment options for anxiety, let’s talk through some other ways you can help your teen manage their anxiety.

1. Practice Active Listening Over Teaching

Acknowledge whatever worries your teen, and try not to dismiss or ignore them. Saying things like, “that’s nothing to be worried about,” or “come on just get over it” feel dismissive and can make your teen feel unable to come to you with their anxious feelings. Instead, show that you take their anxiety seriously and that you also believe in their ability to work through it. Patiently wait for your teen to put their feelings into words. Try not to cut them off or rush to complete sentences.

This gives them the chance to practice identifying their own emotions, and awareness is the first step in successfully managing anxiety. Active listening in this way also communicates that you care and want to understand them better, and creates a safe and supportive environment for your teen to learn new skills to manage his or her anxiety.

2. Gently Encourage Them to Face Their Fears

The keyword here is “gently.” Teenagers are more independent than children but more dependent than adults. Because of this, you must give them support and structure balanced with appropriate independence and the power to say “no.”

Help them set small goals to chip away at their anxiety. Brainstorm together, but try not to step in and take charge as they’re learning independence. If they get it wrong (spoiler alert: they will) be a safe place for them to get support and build up the courage to try again.

3. Specifically Tell Them When They do a Good Job

Attempt to notice times when anxiety didn’t consume them, or when they were able to move forward in spite of their anxiety. For example, you could say, “I saw you went on a run around the block this morning. I’m really proud of you! I know you want to feel comfortable in a public gym, and I think this is a brilliant first step.”

Try not to make a big deal on days when their anxiety wins. Instead, remind them how much you believe in them and the small steps they’ve taken so far.

4. Show Your Teen Love and Support Often

Anxiety isn’t the kindest voice to have in the back of our heads. Teens can be clouded with mental messages like “You’re doing too much,” “You’re not doing enough,” “You sound annoying,” and “What will other people think of me.”

Expressing genuine compliments, reminders that you love them, and hugs that show your teen you’re always there for them can go a long way in building their feelings of self worth and confidence. When your teen is feeling anxious, they’ll want to turn to whoever they feel supports them the most. Create a relationship with your anxious teen where that person they turn to is you.

5. Separate Your Teen From Their Anxiety

Avoid calling them shy or anxious when describing who they are to others. This would look like saying, “wow Anxiety is really telling you some lies today,” instead of, “you are so anxious right now!” Anxiety is an emotion, not a personality trait. The more your teen can separate themselves from their anxiety, the better they can overcome it.

6. Encourage Self-care and Mindfulness

If your teen hasn’t mastered making time for themselves yet, help model it for them. Plan an afternoon to do their favorite activity, read together at a public park, or take them out to dinner with a close friend. Encourage them to think and talk about what they might be feeling, to journal, pause and take deep breaths, disconnect from their devices or spend time in nature. Reconnecting with their body and mind in a calm and consistent way can help bring awareness and an increased ability to manage emotions that tend to get the better of them.

7. Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle

We can all agree that adolescent-related stress takes a toll on those poor teenagers. Raise your hand if you’d like to relive your teenage years (keeps hand firmly in pocket :). Add to that some real anxiety and we’ve got a recipe for some really difficult years. Help your teen deal with that stress by building a life around them that is healthy and sustainable. Play sports as a family, plan healthy meals, encourage good sleep patterns and of course, avoid drugs and alcohol as these can aggravate anxiety and harm a developing brain.

Teenage anxiety is very common, and as teens learn to regulate everyday stress and navigate various social situations anxiety can become less overwhelming. But if you notice that your teen isn’t doing well, finding a good therapist can be helpful. Watch for things like your teen isolating, avoiding things he/she used to enjoy, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, grades changing and motivation decreasing. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on it, if something just doesn’t feel right find a professional for your teen to talk to.

You and your teen do not have to struggle through anxiety alone. Anxiety is treatable! Start implementing these tips with your teen and get on the path to helping your anxious teen feel better.

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