02 Oct Helping Teens with Anxiety
Helping teens with anxiety – advice from a therapist
I see so many teenagers and young people who are coping with strong feelings of anxiety. There are many reasons for this – exam stress, relationship issues, gender and other types of identity questions, first relationships (and break-ups), family breakdown, traumas and even hormones. These are some thoughts that might help you be able to ease your child’s anxiety. If, however, things are really tough right now, you can contact me to arrange a chat, or book a zoom session with me for both of you.
Keep up communication
One of the most crucial steps in helping teenagers with anxiety is to create an environment where they feel safe and comfortable discussing their feelings. Encourage open communication by actively listening to their concerns, validating their emotions, and showing empathy. If they say they are stressed about something, such as an exam, don’t poo poo their feelings by commenting that they’ll be fine, they always are. Likewise, avoid judgment and criticism, and reassure them that their feelings are valid.
Talk About Anxiety
Help teenagers understand what anxiety is and how it affects them. Provide age-appropriate information about the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety. When they can identify their anxiety, they are better equipped to manage it. My article on exam anxiety gives you some idea of the mechanism of anxiety.
Teach Relaxation Techniques
We can all do better with relaxation. Teach, or even better explore together, relaxation techniques they can use when they start to feel anxious. Breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation are effective tools that can help calm their minds and reduce anxiety levels. Encourage regular practice, even when they are not feeling anxious, to build resilience.
Promote Healthy Lifestyle Choices
It sounds boring but a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep play significant roles in managing anxiety. Of course, we can’t all be angels all the time, Aiming for the 80/20 rule is realistic. That’s 80% good habits, 20% with a bit of leeway. Encourage teenagers to prioritise their physical health by eating nutritious foods, engaging in regular physical activity, and establishing a consistent sleep routine. These habits can help regulate mood and reduce anxiety, and make a good foundation.
Foster a Supportive Social Network
Teenagers benefit greatly from having a strong support system. Encourage them to maintain and nurture positive relationships with friends and family. Healthy social connections can provide a sense of belonging and emotional support, which can help alleviate anxiety. If you notice they are withdrawing from friends, encourage them to maintain those connections. Even at time of intense studying and exams, seeing friends will be beneficial.
Set Realistic Expectations
It’s important for them (and us) to understand that perfection is not attainable, and it’s okay to make mistakes. Encourage them to focus on their efforts rather than outcomes, and remind them that failure is a part of growth. You can share this video about the growth mindset that explains this.
Time Management and Organisation
Teaching time management and organszational skills can reduce the anxiety that stems from feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork and extracurricular activities. It will also help set them up for University or their first job. Encourage teenagers to use planners or digital apps to keep track of assignments and deadlines. Breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps can also make them feel more achievable.
Seek Professional Help When Necessary
If a teenager’s anxiety is significantly impacting their daily life, it may be necessary to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide guidance, therapy, and, if needed, medication to manage anxiety. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist or counselor if you are concerned about a teenager’s mental well-being. I work with teenagers online and face to face, in Kent.
Be a Role Model
As an adult, you can set an example by managing your stress and anxiety effectively. Teenagers often learn from observing the behaviour of adults around them. Demonstrating healthy coping strategies and seeking help when needed can inspire them to do the same. Talking about your own stresses (within reason) and what you are doing to cope with them can be a useful education for them.
Teach teenagers the importance of self-care and self-compassion. Encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy, pursue hobbies, and take breaks when needed. Self-care helps build emotional resilience and provides a buffer against anxiety.