One day in middle school my son’s anxiety was so bad I had to go to school and get him because the teacher thought he was having a seizure. I had no clue myself about what was going on. Years later, I now recognize that teen anxiety is extremely prevalent and most parents are still trying to figure out how to help our teen manage it.
Knowing that, we are particularly thrilled to have psychologist Melanie McNally as our guest blogger to offer some guidance on how to help our teens manage anxiety and stress.
Here are her thoughts:
Teens have a lot on their plates. Between school, friends, family, and hormones, they don’t need much else added on to cause them to get overwhelmed and stressed. This past year has stretched many of us beyond our “breaking point,” including our teens.
But there is a big difference between your teen being stressed and overwhelmed and your teen struggling with anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is excessive worrying about things out of your control. This can be the future, the weather, or even politics. They can cause you to be tense, restless, and lose sleep at night. Anxiety negatively impacts your relationships and your performance at work or school.
How do you know if your teen has anxiety?
Here are a few signs to look out for to determine if your child has anxiety:
1- Do they worry excessively?
Between tests, friend drama, and now Covid-19, they have many options of things to worry about. But excessive worrying looks a little different—this level of worrying impacts their ability to function. For example, they might choose to stay home from their best friend’s virtual birthday party or refuse to order food in public. When everyday worries turn into life-impacting breaking points, your teen is struggling with anxiety.
2- Are they complaining often of a headache or stomach ache?
Another way to tell if your teen is struggling with anxiety is if they complain about their health regularly. You believe them, of course, and take them to the doctor, but they can’t find anything wrong. If they regularly have stomach aches or headaches, it’s likely anxiety is causing these ailments.
How can you help a teen with anxiety?
Now that you’ve determined that your teen is struggling with anxiety and which type, there are ways you can help right away.
1- Give them a safe place to share their feelings and worries.
As parents, you want to solve your child’s problems. That’s completely normal! However, when your teen struggles with anxiety, it’s essential to allow them the space to talk without you attempting to fix something. When you try to help, it could come off like you’re brushing their fears aside. Instead, focus on being a good listener. Show them through physical signs like nodding your head and verbal cues by asking open-ended questions. Help them process their worries instead of trying to fix them.
2- Model anxiety management strategies.
It’s likely that you also have stress and anxiety in your life. You, like your teen, have a lot on your plate, especially this past year! How do you manage your stress and anxiety? Do you use any healthy coping tools you could share with your teen? Instead of internalizing your process of coping, start processing it externally. If you have something stressful coming up, process your feelings out loud so your child can hear you. Talk through how it makes you feel and why you are choosing not to stress about it.
3- Model regular self-care.
Self-care is a huge part of anxiety management. You don’t need a rigid plan, but instead a few things you enjoy doing each day. This could be getting outside, exercising, meditating, or journaling. Complete this self-care where your teen can see you doing it. When you show them how you take care of yourself, they will start to find ways to do the same.
Through these three steps, you can help your teen begin to manage and understand their anxiety. This is a process, and you may find that you need more professional assistance for your teen’s anxiety. If that’s the case, please reach out to me at email@example.com or find a therapist near you at psychologytoday.com.
About Melanie McNally, PsyD
I help teens and young adults become the superheroes of their own life stories by teaching them how to manage anxiety and become more comfortable with who they truly are. I love working with teens and young adults because I get to give them the tools that I wish I would’ve had when I was younger. I get to be the support system that I so desperately needed. Nothing makes me happier than hearing a client change their negative self-talk, become less anxious, and learn to like themselves, flaws and all. Visit my website.