Dr. Cristina Davis
It can be emotionally taxing to watch a loved one experience something painful yet feel helpless to ease their pain. Unresolved feelings of helplessness can become extremely frustrating over long periods of time. Luckily, for parents of teens struggling with anxiety, there is plenty you can do to come alongside your teen and support them in experiencing relief from anxiety-related symptoms.
The struggles teens face: anxiety and mental health challenges.Everyone faces challenges that tax their ability to cope in various ways. Anxiety and other mental health challenges are common among teens and adolescents. We all have things that cause us to worry.
The teenage years are a time of many transformations, changes, experiences, and challenges. A teen is growing physically, they are coming into their own socially and they are growing more in their independence and autonomy. It is an in-between stage of life, as they are not children anymore, but they have yet to become adults. The adolescent years can be exciting but also a bewildering time in a teen’s life.
Between high expectations to succeed, the reality of dangers in the world, and the ever-present influence of social media, there are many sources of anxiety for teens and adolescents. Experiences such as frequently moving or changing schools, being exposed to parental instability through domestic violence, or parents constantly fighting and arguing, bullying, abuse, neglect, or trauma can all contribute to diminished mental health.
Signs of anxiety in teens.
There are many different signs of anxiety, and each person will be affected by it in different ways. It is important to keep an eye out for changes in your teen that may not be accounted for by typical teenage angst. Teens often prefer discretion around their thoughts and feelings, which may make it difficult for loved ones to detect anxiety.
It requires parental attunement to their child’s immediate emotional needs and awareness about changes observed. If you are unsure about how to identify this in your child, this may be a situation when accessing a professional therapist may be advised. Your teen’s therapist can help you identify changes in your teen if this is not something that feels comfortable or easy for you.
Some signs of anxiety to look out for include the following:
- Social withdrawal and isolation from friends and family.
- Changes in behavior, such as irritability or agitation.
- Recurring physical symptoms such as muscle tension, psychomotor agitation, stomachaches, or headaches.
- Emotional outbursts.
- Frequent worrying thoughts.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Difficulty starting or completing school assignments.
- Sensitivity to criticism or extreme self-consciousness.
- Avoidance of social interactions, activities, or tasks.
- Changes in eating habits such as eating too much or too little.
- Frequently seeking reassurance.
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Recurring negative thought patterns.
- Changes to grades including poor academic performance and/or other difficulties in school.
- Substance use or other risky or impulsive behavior.
Recognizing these and other signs of anxiety in your teen can be a step toward finding them the appropriate help they need to regain peace and a sense of well-being.
Help for teens dealing with anxiety.
Teens are notorious for being closed-mouthed around their parents and other responsible adults while being open with their peers. Building a good relationship with your teen allows them to openly share what is happening in their life.
Open communication is possible between a teen and their parent/caregiver, but this may take some effort practicing until the parent gets it just right. For instance, mindful responses paying special attention to facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language can change the trajectory of a conversation.
Anxiety is something that a person does not grow out of, but instead, begins to practice adaptive coping skills to regulate their mood and manage stress. Thankfully, the good news is that there is a lot that you can do to help your child. Some of the ways you can help your teen in dealing with their anxiety include the following:
Notice them and what is happening in their life.
Attempt to see the world as they do. Showing concern, empathizing with them, and being understanding of whatever situation they may be experiencing can help alleviate the distress that often accompanies anxiety. This may make it more likely that your teen will seek you out for consultation when they want to discuss something on their mind, express how they feel, or bounce an idea off of you.
Give them space to talk and reach out.
A teen is at a weird stage of life when they are no longer a child, often desire to have the freedom of an adult, but are often not responsible enough to handle and maintain the advantages of being an adult. Adolescence is a stage of life that can feel challenging for a teen because they have likely earned privileges not previously allowed as a child, but they are still not an adult, and are therefore unable to be fully autonomous.
They are often trying to figure out where they fit in the world, particularly amongst their peers, as well as developing greater insight into how their behavior is connected to their consequences. It is important to allow teens the space to grow while also providing them with guidance and a limited setting, when necessary. Validate how they feel about whatever they may be going through and maintain age-appropriate expectations.
Help them with self-care.
Good sleep routines are crucial. When your teen’s sleep hygiene is intact, it will make it more likely their mood may be regulated as well as their ability to focus when they have to complete important tasks such as homework from school. In addition, wholesome meals with regularly scheduled mealtimes that are centered around connecting as a family are important as well.
You can model for your teen being fully present at the dinner table by modeling turning your phone off during mealtimes, so it does not become a distraction at mealtimes. This act communicates the prioritization of family time and eating during that time.
Help build their coping skills.
You can assist your teen in the development of adaptive coping skills by modeling these yourself. For instance, if you find cooking soothing, invite your teen into the kitchen to cook with you.
If you feel better after a work-out, modeling this for them while growing up and inviting them whenever you go may encourage them to practice implementing a regular workout routine as well. If deep breathing has helped you feel better, you can model this for your teen when you are activated, and you can coach them on how to do it when they are activated as well.
Seek professional help.
Counseling can help your teen come to grips with what’s making them anxious and allow them to work through the situation. Family counseling can help you by providing you with tools to support your teen.
Your counselor can help you think through how to handle different situations that cause anxiety for your teen, and help you come up with a plan for appropriate responses in those situations. In addition to talk therapy, a medication consultation with a medication provider may be a beneficial option to explore as an additional treatment option.
Your teen needs help with navigating their journey with anxiety. Parents are often their teen’s primary support and part of their treatment team. Parents frequently play an active role in taking them to their counseling sessions and helping them remain consistent with their medication and managing side effects.
In addition, parents often assist their teen in practicing the exercises that the teen’s counselor suggests for relieving anxiety. These supports are so important for your teen’s success. Reach out and speak with a Christian counselor today to get the help your child needs to address their anxiety.
“Anxiety”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Depressed”, Courtesy of Joice Kelly, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “How Are You Really?”, Courtesy of Finn, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Comfort Therapy”, Courtesy of Mindy Jacobs Unsplash.com; CC0 License
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