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Dealing With Anxiety in Teens as a Parent

Anxiety in teens seems to be becoming more prevalent in today’s society. But what can you do as a parent to offer your support?

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Everyone, at some point, deals with anxiety in their life. However, anxiety in teens seems to be becoming more prevalent in today’s high-pressure society. As parents, it can be difficult to watch your teens struggle, as astute parents tend to feel their kid’s pain, so to speak. The teenage years are crazy times filled with plenty of things to be anxious about, and they often don’t have their coping skills honed yet. Your teenagers are dealing with changes to their bodies, peer pressures, a rapidly developing brain, and slightly more independence and autonomy. It’s a lot, and that’s where you come in. Let’s look into ways to help during these challenging times.

Growing Closer to Your Teenager With AFS

Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition is a fantastic tool to foster a closer bond with your teenager. By engaging in these creative activities together, you create shared experiences and the opportunity for meaningful conversations. Whether it’s embarking on a spontaneous road trip, trying out a new recipe together, or tackling a challenging outdoor adventure, each activity presents a chance to connect on a deeper level with your teen. Quality time together can be a great way to address anxiety in teens.

Understanding Anxiety in Teens as a Parent

Anxiety in teens is a prevalent issue, with studies from the National Institute for Mental Health showing that approximately 32% of adolescents experience generalized anxiety disorder at some point during their teenage years. Understanding how to recognize and support your teenager through their anxious feelings can make a significant difference in their well-being and overall quality of life.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant as medical advice. We offer general tips for dealing with mild situational anxiety. If your teen is dealing with severe anxiety or you feel concerned, it’s best to seek out professional help.

How Anxiety in Teenagers is Different

Anxiety in teenagers is different from anxiety in younger children or adults. Each stage of growing up brings its own set of fears and worries. When kids are younger, they often worry about things outside of themselves, the dark, or imaginary monsters. As they become teenagers, their teen anxiety often shifts to their own perceived inadequacies. Stressors like schoolwork, how they’re doing in sports, or what other people think of them take center stage.

They might also feel anxious about the changes happening in their bodies in middle school. When teenagers start facing more social and academic pressure in high school, they can become consumed with friend’s opinions or the fake influence of social media. Some teenagers who weren’t anxious when they were young may develop anxiety, especially about social situations. They aren’t children anymore, but they aren’t full-functioning adults either, and that interim can be a really confusing time.

Types of Anxiety in Teens

Anxiety in teenagers can manifest in various forms, each with its own unique set of symptoms and triggers:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is one common type, characterized by excessive worry and fear about various aspects of life, including social activities, school performance, family relationships, and future events.

Social Anxiety Disorder

A mental health disorder characterized by intense fear or anxiety in social situations, social anxiety disorder manifests in teenagers as overwhelming worry about being judged, criticized, or embarrassed by others. As a result, they may avoid social interactions, school events, or extracurricular activities where they fear scrutiny or humiliation.

This social phobia can significantly impact a teenager’s daily life, academic performance, and relationships. Common symptoms of social anxiety disorder in teenagers include excessive self-consciousness, physical symptoms such as sweating or trembling in social situations, difficulty making eye contact, and a strong desire to escape or avoid social settings altogether.

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder involves sudden and intense episodes of fear (or panic attacks) accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, chest pain, sweating, and difficulty breathing.

In some cases, symptoms of anxiety can manifest as health issues like stomachaches or constant headaches. Some young people dealing with anxiety will also have trouble sleeping.

Specific Phobias

Phobias are also common among teenagers. They involve irrational fears of specific objects or situations, such as heights, spiders, or flying.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can also occur in young adults. They can involve intrusive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, or recurring distressing memories related to past traumatic events. Understanding the different types of anxiety in teenagers is crucial for identifying symptoms early and providing appropriate support and treatment to help them manage their anxiety effectively. If your teen is showing signs of either, they need to see a medical professional to talk about treatment options.

Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Anxiety and substance use often intersect, creating a complex and challenging situation for individuals. Mental health sufferers often turn to substances such as alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drugs as a way to self-medicate and alleviate their symptoms temporarily. This goes double for teens who are confused about their own minds anyway and often don’t feel they have access to help.

While substances may provide temporary relief from anxiety, they can also exacerbate underlying mental health issues and lead to a vicious cycle of dependence and worsening anxiety over time. Additionally, substance use can impair judgment and decision-making, increase impulsivity, and interfere with daily functioning, further contributing to feelings of anxiety, failure, and distress.

Anxiety and Social Media

Anxiety and social media often go hand in hand in today’s digital age. While social media platforms offer opportunities for connection, self-expression, and information sharing, they can also contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress. The constant exposure to curated images and lifestyles on social media can lead to harsh comparisons, feelings of inadequacy, and fear of missing out among teenagers.

Additionally, the pressure to maintain an online persona can create a sense of performance anxiety and the need for validation from likes and comments. The 24/7 nature of social media can also disrupt sleep patterns and cause information overload. Teenagers (and parents) must be mindful of their social media use and practice self-care strategies such as setting boundaries, taking breaks, and engaging in activities that promote mental well-being offline. Open communication with trusted adults about the impact of social media on their mental health can help teenagers navigate this digital landscape more effectively.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression often coexist, creating a challenging and debilitating combination of symptoms for individuals. While anxiety is characterized by persistent worry, fear, and physical symptoms such as tension and restlessness, depression typically involves feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed.

Both anxiety and depression can significantly impact daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life. Individuals with anxiety may experience depressive symptoms, such as low energy, difficulty concentrating, and changes in appetite or sleep patterns, while those with depression may also experience heightened levels of anxiety and worry. These two disease processes tend to feed off of each other.

It’s essential to recognize the interconnected nature of anxiety and depression and seek appropriate support and treatment to address both conditions effectively. Therapy, antidepressant medication, lifestyle changes, and self-care strategies all play a crucial role in managing symptoms and promoting mental well-being.

Anxiety and School Refusal

Anxiety can often lead to school refusal in teenagers, where they consistently resist or refuse to attend school due to overwhelming feelings of fear, worry, or distress. This refusal can stem from various anxiety-related concerns, such as separation anxiety, social anxiety, performance anxiety, or generalized anxiety about academic pressures.

School refusal can result in significant disruptions to a teenager’s education, social life, and overall well-being. Parents and educators must address school refusal with empathy, understanding, and appropriate support. Collaborative efforts between families, schools, and mental health professionals can help you identify the underlying causes of anxiety and develop effective strategies to help teenagers overcome their fears and return to school successfully. Early intervention and ongoing support are essential in helping teenagers manage their anxiety and thrive academically and emotionally.

Ways to Help Your Teenager With Anxiety

1. Practice open communication.

Creating an environment in which your teenager feels comfortable discussing their feelings is crucial. Encourage open communication by actively listening to their concerns without judgment or criticism. Let them know that it’s okay to feel anxious, and reassure them that you’re there to support them. Share your own experiences with anxiety if you feel comfortable, as this can help normalize their feelings and reduce stigma.

2. Educate yourselves.

Educating yourself about anxiety disorders and panic disorders and teaching your teenager about the nature of anxiety can help lighten their experiences and provide them with coping strategies. Resources like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, BetterHelp, and your family doctor are great places to start.

Encourage your teenager to learn about anxiety as well. Help them understand that anxiety is a natural stress response and that it’s not their fault. Teach them relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation. Finding a physical activity they love is also of vital importance!

3. Encourage healthy coping mechanisms.

Encourage your teenager to engage in healthy coping mechanisms to manage their anxiety. Regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and a balanced diet can all contribute to better mental health. While your teen knows they struggle with anxiety, they also still have that teenager mentality of invincibility. Convincing them that these little changes could make a big difference in the way they feel may take some time. Keep at it. Stay consistent, and model the behavior yourself.

For example, you could suggest going for a walk together or trying out a new hobby that you both enjoy. By engaging in activities together, you can provide your teenager with a supportive environment while also strengthening your bond.

4. Seek professional help.

If your teenager’s anxiety is significantly impacting their everyday life or functioning, it may be necessary to seek professional help. Ignore the stigma around the issue. Seeking a doctor for your child’s anxiety is no different than seeking one for a broken leg. They both impact your child’s overall well-being and should be looked after by a mental health professional. A therapist, psychiatrist, clinician, or counselor can provide your teenager with the targeted healthcare they need to manage their anxiety effectively. They may benefit from therapy, medication, or a combination of both, depending on the severity of their anxiety.

5. Be patient and supportive.

Dealing with anxiety is a journey, and it’s essential to be patient and supportive along the way. Understand that overcoming anxiety takes time and that setbacks are a natural part of the process. It’s much like potty training. You’ll have good days for a while and then revert to bad ones in an instant. Encourage your teenager to celebrate their successes, no matter how small, and remind them that you’re proud of their efforts.

Be patient with yourself as well. Parenting a teenager with anxiety can be challenging, and it’s advisable to seek support for yourself when needed. Joining a support group for parents of anxious teens or speaking with a therapist can help you navigate through your own feelings and concerns so that you can help them better.

6. Ask about Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used and highly effective approach for treating anxiety in teenagers. This therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety. In CBT sessions, teenagers learn practical skills to challenge irrational beliefs and replace them with more realistic and adaptive ones. For example, they may learn to recognize catastrophic thinking, such as, “I’ll fail this test and ruin my future,” with more balanced thoughts like, “I’ll do my best, and if I fail, I’ll try again next time.”

CBT empowers teenagers to take an active role in managing their anxiety, providing them with tools they can use throughout their lives to cope with stress and uncertainty. With the guidance of a trained therapist, CBT can help teenagers develop the skills and confidence they need to overcome anxiety.

7. Encourage them to find their tribe.

Extracurricular activities can be a valuable tool in helping teenagers manage anxiety and improve their overall self-esteem. However, they can be a major trigger if your child is trying to engage with a crowd that makes them feel inferior or unwanted. Engaging in activities such as sports, clubs, or arts programs provides teenagers with opportunities to develop new skills, build self-esteem, and form meaningful connections with peers, but they need the right activities for them.

Sit down with your teen and talk about their interests, their natural abilities, and the kind of people who make them feel the most welcome. Then, look for activities that fit the mold. Let your teen know that the cliques of high school won’t last forever and that some of the most successful people (and the most liked people) in the long run are those who weren’t afraid to just be themselves. Encourage authenticity, and help them find people who uplift and support them. They’re out there!

Closing Thoughts

Anxiety in teens can be overwhelming, but with your support, they can learn to manage their symptoms effectively. By recognizing the signs of anxiety, fostering open communication, educating yourselves and your teenagers, encouraging healthy coping mechanisms, seeking professional help when needed, and being patient and supportive, you can help your teen navigate through their anxiety and lead a happier, healthier life. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and there is help and support available every step of the way.

Knowing “How to Promote Healthy Family Communication” is important in helping your teenagers with anxiety.

If your teenager is beginning to date, there’s lots of anxiety added to their lives. Check out “How to Overcome New Relationship Anxiety” for help in this area.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I help my teenager manage anxiety?

The most effective treatment for anxiety in teenagers is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy combined with healthy coping mechanisms like exercise, open communication, and ample sleep.

How can you build a good relationship with your teen?

Building a good relationship with your teen requires communicating openly and being patient and supportive. Try initiating new bonding activities from Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition.

What causes anxiety in teens?

Stress and overthinking are common causes of anxiety in teens. These worries often center around school, social life, or body image as teens try to deal with peer pressure and changing bodies.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety. It’s highly effective for treating anxiety in teens.

How can parents help teenagers with anxiety?

There are many ways parents can help teenagers with anxiety, including communicating openly, teaching healthy coping mechanisms, and spending quality time together.

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