Most teenagers experience some degree of anxiety in their lives. It could be due to many things such as life changes like moving or changing schools, real or perceived pressure to do well in school or in extra-curriculars, conflict with peers or due to trauma or health issues. These instances of anxiety can be brief or prolonged. Anxiety can present itself in many ways including poor sleeping patterns, irritability, seclusion, crying, poor academic performance, headaches, stomach aches and poor appetite. If your teen presents with many of these symptoms, there is a good chance that he or she is feeling anxious. Thankfully, there are strategies for coping with anxiety.
If your child is showing signs of anxiety for an extended period of time, it is important to have a doctor do an assessment and rule out any other medical problems before determining if it is anxiety. In some cases, medication is necessary and can improve the quality of life for a teen who is living with anxiety. Referrals to psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors can also be made at this appointment.
With or without a referral from a doctor, therapy can be a valuable tool for a teenager with anxiety. If some of the teen’s worries involve the family situation, it could be difficult for him or her to talk to parents, making a therapist the ideal person to speak to. A therapist can also assist your teenager in problem solving and managing their feelings. Therapists don’t always have to be doctors or paid counselors. Many schools have guidance counselors who are trained to help teens with anxiety, or they have access to school nurses and counselors.
Communication is vital to reducing anxiety. Set aside a time for conversation each day, either at meal times, during a car ride or after school. Avoid vague questions like “How was school?” and instead offer openings such as “Who did you eat lunch with today?” that are easy to answer but can open the door to further conversation. If your child has a difficult time expressing their feelings, work together to create a rating scale for their stress level and ask your child to write their number on a white board, chalk board or piece of paper for you each day. If the number indicates a high level of stress, help your teen determine the cause and take steps to reduce it. Sharing the number with teachers can help everyone effectively help your child each day.
Journaling is a positive way for your teenagers to document feelings and events, express themselves and work through their emotions. The journals can be used as a communication tool with therapists, teachers and parents, or kept as a private chronicle for your teen. Encourage your teen to rate his or her stress level in each entry, and offer their input on what is causing the current level of stress (or lack of) and what methods have diminished anxiety.
Being active every day increases endorphins to promote an overall feeling of wellness. Good for your body and your mind, daily exercise is an important step in dealing with anxiety. If your teen is resistant to daily exercise, incorporate mandatory daily activities like walking to school, walking the dog, shoveling snow or cutting grass. They may not appreciate the chores, but the value of being active will outweigh the reluctance.
A poor quality of sleep can add to feelings of anxiety, and anxiety can make it difficult to sleep. It is a vicious circle, so it is important to look for ways to promote good sleeping patterns. Steps for better sleep include:
- remove electronics from bedrooms
- use lavender scents on bedding, in the bedroom or through lotions
- eat foods rich in magnesium, like bananas, nuts or seeds or take a magnesium supplement before bed
- take a warm bath before bed
- use a sound machine
- if doctor approved, use melatonin as a sleep aid
Animals can play a meaningful role for teenagers with anxiety. The act of petting or playing with a cat or dog increases serotonin and dopamine and reduces stress hormones. Caring for a pet gives a sense of responsibility and purpose. If having a pet in the home isn’t a possibility, seek out opportunities to spend time with animals. He can pet-sit, provide dog walking services or visit animals at a local shelter.
Music is a powerful tool for altering moods and can be effective at reducing anxiety. Services like Spotify have lists of relaxing songs, or your teen can build a playlist that creates feelings of ease.
Apps like Calm or Headspace help you take a moment to lower your heart rate and relieve stress. Encourage your teen to use similar apps or take a few minutes to practice meditation each day.
Items like stress balls, fidget spinners and meditation chimes can help calm anxiety. Anxiety is sometimes caused by hyper-focusing on a specific stressor. A stress ball or fidget toy can help flip the switch from worrying to relaxing.
Encourage your teen to try different techniques and explain how each method can be beneficial. Otherwise, they may just feel like they are being dismissed when advised to download an app or listen to music.