Tips for Anxious Teens
Over the last decade, mental health among youth has deteriorated, and it’s only gotten worse in the past couple of years. Compared with 2019, emergency room visits for suicide attempts rose 51% for adolescent girls in early 2021. Depression and anxiety doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of youths experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% suffering anxiety symptoms. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that nearly one in three adolescents meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder.
If you have a teen who is suffering from anxiety, it can be hard to know how to help or what to say. Today’s blog offers some coping strategies to offer teens when they are feeling worried.
Overwhelmed? Schedule your worry.
Sometimes our mental health can get rattled by circumstances. Perhaps a death in the family, a natural disaster, or a series of bad news has heightened our feelings of worry, which can spur troubling thoughts that run in our heads over and over. When this happens, our worry feelings can become the boss of our mind and take over our thinking. In these cases, we might feel so anxious that we are not able to concentrate on other things or we find our eyes welling up with tears at the slightest provocation.
When our feelings are overwhelmed in this way, try scheduling a time each day to worry. This might seem counterintuitive – aren’t we trying to worry less? – but actually, by giving ourselves permission to grieve or obsess or worry for 10 to 20 minutes, you can stop those thoughts from taking over the rest of your day. The key is to set a time limit and schedule it for a time of day when you won’t be interrupted.
Annoyed with a loved one? Self reflect.
Sometimes we find other people’s behavior infuriating or incomprehensible. When we are frustrated with someone, we tend to blame them. “If only so-and-so would change, I would be happy.” Instead of thinking someone else is the problem, this is an opportunity for us to learn about ourselves. Why do we feel frustrated or annoyed?
We can ask ourselves if the other person’s behavior is something we also do, are envious of, or criticize. Feeling hurt, annoyed or angry with someone else’s behavior might reflect something we dislike about ourselves or something we want to change. When we focus on our own behavior, which is something we can control, we can stop stressing about other people’s behaviors, which is something we cannot control.
Feeling down? Be kind to tough emotions.
We all avoid pain. None of us choose to feel bad. So when uncomfortable emotions such as anger or sadness arise, we usually try to distract ourselves to avoid the feelings. While this can be an effective strategy in many cases, sometimes we need time to process our emotions in order to heal. Psychologists say there are a few steps we can take to allow that work. First, avoid labeling emotions as “good” or “bad.” They are feelings that are trying to tell you something, but they are not inherently a good or bad thing. Second, identify your emotion. Are you angry or did your feelings get hurt? Are you sad or do you just feel lonely? Finally, explore that feeling. Why do you feel that emotion? Where do you feel it in your body? What is this feeling trying to tell you?
By bringing awareness to the feeling without trying to change the feeling – sometimes called radical acceptance – we can actually ease our distress. Many people assume that radical acceptance hinders change – if I accept it, I’m giving up or not working to improve the situation. However, studies show the opposite. When we accept the feeling, the pain subsides. When our pain is reduced, we can often see new ways to transform our situation.
Reeling with anxiety? Make observations.
When fear and uncertainty strike, many of us get stuck in a recurring thought: “Why is this happening to me?” We believe that figuring out the why will fix our anxiety, but in reality, the question keeps us feeling helpless and stuck. Instead, practice mindfulness by making observations about the present moment, for example:
- Try sitting down, looking at your feet, and noticing how they feel.
- Try naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
- Try breathing slowly and deeply and observing that you are safe in this particular moment.
All of these grounding exercises can spark curiosity and bring our worrying mind back to the present.
None of us wants to see our children unhappy, and it can be heartbreaking when we see our tweens or teens experiencing anxiety. Our role is to help them learn to cope with and reduce their anxiety and continue to function well despite their worries. These tips above are great ideas for your teen to try, but don’t hesitate to get your child professional help because anxiety is highly treatable! A licensed counselor is trained to help teenagers learn to cope with anxiety. They can teach your teen how to recognize their triggers and develop techniques to help reduce symptoms and curb negative responses.