Anxiety is like fire: It can keep us safe and warm, or completely devastate our property and our lives. It’s good to be a little anxious at times. When walking down a deserted street at night, anxiety keeps us on alert and ready to fight or take flight should a dangerous situation arise.
But for many people, especially adolescents, anxiety can become the norm instead of the exception. Just walking into a classroom or being with a group of people they don’t know can become crisis situations. And, the more they experience these scary events, the more anxiety becomes a chronic condition.
Here are 4 things parents and teachers should know about adolescent anxiety.
1. Anxiety Refers to Physical Symptoms Associated with Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts such as, “No one will like me,” or “Everyone is going to think I’m stupid” come first. These thoughts are then followed by physical symptoms such as a stomach ache, diarrhea, or shaking and shallow breathing. Young people need to learn how to not only shift their thinking (“This will feel awkward but I’ll be okay”) but also cope with the physical stress (take slow, deep breaths). This will help kids know without a doubt they can handle uncomfortable feelings instead of avoiding them.
Helping teens to recognize and replace negative self talk will help them learn to self soothe on their own. Instead of telling your teen “it’s OK” or “it’s all in your head” or even worse “get over it”, listen to their concerns. Listen for their concerns. Then remind them to breath and help them to change some of the messages happening in their head. “I am important”. “I have skills and abilities”. “I belong here”.
2. Dealing with Anxiety Requires Problem Solving Skills
Life is full of uncertainties and gray areas. Parents of very young children help them navigate through these situations. But adolescents must be equipped with problem solving skills so they may tolerate uncertainty instead of avoiding it, as avoidance only makes things worse and gives anxiety more power.
In our busy lives, we don’t always take the time to explore thought processes with our teens. It may take them longer to get there, but we cannot fix their problems for them. We have to give them the time, space and support to allow them to find their own answers. And to make their own mistakes (within reason, of course) because natural consequences are a great teacher as well.
3. The Adolescent Mind is More Sensitive to Environmental Stress
The adolescent mind is a jumble of chemical changes that can make any situation seem like time spent in a fun house. These hormonal changes make adolescence a particularly challenging time to cope with anxiety.
Encouraging our teens to practice yoga, mindfulness and other opportunities to slow our minds down will help them to un-jumble their “fun house”. Also, listening to them and teaching and practicing acceptance helps us to move through the challenging anxiety cycles that they can get caught in.
4. Anxiety is a Vicious Cycle
When young people are anxious, it’s easy for the adults around them to become anxious as a response. But, the more anxious parents and teachers are, the more controlling and inflexible they may become.
As adults, it’s important we manage our own anxiety around our kids and students so we can manage the overall situation much more effectively.
And did I mention listening? Really hear and be there with your teen. Without judgement. Without answers or solutions. Listen, Breathe, Accept, Love. Encourage them to find the answer from within. This is how they turn into productive, strong, resilient adults.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, therapy can help. If you’re interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.