More than previous generations, Generation Z reports feeling anxiety at a greater rate than some other common mental illnesses. There are a number of theories about why Gen Z is so anxious. They’re more isolated than previous generations, getting their social interaction through screens instead of in person. They’re under intense pressure to succeed academically. Many are entering or getting ready to enter a job field that contains a lot of closed doors for those who have college degrees but doesn’t pay enough to live on and pay off student loans for those who have a college degree. They’re worried about gun violence – particularly mass shootings in schools and other places where teens and young adults congregate. They’re living in a politically polarized time period and relations between various groups are often fraught. In short, they have a lot on their shoulders and their support networks are perhaps less than ideal. If you have a Gen Z teen, how can you help them overcome their anxiety? Take a look at some anxiety management tips for Generation Z.
As things are right now, most people rely on internet-enabled devices to some extent. They’re necessary for school and for most jobs, and just opting to not have a smartphone or computer is not really an option for most people, Gen Z teens included. But that doesn’t mean that your teen needs to have their phone in their hand 24/7.
Push notifications and other electronic prompts can exacerbate anxiety, and everyone needs a break now and then. Teach your teens how to set aside time to be disconnected from their electronics. Help them set boundaries by enforcing a “no phones at the dinner table,” or “no screens after 9 PM” rule. They may not like it at first, but once they become accustomed to it, they’ll appreciate the break from being constantly connected, and teaching your teens to do this now sets a foundation that they’ll be able to build on to help control their anxiety as adults.
Cut Back on Caffeine
Young people who are trying to do a lot of things in a short period of time often reach for caffeine to help them stay focused and alert. Caffeinated sodas and elaborate coffee drinks are just the tips of the iceberg – teens may also reach for energy drinks, diet pills, and nutritional supplements that promise focus and energy. Additionally, they may be consuming additional caffeine in ways they’re not aware of – it also shows up in headache medicines, chocolate, and many types of tea.
Consuming enough caffeine can make anyone jittery and anxious, and for people who are already suffering from anxiety, the effects can be seriously detrimental. Overdoing the caffeine causes physical symptoms that mirror anxiety symptoms, like a racing heart or shaky hands. When combined with anxious thoughts, this can lead to things like panic attacks. Cutting out caffeine is unlikely to cure anxiety, but it can decrease the frequency and severity of anxious episodes. Encourage your teen to find other methods of staying alert during the day (like getting a good night’s sleep!) and help them out by storing fewer caffeinated beverages in your own home.
Develop Healthy Coping Strategies
People suffering from anxiety can learn stress relief strategies to help recenter themselves and calm down when they feel themselves starting to become anxious. Different things work for different people, but techniques like deep breathing exercises and meditation work for many people. Help your teen research and learn different self-calming techniques and encourage them to find ways to use the ones that work best for them when they feel their anxiety starting to get out of their control.
Talking about the things that are making your teen anxious can be important. Sometimes things that loom large when your teen is only thinking about them can seem more manageable and less anxiety-inducing when they’re expressed out loud. Talking to parents and friends can be helpful, of course, but sometimes what teens need is a neutral third party that they can talk to without fearing that their worries will be misinterpreted or repeated to others. This is where a therapist can be very useful for teens who are suffering from anxiety.
A therapist can help your anxious teen figure out what is bothering them when they aren’t sure themselves what is causing their anxiety and give them a safe space to work through their feelings and thoughts. Therapy can also help teens develop the tools they need to manage their anxiety in a healthy manner. Look for a therapist who specializes in working with teens and young adults who can understand and relate to the specific concerns and triggers that members of Gen Z are dealing with.
Not everybody who suffers from anxiety needs or wants medication, but for some teens, it can be helpful. It is important to be aware of medication as an option, especially for teens who are experiencing severe symptoms that are seriously disrupting their lives. Getting the right medication is important – teens who suffer from anxiety are often misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder. They have trouble focusing not because they have an attention deficit but because they’re preoccupied with worries. The stimulants that effectively treat attention deficit disorder can actually make anxiety worse.
For children and teenagers suffering from anxiety, antidepressants have a better track record of getting anxiety symptoms under control and managing the condition long-term. Other commonly-used anxiety meds include benzodiazepines, which can be helpful for acute, short-term care but aren’t necessarily a good long-term choice. The most successful treatments for severe anxiety often include a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
Anxiety is Manageable for Gen Z Teens
For parents of Gen Z teens, the best thing to do is be aware of the things that your teen is worried about and remain alert for the symptoms of anxiety. Talk to your teen about whether they’re feeling anxious and about how you can help, and let your teen know what their options are for managing the anxiety that they’re feeling.