Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time and your teen is no exception. Today’s teens might be under more stress and more likely to experience anxiety than adolescents in generations past. It’s no wonder: Teens are under increased pressure to do well in school in order to qualify for scholarships and spaces at selective universities, many adolescents have part-time jobs and/or extracurricular activities, and teenagers often have issues with peer pressure, family concerns, or other worries. If your teen is dealing with anxiety, it’s natural to want to help. Here are some things you can do to help your child handle his or her anxiety.
Recognizing Anxiety in Teens
Sometimes, it can be hard to determine whether a particular behavior is being caused by anxiety. For example, if your teen is more irritable than usual, you might chalk it up to common teenage moodiness. A lack of focus when it comes to taking tests could be attributed to disinterest in school or a lack of preparation. When there are several symptoms present at the same time, however, it’s important to look into the possibility of them being caused by anxiety or some other mental health condition. Common symptoms of anxiety in teens include:
- Restlessness, pacing
- Lack of focus
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle aches
- Digestive complaints
People with anxiety might also have panic attacks. If you’ve ever had one, you know that they’re typically not subtle. If your teen is having panic attacks, he or she might be experiencing symptoms such as:
- Racing heartbeat
- Shortness of breath or feeling like they can’t take a deep breath
- Chest pain
- Shaking or tremors
- Pins and needles in the hands, feet, or lips
- Feeling like they’re going to die
- Fear that they’re going crazy
While a panic attack is scary, it’s not dangerous. The symptoms usually go away after 10 or 15 minutes. The first time your teen has one, a medical checkup is a good idea to make sure it’s not anything caused by a physical problem, such as a heart issue or an asthma attack. Once your teen can recognize that the issues are stemming from anxiety, he or she can learn methods of handling a panic attack.
Talking to Your Teen About His or Her Anxiety
Your first action if you suspect that your teen is dealing with anxiety is to talk to him or her about it. Try to find out whether they are feeling stressed and anxious. Sometimes, teenagers know what’s bothering them and they are just afraid to tell their parents that they want to drop out of a difficult class or that they don’t like their chosen sport anymore. In these cases, getting to the root of the problem and discontinuing the bothersome activities, if that’s a feasible option, might solve the issue.
More often, however, stress and anxiety are caused by several different factors all at the same time. And sometimes people can’t simply stop a required activity. For example, school might be causing anxiety, but your teen shouldn’t just drop out. When this is the case, looking for ways to reduce the anxiety is necessary.
Learning Relaxation Methods
Often, anxiety can be reduced by simply trying some relaxation methods you can do at home.
You have probably heard the advice to take a deep breath and count to ten. This is actually a good strategy for dealing with anxiety. Have your teen breathe slowly in through his or her nose for the count of five, then breathe out slowly for the count of five. Repeat it a few times and anxiety will often decrease. There are other types of breathing exercises, too, such as diaphragmatic breathing and box breathing.
Your teen can also try methods like progressive muscle relaxation. This is an exercise where you tighten and release one muscle group at a time. For example, you might tense your toes for a few seconds, then release. Next is the ankles: tighten and release. Then the calves, and so on, all the way up to the face.
Meditation is another way that your teen might be able to reduce stress and feel better.
Encourage your teen to work on relaxation techniques for a few minutes every day.
Encouraging a Healthy Lifestyle
Making healthy choices when it comes to simple lifestyle changes can help with dealing with anxiety and stress.
For example, exercising every day is known to decrease anxiety. If your teen isn’t currently taking a physical education class but has room in his or her schedule, see if they can switch into one. If not, going for a walk every evening after dinner can suffice as enough daily exercise during the week. Try to incorporate physical activity into the weekends, too. If you notice that your teen is spending a lot of time on the computer or playing video games, try to get him or her out of the house and doing something active.
Getting enough sleep is another way to relieve stress and anxiety. Teenagers need an average of nine hours of sleep, and many teens are sleep-deprived. Try to get your teen to go to bed early enough that he or she can get in nine hours of rest before having to get up for school the next day.
Seeking Help for Your Anxious Teen
If your teen isn’t able to manage his or her anxiety with these self-help methods, it’s time to seek help. A mental health counselor can treat your adolescent with cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a type of therapy that helps people learn how to react to stress, anxiety, and even panic attacks in healthy ways. A doctor might also prescribe your teen medication to help control his or her anxiety.
As a parent, it can be heartbreaking to watch your teen when he or she is dealing with anxiety. This condition can be controlled, and learning how to handle it now will help your child as he or she enters adulthood. Keep the lines of communication open, encourage them to take steps to reduce anxiety, and seek mental health care if needed.