20 May Tough Talks #3: Anxiety
We’ve created our Tough Talks series to be a useful resource to help parents talk to their teens about a variety of difficult topics, such as anxiety, depression, bullying, and other obstacles teens encounter on a daily basis.
During our teenage years, we go through some of the most challenging experiences and changes of our lifetimes. Teens aren’t children anymore, but they are also still growing into their independence. These changes mean anxiety is much more common among teenagers than you may think.
Although it can be scary, there are ways to notice anxiety symptoms in teens, and create a plan to help. Bringing them a balance of both comfort and support, while acknowledging their feelings, is essential to have a productive conversation that leaves you both feeling better.
What is Anxiety?
One of the most important first steps in knowing how to navigate anxiety is understanding what it is. The term gets thrown around often, and it can be difficult to truly grasp its subtle details and nuances. Anxiety refers to the response that occurs when your brain thinks something is wrong, and that you may need to be protected. This prompts your body to enter a fight or flight mode, which causes all sorts of reactions like shortness of breath or increased heart rate, only furthering the concern and worry felt in that moment. This causes a cycle that can be difficult to break. The fight or flight response is completely normal, and is present in everyone. However, for those with anxiety, it can kick in much faster and come on more intensely.
Teens and Anxiety
Anxiety is extremely common during the teenage years. Not only are teenagers’ brains still developing, but this is also a time of lots of change such as they gain more independence, grow in their relationships, and advance in school. All of this change can heighten anxiety, and it can grow even more during the especially stressful times that we are in now. For the most part, anxiety is a normal emotion like sadness or anger, that passes quickly and goes away on its own. However, for some it’s much more severe, and needs more attention and care to handle.
How You Can Help
Encourage them to open up about their fears.
It’s important for your teen to know they are being taken seriously. Let them know that their fears and concerns are valid, and understand that their anxiety may be more than just a passing emotion. Encourage them to share what may be causing their worry, and actively listen. Additionally, maybe share some of your own experiences to help them feel comfortable opening up.
Help them set small goals.
Setting goals is a great way to make progress towards overcoming anxiety. In the moment, it may seem daunting, but creating small, attainable goals to work on one by one will help it seem more manageable. For example, suggest your teen tries to practice mindfulness once a week, write down their physical responses during a time of anxiety, or identify one specific fear. Understand these goals may not be completed right away, but let your teen know you’ll be there to help them slowly reach them.
Discuss a plan to help keep anxiety at bay.
The next step in handling anxiety with your teen is creating a plan you can put in place going forward. Talk through potential solutions together, whether that means working through the anxiety on your own, or getting a medical professional involved. Be sure to do your research, and have your teen try out a few things to see what helps them the most. Remember, anxiety is different for everyone.
As always, choosing the right time and place to discuss your teen’s anxiety is going to set the tone for the conversation. Always research ahead of time, and come into the discussion with a clear and open mind, ready to learn from your teen, listen to their concerns, and commit to working together to help them get through.
Tilly’s Life Center offers virtual classes that assist in developing and maintaining mental wellness by providing participants with viable tools and coping techniques to help manage anxiety and depression.