How to Help a Teenager with Anxiety
You’re worried about your teenager.
Maybe you notice how they struggle to regulate their emotions. Or you see how they’ve withdrawn from friends or extracurricular activities. They seem on edge and insecure. You don’t want to make things worse, but you’re concerned about their mental health.
Are their anxious feelings just a part of normal development? Or are they struggling with something more serious? Do anxious children turn into even more anxious adults?
Research suggests that over 30% of teenagers meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder, like generalized anxiety, panic disorder, or specific phobias. Anxiety disorders, particularly when left untreated, can cause significant distress in your child’s life. As a parent, here’s what you need to know:
Children’s Mental Health: Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Symptoms of anxiety often first appear during childhood or adolescence. You may start seeing intensified symptoms of phobia, panic, or social anxiety as your child enters junior high.
Your child’s anxiety isn’t their fault, and it isn’t just a willpower issue or a response to low self-esteem. Researchers are still closely examining the causes and impacts of young people’s mental health. However, we do know that anxiety likely emerges from a combination of both genetic and environmental factors.
Common teenage anxiety symptoms:
- recurring and intense fears throughout the day
- avoiding new or challenging situations
- complaints about stomach pains or headaches (may be more common in younger children)
- withdrawing from usual activities or relationships
- increased irritability
- panic attacks
- heightened perfectionism with academic performance or athleticism
- hypervigilance about how others perceive them
- low self-esteem
- sleep problems
- a decline in physical health (may be a sign of co-occurring mood disorders)
Keep in mind that both emotional and physical symptoms may ebb and flow. As your teen navigates new situations, expands their social life, or becomes more involved in school, they may experience new difficulties.
How to Support Your Child’s Mental Health
As a parent, you already know that the teenage years can be difficult. While you can’t prevent anxiety, you can take steps to support your child and promote healthy living within your family. Here are some considerations:
Understand How Your Teenager Typically Manages Anxiety
Like adults, teenagers cope with stress in all different ways. Some teens with anxiety worry and worry and worry to the point where they struggle to start anything. Others hyperfunction where they try to do it all to avoid spending time alone with their feelings. Some try to conceal their mental health and pretend that everything is okay.
Try paying attention to your child’s patterns. What is their natural reaction to feeling overwhelmed? When they first feel anxious, how do they respond? Do any other mental health issues affect how they manage anxiety?
Model Healthy Coping Skills
You may not feel like your teenager listens to you all that often. That may certainly be true. But there’s no doubt that they observe what you do and how you do it.
That’s why it’s important to model how you integrate coping skills into your life. If you experience your own anxiety, show your child how you attempt to problem-solve and manage your feelings.
At this stage in their development, your efforts in showing have far more influence than your telling. Describing your own efforts to cope also gives your teenager language for detailing their symptoms and feelings.
You might say something like, Wow, my chest feels tight, and these shallow breaths aren’t helping. I almost feel like I’m about to have a panic attack! I’m going to meditate for a few minutes. Would you like to join me?
Or, you might say something like, I feel overwhelmed right now. Physical activity usually makes me feel better, so I’m going to go take a walk to cool down.
As often as possible, remind your child that their anxiety disorder or anxious thoughts don’t define their worth. This can be a challenging concept for some teenagers to understand. They feel guilty over feeling anxious, and that spiral can turn into toxic shame.
Their developing self-compassion can start with you. Be sure to validate your child’s anxiety and remind them how much you love them. Be specific in sharing what you find special about your relationship.
Encourage your child to empower themselves when they feel anxious. What skills can they draw upon? Who can they turn to when they need support? How can they practice gratitude or take care of their emotions, even when they feel overwhelmed?
Teach Them How to Challenge Their Anxiety
Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on understanding the relationship between anxious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This therapy is effective for treating both anxiety and depression.
For example, let’s say your teenager is preparing for an important exam. Despite their intense studying efforts, they’re terrified about failing. You might consider approaching this situation by:
- asking them to reflect on what might happen if they fail (imagining the worst-case scenario)
- asking them how they might talk to a friend struggling with similar anxiety
- asking them to review alternative outcomes (imagining that they pass the test)
Seek Professional Help
Anxiety doesn’t necessarily go away on its own, and teens with anxiety need to learn how to manage their emotions without self-destructing. Therapy can make a significant difference in your child’s well-being.
A therapist can work with your child to help them understand their anxiety triggers and common responses. They can also support them in developing healthy ways to manage their distressing symptoms.
How Therapy Helps Anxious Teens
Many teenagers struggle with their mental health, but if their symptoms of anxiety are adversely affecting their quality of life, they may need more support. Fortunately, anxiety disorders are treatable.
We are here to help you and your family. We understand that a struggling teen needs guidance, compassion, and empowerment during this time. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation!
Willow Counseling, PLLC – Nashville, TN
Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.