Feeling anxious is horrible. It is a sense of dread that is extremely unpleasant. Some people get headaches, tight muscles or stomach aches along with it. It’s that feeling before a big test, or a speech. Some people feel this way all the time, even when they cannot pinpoint a reason, and consequently they live with emotional misery. Does your teenager feeling this way? Do you see them stress out over things that you wish they wouldn’t worry about? If so, you know the heartbreak of watching your child feel completely wound up while you are helpless to comfort them.
Here are 5 tips to help with anxiety. These will reduce anxiety, but not completely eliminate it. By the way, completely eliminating anxiety should never be the goal. Anxiety is a motivator. Some of the adolescents who come into my therapy office have too much anxiety, but some have too little. The ones who have too little are the kids whose parents cannot seem to find anything to motivate them. These teens don’t care about grades, getting a job, getting into college, etc. So, for those of you who have teens with too much anxiety, keep in mind that the goal is to restore them to an appropriate level, but not to completely fix it.
Try these ideas, and if they aren’t successful, it might be time to seek out professional help:
1. Be mindful. This means becoming present in the moment. Notice the things you see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Pay attention to the small details. Find something beautiful to focus on in your environment and enjoy it. For me right now I can look outside my window and see a tree that has some new growth on it. If I hadn’t been intentionally mindful, I wouldn’t have even noticed it. Looking at the new growth on the tree took me out of my own concerns for a moment, thereby reducing anxiety.
2. Talk to yourself about the truth. Most of the things we worry about come out differently than we predict. That’s because we think of the worst case and then focus on it. The attention given to the worst case scenario makes it start to feel real. The truth though, is that most things are relatively easy compared to how we predict they will go. It is easy for a teen to assume they will fail a test. However, chances are, if they’ve been paying attention in class and studying, they won’t fail; they might not get an A but they probably won’t get an F.
3. Get some exercise. Our brains release calming chemicals when we get a good work-out. It’s hard to be stressed when your brain is releasing calming chemicals. The time spent working out, and therefore away from the cause of the stress, is also very important.
4. Get busy with a consuming task. Anything that requires focused attention will take you out of your anxiety for awhile. This could be reading a book, calling a friend, playing an instrument, etc.
5. Recognize what you can control. Think about what you can do about your situation, and then do it. After that you have to understand that it is beyond your ability to control. Let those parts go because they are going to happen however they happen. Your teenager worrying about it does not change it at all. For example, I worked with one girl who had trouble with insomnia. It was an awful problem some nights, and then others it didn’t bother her at all. She started coming to counseling because she began to spend the majority of her day anxious about whether or not she would sleep that night. I asked her whether her worrying at 9 am had any impact on her falling asleep at 10 pm. She said it didn’t. While the technique of only thinking about what you can control didn’t completely solve her anxiety, it was one of the many techniques we employed to reduce it.
Anxiety is overwhelming and frustrating. Show your anxious teenager empathy, and keep reminding them to be mindful, tell themselves the truth, get some exercise, find something consuming to do, and recognize what they can control. You will probably have to say this to them several times, but it should be helpful.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT