It’s hard for adults to cope with anxiety. It’s even harder for teens to do.
If you realise your teenager is having problems with stress and worries, how can you help them cope?
Seven great ways parents can help their teens handle anxiety
1. Get physical!
There has been extensive research on how exercise can be helpful for those struggling with mental health problems, including anxiety. Why? When your teen has an anxiety attack, they experience physical symptoms. For example, faster breathing increased heart rate and sweating.
These symptoms are, of course, distressing and only make the anxiety worse. However, through exercise, your teen can learn to associate these symptoms with something positive—working out—instead of something negative.
Therefore, encourage your teen to exercise, even if it’s just brisk walking. Or even better, why not exercise or play a sport together?
2. Shift their focus
When your teen has an anxiety attack, they probably focus in on what is causing their anxiety-like a laser beam. As a result, they get “locked” into an unhelpful thought cycle that can be very hard to break.
You can help your teen by encouraging them to shift their focus away from what is triggering the anxiety to something more calming. Have them look at a picture that reminds them of a time when they felt relaxed (the beach, a favourite toy, etc.). Ask them to close their eyes and count to ten slowly. Or teach them to repeat a word or phrase they find reassuring.
3. Challenge their thinking
When your teen is having an anxiety attack, encourage them to examine and the thoughts that are causing their anxiety. Help them look for evidence that supports and does not support their anxious thoughts and to consider an alternative belief. This process can be more straightforward if they have been to therapy and understand that the fear they are experiencing is not based on any real danger. Remind them of what they have learned and how they can move past the anxiety.
4. Promote mindfulness
Practising mindfulness techniques such as meditation can be very helpful for coping with anxiety. It is similar in concept to the second suggestion: Shift their focus.
For mediation, though, encourage your child to focus on having an open mind where thoughts can come and go. As a thought arises, they can acknowledge it, even identify how it makes them feel, then allow themselves to let that thought slip away. Mindful meditation can help your teen feel more in control of their thoughts and feelings, rather than controlled by them.
5. Use humour
Humour and laughter are certainly therapeutic and help to redefine anxiety. Instead of something to be dreaded, you and your teen can use humour to acknowledge that they are starting to feel anxious and need to shift gears.
For example, they could say, “Here comes Mr Anxious again!” Giving the anxiety a name can make it less scary and, in turn, less intimidating.
6. Be supportive
Think of yourself as a coach who is trying to provide motivation and encouragement to your anxious teen. Don’t belittle your child or tell them they need to “suck it up.” They already feel terrible. Why make things worse?
7. Give them space
Being supportive also means knowing when to take a moment and step back. Sometimes, even your encouragement may be too much. Maybe your teen just needs some space. Try giving them some distance, but don’t check out completely. Stay engaged with what’s happening, even if it is watching from afar or stepping into the hallway. When they have calmed down re-engage with your teen to make sure they are OK.
Being the parent of an anxious teen isn’t easy, and you may feel powerless in those anxious moments. However, there is a lot you can do to support your child and help them cope with anxiety.
Check out our anxiety page and related posts for further help and information.
If you would like to speak with someone about your teen’s anxiety, please call us on 0151 329 3637 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, complete our online referral form and we will get back to you.