8 Effective Ways To Help Your Teen Cope With Their Anxiety
Updated: Dec 24, 2022
"Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action" -Walter Anderson. So the question is: what actions can we take?
As adults, we may bury our noses in self-help books, listen to podcasts or even reach out to a therapist when we begin experiencing anxiety. But for young teenagers, the internal distress they experience when anxious thoughts creep in can feel overwhelming and hopeless. Luckily, there are so many ways that you, as a parent, can provide support to your anxious teen.
Below are eight specific ways for you to support and care for your child so they can begin experiencing freedom from their anxious thoughts.
1. Validate Their Experience
So many teens I speak with express their desire to be heard and seen when they share their struggles.
Validating their experiences without the need to give input provides teenagers the ability to share openly with us.
It also allows them the space to sit with a range of emotions and empowers them to take an active role in finding coping strategies. Some examples of validating statements I have used with teens in my work include, "I hear how difficult this is for you" or "I can see why this is causing you so much distress." Once you validate their experience, it opens the door to follow up with statements such as "Is there any way I can support you in this?" or "What would feel helpful in this situation?" These are examples of providing support instead of intervention.
Studies show that teens who experience parental support have lower levels of anxiety than teens with little parental support.
Parental support helps your child to feel heard and understood, while parental intervention means stepping in to help mitigate what your child is experiencing. Supporting your teen through validating language creates openness in your relationship and serves as the foundation for helping them cope with anxious thoughts.
2. Encourage Balance
Our teens are pulled in a million different directions between school, sports, music,
friendships, family, relationships, college prep; I could go on and on.
While we can't take away these responsibilities our teens face, we can help them learn to find balance.
Finding balance amidst the chaos is difficult but very possible. In my senior year of high school, I was involved in so many activities that I was hardly ever home. I always had something I needed to do. One way I struck a balance was by going to school early and throwing pottery on the wheel before classes started. There were other things I could have accomplished during that time, but I chose to do something I loved instead.
So much anxiety in teens is due
to the pressure to perform and achieve.
Although there is nothing inherently wrong with your child achieving great things, if achievement comes at the detriment of their mental health, it may be time to start encouraging your teen to engage in activities they enjoy. Then they may find a healthy balance between achievement and enjoyment, which can help reduce the anxiety many teens feel around being perfect and accomplishing great things all the time.
3. Model Healthy Coping Skills
We've all been there: it's been a long week at work, you have a presentation the next day that you haven't prepared for, and you still have a laundry list of things to do at home. You're so stressed and anxious about everything you need to get done. Teens watch and learn how we handle our anxiety and stress.
By modeling healthy behaviors such as taking breaks and engaging in mindfulness or breathing exercises ourselves, we can show our teens how they can manage their anxiety.
The age-old saying "Actions speak louder than words" couldn't be more true in this scenario. It may not feel like your kids always listen to what you say, but they see what you do.
4. Utilize Mindfulness Practices
Studies consistently show the helpfulness of engaging in mindfulness to reduce anxiety.
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing awareness to the present moment and the acceptance of your mind and body at that moment.
Some of the easiest ways to help your teen engage in mindfulness are through apps such as Headspace or Calm and guided mindfulness videos that they can easily access from their phones. Encouraging your teen to utilize mindfulness skills when they feel anxious can help them stay focused on the present and build tolerance when unpleasant emotions arise.
5. Teach The Importance Of Mind/Body Connection
There is a deep connection between the physical body and what occurs in the mind. Be aware of whether or not your teen is getting enough sleep, eating regularly, and taking care of their physical needs.
The connection between the mind and the body is fluid, and each can affect the other.
Anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms, for example, shortness of breath or feeling like your stomach is in knots. By having conversations with your teen about the connection of their mind and body, you help them build awareness of what strategies they can use to help regulate their physical bodies when they are anxious and dysregulated.
6. Discuss Screen Time
Studies show that most parents do not limit their children's screen time. While this is a constant battle between parents and young children in today's society, teens tend to have more freedom regarding their internet and phone use.
Technology is here to stay, and the goal is to teach our teenagers how to manage it properly.
Talk to them about how they feel like their screen time affects them. Help them be aware of how social media and other things they view on their phones may contribute to their anxiety. It may be helpful to ask them how long they think they should engage in recreational screen time every day and help them implement limits for themselves based on those conversations.
7. Get Outside
Teenagers spend the majority of their days inside at school. Studies show the physical and psychological benefits of spending time outside and away from a screen. Luckily, Colorado gets 300 days of sunlight, so getting outside is easy to do year round.
Encouraging your teens to take a walk, play a sport in the yard, or just lay in the sun can be a powerful tool for them to use when feeling anxious and unsettled.
8. Connect Them With A Mental Health Professional
Lastly, offer your teens the opportunity to speak with a mental health professional for anxiety counseling. Giving them an outlet to express themselves in a confidential space can help them feel empowered to make changes in their lives. It may also benefit you as a parent to reach out for support from a therapist. Normalizing the experience of seeking help can work to eliminate the stigma attached to it and help your child feel supported by you in their therapy journey.
You and your teenager have dealt with a lot in the past couple of years. I encourage you to acknowledge the strength it has taken for you and your teen to get to where you are today and the courage to seek out resources to help them. I hope that through these eight brief tips, you feel empowered to support your teenager as they learn coping strategies for their anxiety.
If you would like your teen to receive therapy for their anxiety, and are asking where yourself where I can find therapists near me, Intermountain Counseling offers therapy in Colorado Springs, CO. You can learn more about what Intermountain Counseling offers HERE and you can have a free consultation by CONTACTING US.
Lastly, Bessel Van Der Kolk reminds us, "The parent-child connection is the most powerful mental health intervention known to mankind."
So remember that even though you can provide your teen with all the resources in the world, the most important resource you can give them is a deep and loving connection with you.
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Simpson, D., Suarez, L., Cox, L., & Connolly, S. (2018). The role of coping strategies in understanding the relationship between parental support and psychological outcomes in anxious youth. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 35(4), 407–421.