As a parent, it can be difficult to watch your teenager struggle with severe anxiety. One can feel helpless as their child’s school performance, social life, and familial relationships are hurt by their stress and apprehension. Anxiety is a very serious and debilitating disorder that can throw a person’s entire life into total upheaval, but thankfully, it is a manageable condition. Here, we invite you to explore some tips for helping your teen learn how to cope with their anxiety.
Teach the power of relaxation
Overcoming severe anxiety is a process – one that involves weeks, months, and maybe even years of attention. Teens must learn how to face their fears and problem solve, finding solutions in everyday life for their overwhelming anxiety. But in the moment, it helps to know how to relax yourself and set yourself down a calm path. That’s where relaxation comes into play.
Anything that helps you focus on the now, as opposed to future and past sources of anxiety, can be an effective relaxation technique. Many teens may feel wary of words like “meditation” and “yoga,” but these practices are easy and highly beneficial. Taking the time to focus on one’s breathing, having a favorite space that’s calm and clutter-free, taking slow and deep abdominal breaths, and repeating a mantra can help calm anxiety. If your child is reluctant to try a relaxation exercise, try doing it with them. You can stream guided yoga/meditation practices together; that way, you’ll both reap the rewards!
Teach them the dangers of alcohol as a coping mechanism
When talking to your teen about alcohol, make sure you’re realistic. Let them know that yes, alcohol can temporarily reduce levels of anxiety and that’s often why people turn to it, but over time, alcohol can severely exacerbate the effects of their anxiety. Relaxation techniques, exercise, proper sleep, and positive visualization are all more effective than alcohol, and will never cause dependency issues.
Sadly, many adolescents experiment with drinking alcohol because their peers do. Many teens feel anxiety over the pressure to fit in, and if the crowd they’re trying to mesh with makes them feel like an outsider for not drinking, this could lead to a dangerous pattern of drinking behavior. As a parent, it’s important that you are aware of who your child is spending time with. If they’re stressed about fitting in and begin exhibiting symptoms of troubling behavior like drinking, it may be necessary to switch schools or even find a better neighborhood to live in so your child can thrive. No matter what, it’s important that you let your teen know that alcohol will not help their anxiety — no matter its origin — and they need to be honest with you if they’ve started down that path (free of consequence).
Teach your teen the steps for overcoming a specific source of anxiety
Anxiety isn’t just something that goes away. For most people, it must be “workshopped” in the same way many other types of problems must be identified, labeled, and tasked.
While anxiety can contribute to growth, an abundance of anxiety, particularly the type that’s debilitating, can have lasting negative effects. One of the first steps to dealing with anxiety is to identify the specific nature of the trigger. Teach your child how to do this without resorting to generalities. Instead of just repeating, “I’m anxious about school,” in their minds, teach your teen to say something like, “I’m worried that I’m falling behind in math and can’t learn the material.” It’s at that point when you can begin to work up possible solutions, like different tutoring options, after-school programs, or summer school.
If your teen feels excessively anxious about a future event (fear of the unknown is the most common anxiety trigger), it’s vital that you teach them the technique of taking small steps to reach big goals. If doing the thing that causes anxiety is the big goal, break it down into the small steps needed to eventually get to that goal. Work on taking those steps one by one. Celebrate each small victory your teen makes toward overcoming a specific anxiety trigger.
Help your teen find outlets for their anxiety
As an adult, you know that when you get incredibly frustrated or distracted about something, a great solution can be to take a walk. Fresh air and moving your body can provide calm and help you reframe. Your teen can benefit from this too, so encourage them to move their body more often when they start to feel their anxiety growing.
Of course, another great option is to enroll your child in a sport they love, one where they can feel good about their efforts. A team sport is especially beneficial and can help teens come outside of themselves since they have to focus on supporting teammates and fulfilling their role on the team. Whether it’s basketball, soccer, football, hockey, martial arts, lacrosse, whatever, help them identify a sport that speaks to them.
Learning to cope with anxiety can be a lifelong exercise; however, when you help your teen find the right techniques to calm their anxiety, it almost feels like a new lease on life. Try these tips today, and see how your teen can make positive changes.
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