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6 Effective Ways for Tackling Anxiety in Teens

May 18, 2020

Article contributed by guest author, DONICA DOHRENWEND, PhD.

Heart beating fast... trouble breathing... sweaty palms... flushed skin... a sense of uncertainty… These are all things we tend to feel when anxiety strikes, and it is uncomfortable for anyone. It's a normal emotion that everyone experiences from time to time, whether you're worried about passing a test, speaking in front of a public audience, or visiting the doctor for a check-up.

Anxiety tends to increase during adolescence due to all the developmental changes a teen goes through, and eventually tapers off as they grow older. So, if your teen has been struggling a little more with feelings of anxiety lately, don't worry… it's normal. 

Not only is feeling anxious challenging for your teen, it's also tough seeing your child struggle with this strong emotion. So, how can you help your teen through it? Let's learn some effective ways of tackling anxiety in your teen.

Have a Chat with Your Teen

First and foremost, tell your teen it's normal to feel anxious. Share your anxious experiences with them. This helps your teen feel less isolated and gives them an opportunity to relate their own experiences with you. Tell your teen you want to hear about what's making them feel anxious. Then just listen.

Be sure to acknowledge their worries or concerns and support your teen. Let him or her know that you are there for them and that you can overcome these feelings together.

If your teen doesn't wish to talk, don't force them. Just let them know you'll be ready to listen when they are ready.

Set Small Goals

Create small steps together to help your teen face his or her anxiety. For example, if your teen feels anxious when performing a speech in front of their class…

Goal #1: Say speech out loud in front of a mirror

Goal #2: Give a speech to mom

Goal #3: Practice speaking to the whole family

Goal #4: Present to a couple of friends

Goal #5: Speak in front of the entire class

After each goal accomplishment, celebrate together! If you make a big deal out of their tackles, they can feel much more powerful in their capabilities.

Focus on Positives

If your teen enjoys writing, journaling is an excellent way to focus on positives. Have your teen write down 2 or 3 new accomplishments every night. These can be as simple as finishing all their homework or as exciting as winning first place in the track meet.

Saying or writing down affirmations may also work. These can include:

  • "I got this!"
  • "I'm doing my best!"
  • "I'm not going to let [whatever makes them anxious] get in my way!"

Evaluate the Worst-Case Scenario

Your teen can make a list of the pros and cons related to their anxiety. What's the worst that could happen? And if the worst-case scenario does happen, how can they handle it? Work it out together.

Teach Self-Relaxation

Sitting in front of the TV or chilling on your phone are not considered useful relaxation techniques. These can actually heighten anxiety. Think about it… watching devastating occurrences on the news, sitting on the edge of your seat while viewing a suspense movie, or an Instagram post about an ex and his new crush. Phew!

Instead, try some of these relaxation techniques:

  • Deep breathing: Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth at least 5 times.
  • Muscle Relaxation: Tense up the muscles in your body, and then relax.
  • Coloring: Take your time and focus on the colors.
  • Grounding: Focus on your surroundings using your 5 senses. What are things you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste?
  • Explore nature: Go for a walk and notice everything you see or hear in nature.

Just Make Sure Your Teen is Healthy

Teens are developing mentally and physically, so an excellent way to ease those anxious feelings is by practicing healthy habits. Here's a list to follow: 

  • Engage in physical activity
  • Eat balanced meals and snacks
  • Get enough sleep. Teens should be getting at least 10 hours each night
  • Limit screen time and teach them about using social media appropriately
  • Practice positive coping strategies - take deep breaths, go for a walk, listen to music, do something that makes your teen happy
  • Maintain structure and a daily routine

Ready, Set, Tackle!

Every teen is different, so if you try one of these strategies and it doesn't work, that's okay. Try them all to learn which methods work best for your teen. Also, you know the saying, "Change doesn't happen overnight?" The more your teen practices these strategies, the easier it is to cope with anxiety.

Now, get ready to set up one of these strategies and let the tackling begin!

 

About Dr. Dohrenwend from Psychology 360:

Dr. Donica Dohrenwend is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder and director of Psychology 360, a private practice that specializes in psychoeducational and psychological evaluations. Dr. Dohrenwend received her PhD in clinical psychology from Fielding Graduate University. She also holds a masters degree in organizational psychology from Columbia University and a masters degree in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Dr. Dohrenwend is also the mother of 5 children, 3 biological and 2 adopted (from Ethiopia and Haiti). 

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