Is Your Teen Feeling Anxious About Feeling Anxious?
There is a lot of talk about anxiety at the moment. You only have to turn on the TV to hear the worrying statistics in relation to the rise in anxiety amongst young people in the last decade and the general rise in anxiety since Covid-19. It can be easy to think of anxiety as a scary, negative disease to be avoided at all costs. It’s almost as though we have become anxious about feeling anxious.
I will let you into a secret. If I were to score how often I feel anxious on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being very often, I am hovering around the 7-8 mark more often than I care to admit.
In the past, I have spoken of “battling my anxiety” and “getting rid of my anxiety.” Even by calling it “anxiety” rather than just “feeling anxious,” I turned it into a “thing,” an enemy to be feared and battled against.
But over the past few years, I have begun to see my heightened state of awareness differently. Anxiety is after all a natural, human state designed to protect us. It is a throwback from our prehistoric days when the amygdala would sense danger and release lots of awesome chemicals, which would enable us to temporarily become stronger, faster and more powerful so that we could avoid being eaten by wild animals.
Anxiety doesn’t come from a broken brain but a strong, healthy brain that is doing exactly what brains are meant to do.
I still feel anxious. BUT now I have a different relationship with the part of me that sends me the signal to feel anxious.
I thank it for allowing me to look into the future and predict problems before they arise. I thank it for keeping me safe from danger. I thank it for giving me a level of insight I might not otherwise have had.
Most importantly though, I have learnt to work WITH the anxious feeling rather than AGAINST it. Instead of treating that temporary feeling as a disease or an enemy, I have learnt to tune into the positive intention behind the feeling. I now view it more like an overprotective friend.
I have also learnt how to dial those feelings down when I need to.
So, what can you do as a parent if you have a teen who is feeling anxious?
- Let your teen know that there is a positive intention behind the feeling
Feeling anxious can be unpleasant and our natural instinct is to want to feel better. However, if we actively listen to what that feeling is trying to tell us, rather than pushing it away, it is likely that the feeling will become less intense. The more we ignore the feeling, the more our bodies will find a way to make the signal stronger.
- Ask your teen what specifically is causing them to feel anxious
Generalised anxiety can feel overwhelming. But often if you ask your teen what specifically is causing them to feel anxious at that specific moment in time, saying it out loud can reduce the intensity. It also provides a space for you to help them find a solution.
- Validate their feelings
As parents, it is often a natural instinct to reassure our teens – to let them know that there is nothing to feel anxious about. Sometimes though, this can have the opposite effect. It can make them feel that they are not being heard. Let your teen know that you understand why they feel anxious and that you are there to support them whilst they work it out.
- Help them with gentle self-talk
Often teens who regularly feel anxious can feel that they are different to others, which may lead them to talk negatively to themselves. Encourage them to calm the feeling by gently telling the part of them sending the signal “It’s okay. I’m fine. I don’t need you right now.” This decreases the intensity of the feeling because the brain knows that the signal has been heard.
- Remind them to breathe
Encourage your teen to breathe in for the count of 3 and out for the count of 6. This will stimulate the parasympathetic branch of the automatic nervous system and enable your teen to feel calmer.
Most importantly, remind your teen that they are not their anxiety. Feelings of anxiety are perfectly normal and everybody feels anxious sometimes. They are not wrong or broken and it does not mean that they need “fixing”. Learning a few simple techniques to calm their nervous system and changing the language they use when talking to themselves can make the world of difference.