Anxiety is normal and common, but it isn’t pleasant. In addition, having too much anxiety can lead to an anxiety disorder, which can make you feel afraid or worried most or all of the time and can also include panic attacks. If you are dealing with anxiety, you are not alone; today’s teenagers have a lot of reasons to feel stressed. The good news is that managing anxiety can be learned. Read on to learn about nine strategies for managing anxiety.
#1 Managing Anxiety
Exercising can lower anxiety levels if done regularly, so if you’re not currently involved in a sport or taking physical education each day at school, look for ways to get more physical activity into your day. Teenagers should get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. You don’t have to do it all at once, however; you can take 10-minute walks, help with housework, pull weeds in the garden, or simply go shopping to rack up that time.
#2 Take Time to Breathe
Breathing exercises can help you stay calm and, with practice, rapidly diffuse your anxiety. Part of the reason is that you will be focusing on something other than your problems. Another is that breathing slowly and deeply interrupts the hyperventilation cycle. Find a quiet place and concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes. You can try different exercises, but a common one is to breathe in for the count of 5, hold for the count of 5, breathe out for the count of 5, then wait for another count of 5 before repeating.
#3 Use Distraction
If you’re very wound up over an upcoming event or something that has recently happened, sometimes the best way to temporarily stop worrying is to simply distract yourself. Turn up the radio and sing, watch a funny movie, flip through a magazine, or look for a mindless video on YouTube. You could also try making small talk with a stranger while out and about or making a list of things you need to buy this month. Taking your mind off of your troubles for a few minutes can help you calm down.
#4 Keep a Journal
If you find yourself worrying often, try writing down what’s bothering you. It might help if you schedule a specific worry time each day. If an anxiety-producing thought pops into your mind, jot it down and wait until your prescribed time to worry about it. Another strategy is to keep a gratitude journal. Write down something that you’re grateful each day. Knowing that you need to write something down can help you keep your mind fixated on the positive rather than the negative and helps while managing anxiety.
#5 Learn to Say No
If the main cause of your stress is a to-do list that’s bursting at the seams, learning how to prioritize your time and energy can help keep anxiety at bay. Some things in your life are non-negotiable, of course, such as school and household responsibilities. Others, like extracurricular activities and a part-time job, are most likely optional. If you need to scale back on something, do so without guilt. Keep in mind that it isn’t forever; you can take a semester off from the drama club or a volunteer position and go back after you’ve had some time for self-care.
#6 Have Fun With Friends
Are you packing your weeks with activities that don’t leave you any time to spend with your friends? Running from one obligation to another can lead to stress and anxiety. You need time to kick back and relax, so try to make plans weekly with your friends. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated; watching a movie together or meeting up for pizza is stress-free and can help you relax.
#7 Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation can lead to heightened levels of both anxiety and depression. Did you know that teenagers need about nine hours of sleep each night? Most don’t even come close. Take a look at what time you need to wake up for school and make sure you’re going to bed early enough most nights of the week. It might mean that you should hit the sack at 9:00 pm; if some of your activities go longer than that, try to catch up on the weekends and, if needed, with a nap after school.
#8 Talk to Your Parents
If you are having panic attack symptoms or you are finding that you’re worried most of the time or often enough to negatively impact your life, it’s time to talk to your parents about how you feel. They might have some good suggestions to help you begin to feel better. They might be willing to exercise with you or enforce an earlier bedtime if you need that type of support; they might even encourage you to drop a particularly difficult class or an after school job. If necessary, they can take you to be evaluated for an anxiety disorder.
#9 See Your Doctor
Your primary care physician is the first line of defense if you are feeling too anxious. He or she can screen you for a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression, and from there you can request a referral to a counselor or specialist who can help. You might need cognitive behavioral therapy or, in some cases, medication to help you cope. Don’t be ashamed to reach out for help! One in five people need treatment for a mental health condition, and anxiety is very treatable.
Remember that getting your anxiety under control now will help you navigate school, sports, your job, college applications, friendships, and more. It will also help you develop coping mechanisms that will last your whole life; you will undoubtedly also have stress during adulthood, so managing anxiety now is a great step to take. Try the measures listed above and if they don’t help, talk to your parents or your doctor about how you are feeling.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.