Everyone has anxiety now and then; while some people only experience it when they’re under a lot of stress, others have anxiety disorders that cause them to feel anxious all the time. Your teen is no exception: He or she might just occasionally deal with stress and anxiety, or they might suffer from the uncomfortable feeling most of the time. Lifestyle changes, coping methods, and professional help can all help individuals get their anxiety under control. Here are some ways you can support your teen if he or she is dealing with anxiety.
Help Your Teen Recognize the Symptoms
Dealing with anxiety can be hard,to start, you must realize when you have anxiety. For a teen who doesn’t know that the pounding heart, sweaty palms, nausea and shortness of breath they’re experiencing are all symptoms of anxiety, it can be very scary. It’s not uncommon for a young person (or even an older adult) to experience the signs of anxiety and then begin to panic, making the situation worse.
If your teen is in the midst of a panic attack or is having symptoms of anxiety, letting them know that it’s part of the fight-or-flight response will at least alleviate their worry that they are experiencing a medical emergency. (If you are unsure, a quick visit to an urgent care center will rule out any physical concerns and you will know for the next time!)
If your adolescent can recognize the signs that they’re experiencing anxiety, they will be able to take steps toward minimizing their stress and coping with the anxiety as it comes up. Dealing with anxiety will help you calm down and can even reduce symptoms as well.
Encourage Them to Exercise Regularly
Exercise has been proven to reduce both anxiety and depression. In fact, for people with mild conditions, exercise each day is just as effective as taking medication. In addition, exercise can help your teen get better sleep, which also can help alleviate anxiety.
If your teen played sports during the school year and isn’t practicing this summer, they might get into the habit of lazing around. Discourage this, as it will only make anxiety worse for many people. Encourage your teen to look for ways to stay active: Go for a walk or run each day, go swimming with a friend, join a group of other young people for a game of pick-up basketball at the park, or sign up for a dance or exercise class.
Consider Your Teen’s Diet and Sleep Patterns
Many teenagers are sleep-deprived and rely on salty, fatty, or sugar-filled foods to get them past their fatigue. This can lead to greater anxiety symptoms. You have probably had the experience of feeling overwhelmed and stressed when you didn’t get a good night’s sleep; if just one night of poor sleep can add to your stress level, imagine how much extra stress a sleep-deprived teenager might be dealing with.
Encourage your adolescent to go to bed at a reasonable time so they can wake up well-rested. In the summer, it’s best not to let your teen sleep all day to make up for staying up all night. Instead, take some measures to make staying up until the wee hours less desirable: For example, you might shut off the Internet at midnight or insist that all computers and tablets get shut off at 11:00 pm. Also, schedule a few morning activities to keep your teen in the habit of waking up before noon.
Teens also tend to eat a lot of junk food, particularly during the summer months when meals might be less structured. Fill the fridge with fresh fruits and veggies, buy all-fruit ice pops or sorbets for frozen treats, and encourage them to snack on things like hard boiled eggs or veggies dipped in hummus. By avoiding the junk food aisle in the grocery store, you can minimize the amount of junk your teen is consuming, keeping both blood sugar and mood fluctuations to a minimum.
Dealing with Anxiety through Relaxation
If your teen is stressed out, there are some relaxation methods that might help. Just breathing and counting is one; you’ve probably heard the advice to take a deep breath and count to 10, so this is nothing new. Encourage your teenager to take a deep, slow breath through his or her nose, then to exhale just as slowly through the mouth. Paying attention to slow breathing can slow their heart rate and make them feel calmer in a trying situation. Dealing with anxiety is stressful and hard but relaxation is a way to reduce that.
There are plenty of relaxation techniques that your teen might be interested in trying. Yoga is popular and can be done either in a class or in the privacy of your own home with a video or even a YouTube episode. Progressive muscle relaxation is another. Guided imagery or simply listening to calming music can also be helpful. Encourage your teen to try different methods to see what type helps them when dealing with anxiety.
Discourage Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
While it’s important to encourage healthy coping mechanisms like exercising and breathing, it’s equally important to discourage less healthy tactics. If your teen is drinking, smoking, overeating, staying in bed all day, or developing the symptoms of an eating disorder, these behaviors need to be addressed. In some cases, anxiety can end up leading to an addiction, an eating disorder, or depression, so be aware of any unhealthy coping mechanisms that seem to be part of your teen’s routine.
Seek Professional Help
Finally, lifestyle changes and healthy habits are not enough to cure an anxiety disorder or other types of severe stress. If your teen is getting worse, isn’t getting better, or is showing signs of other mental issues (such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or an eating disorder), it’s time to seek professional help. You can start with your teen’s physician and ask for a referral to the proper type of mental health specialist that the doctor recommends. The good news is that even severe anxiety is not a life sentence; there are medications and therapies that can help. Talk to your teen about whether they are experiencing moderate to severe anxiety, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Having someone to reach out when dealing with anxiety shows that they have support to make it easy to cope with your anxiety.
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.