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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Fraley

Teens and Anxiety

It goes without saying that the teen years can be difficult. With raging hormones, social pressure, academic expectations and social media following their every move, it is no wonder that teens are experiencing all time high levels of anxiety. For many parents, it can be difficult to differentiate between "normal" teenage behavior and what behavior may be indicative of a more serious level of anxiety.

Anxiety in teens can present in a variety of ways. If your teen displays these behaviors occasionally, that may not be a red flag for concern, however, if your teen displays these signs repeatedly that may indicate that a higher level of intervention and support is necessary. Many symptoms of anxiety also overlap with symptoms of depression as often times these two present together.

Anxiety in teens can look like:

1. Irritability or intense emotional outbursts

- Teens may express emotions that seem like an overreaction to the situation or have difficulty showing resilience in the face of challenges and/or mistakes.

2. Extreme self-consciousness, social anxiety or over-analyzing social situations

- Teens may overthink or ruminate over interactions with peers. They may focus on the negatives and assume the worst about the intentions of those around them.

3. Repeated need for reassurance and validation

- Teens may seek validation from peers or parents through social media, perfectionism or over-achieving.

4. Sleep disturbances

- Teens may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or struggle with waking in the morning.

5. Avoiding social interaction with family and friends

- Teens may begin withdrawing from others regularly and may often cancel plans. They may self-isolate which only serves to increase their levels of loneliness and feelings of rejection.

6. Loss of interest in hobbies and activities

- Teens may become disinterested in hobbies they once enjoyed. They may also have muted emotional responses or appear distracted during "fun" times.

7. Physical symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, dizziness or muscle aches.

- Teen may exhibit a range of physical symptoms related to anxiety.

If you suspect that your teen is struggling with anxiety, there are many strategies and tools you can explore with your teen to help them cope and mange their symptoms. Some of these strategies may require outside support from a professional and others can be started with parental support and guidance.

Strategies to help teens manage anxiety:

-1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

- CBT with a counselor/therapist can help teens learn how to challenge unhelpful and distorted patterns of thinking. CBT allows teens to support themselves through more positive and rational self-talk.

2. Physical Activity

- Regular physical activity through sports, walking or yoga can provide an outlet for anxious feelings as well as provide a natural serotonin boost.

3. Prioritize sleep

- Getting at least 7-9 hours hours of sleep per night is essential for overall emotional wellness. It is very difficult for teens to effectively manage their emotions when they are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

4. Honor the body with self-care

- Mental wellness starts from the inside. Self-care such as adequate hydration and a nutritious diet are basic building blocks of emotional health.

5. Take a break from social media and limit screen time

- Creating boundaries with social media and the digital world can be helpful in calming the nervous system and reducing anxiety. Limiting social media usage may also help with anxiety created by social comparison.

6. Practice mindfulness

- Anxiety in teens is often linked to rumination about the past or worrying about the future. Helping teens connect to the present moment through breathing exercises, visualization and meditation can relax the nervous system and reduce anxious feelings.

7. Journaling

- Journaling can be a helpful and cathartic way to express and release pent up fears and feelings. It can also be a great tool for self-instrospection and goal setting.

8. Self-compassion

Practicing self-compassion through the use of affirmations and positive self-talk is a wonderful first step in managing symptoms of anxiety. Helping your teen learn how to be a good friend to themselves with self-compassion is key!

9. Routines

Create calming and enjoyable routines to practice daily as routines create a sense of grounding, safety and familiarity that can help calm anxiety.

How you can help support your anxious teen:

1. Encourage your teen to talk about their fears, worries and concerns without judgement.

2. Make sure to remind your teen that even though they may feel like they need to be perfect, you don’t have unrealistic mile-high expectations for them and that your main objective is to see them thrive.

3. Acknowledge your teen's feelings while resisting the urge to "fix" their worries or talk them out of how they are feeling.

4. Encourage your teen to speak with a counselor, therapist or life coach.

5. Get their pediatrician involved and discuss the benefits and risks of potential medication usage.

Bottom line, being a teen can be hard! Being the parent of a teen can also be hard! But, there are tools, strategies and resources to help ease anxiety and make the transition through the teen years more enjoyable and empowering for all!

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