5 Supportive Strategies Every Parent Of An Anxious Teen Should Know
If you have an anxious teen, chances are you’re feeling anxious yourself. You worry about how you can best help, or even if you are capable of helping them. And you worry whether the best answer is to insist that s/he get professional help.
Your worry shows you care – a lot. It means that you are doing your best to be the parent your teen needs you to be – no matter how ineffective you may feel. Understanding and helping your teen face their normal (and perhaps not-so-normal) anxiety can feel challenging at best. So much so that getting your teen try therapy to may become your ultimate goal in helping your teen more effectively address his/her anxiety. But in the meantime, these 5 strategies can help.
Strategies To Try To Support Your Anxious Teen In Coping With Their Anxiety
In this case the basics include exercise, sleep, nutrition, and hydration. Each of these physical needs have been repeatedly linked to cognitive control as well as emotional regulation. They are especially important in helping your teen become more aware of his emotional signals.Exercise provides a mental and emotional boost – so long as it is voluntarily done. It can also help your anxious teen practice being uncomfortable or even tolerate pain. This practice of tolerating discomfort in the physical can spill over into the emotional world, helping build mental resilience.
Between 8 and 10 hours is how much sleep your teen should be getting every night. She needs this much sleep because of all the changes her body and brain are going through and because sleep is what helps heal and repair our bodies, absorb new situations, consolidate memories and clean our brains.
Eating a diet high in nutrient-dense foods can help provide your teen’s brain the fuel it needs to keep his body running efficiently and smoothly. It is well documented that a diet rich in sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and preservatives can wreak havoc on anyone’s blood sugar, arousal circuits, and metabolism. If your anxious teen eats like this, he could be having a harder time regulating his body and his emotions.
However eating healthy is a whole lot easier said than done – especially when your teen is making his own choices about what to eat. Providing easily accessible healthy choices and keeping them in places your teen will easily see can be a powerful way to nudge his food choices. When your child is naturally exposed to healthy food options, he is more likely to choose them.
2. Connect with your teen to understand their specific challenges
Staying connected with and listening to your teen about her worries is critical. Your interaction with her is the only way for you to know how she is doing, and for her to know how much you care about her and her challenges. Your connection allows your anxious teen to trust in letting you help. Allowing your child to talk out her worries with you also provides her practice of naming and talking about her feelings, which will become a powerful tool in processing anxiety now and throughout her life.
3. Model how to cope with worry
Kids are very adept at picking up on nonverbal responses – especially those of their parents. So, your anxious teen knows when you’re feeling anxious or worried or stressed. Modeling healthy ways of coping with anxiety, worry and stress, not only helps you better cope, but allows your teen to observe valuable skills she might choose to try out herself.
4. Teach what anxiety is
Anxiety can be a superpower – according to celebrity Emma Stone and at least one anxious child. Let your anxious teen know that anxious people are caring, intelligent, and great-problem solvers.In addition to teaching your child about the positive characteristics of anxious people, share with them what anxiety is from both a cognitive standpoint and a physiological one.
5. Teach coping mechanisms
A variety of coping mechanisms can also be taught to your teen, including accepting her anxious feelings instead of fighting against them which only makes things more uncomfortable. Remind her that anxiety is trying to communicate with her, and that understanding her fears can put her problem-solving superpower to work.Belly breathing is one of the simplest ways to calm anxiety, and is also something that can be easily taught, along with employing a power pose that can increase feelings of confidence and power prior to high-stakes social situations. Music – especially slower tunes – can be a powerful way to calm down, along with scrolling comedy or nature-oriented media.
Above all else, reinforce the idea that she is in control of her anxiety and not the other way around. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, noticing and naming her experience can a powerful way to take control. From a position of power, she will be better able to hear the message anxiety is trying to give her, and take appropriate action to mitigate her anxious feelings.
(You will find additional coping mechanisms to teach your anxious teen in my book, Hack Your Anxiety: How To Make Anxiety Work for You in Life, Love, and All That You Do.)
Parenting an anxious teen can be nerve wracking. You want the best for them and sometimes knowing what to do can be confusing. Therapy can be a powerful tool in helping your child build coping skills, and there are also things you can do at home to help. Learning to navigate anxiety requires courage, support, and practice. With your help, your teen can build the skills they need to understand and cope with their feelings, and importantly know they are not alone.
(Note: If your teen is facing an emergency mental health situation, seek help immediately. Examples of these types of emergencies include threats of suicide, severe withdrawal, threats of suicide, violent behavior, and a sudden extreme weight change.)
Looking for more help with parenting and anxiety? Check out my book, Hack Your Anxiety, sign-up for my free mini-ecourse to help you hack anxiety’s most common challenges, or subscribe to my newsletter.
Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash