Anxiety is an issue for millions of people every year regardless of age. It’s also prevalent in teenagers who deal with a lot of the stresses that come with adolescence. It is important to note that anxiety has nothing to do with a person’s internal fortitude or character. In fact, for most people anxiety is related to brain chemistry.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is largely related to brain chemistry and exists on a spectrum. Some people experience a high level of anxiety and some experience very little. Sometimes excess anxiety is situational, and sometimes it’s related to inherited brain chemistry or other conditions. Some people even experience something called “Anxiety Attacks.”
It is important to note that anxiety, in certain situations, is useful. Studies have shown that, to a point, performance (for example, in sports or on an exam) improves as anxiety increases. This is because some anxiety improves memory recall, attention, reasoning, and helps with decision making. The problem is that if anxiety continues to go up, all of the advantages disappear, and we start to unravel.
What Are Symptoms Of Anxiety?
Anxiety can manifest itself both physically and emotionally. Feelings of anxiety often involve things like:
- Being fearful, worried, or overwhelmed.
- Feeling like you are out of control.
- Feelings of dread, or a sense that something bad is about to happen.
- Sudden onset of panic
- Outbursts of anger
Physical symptoms of anxiety can also include things like:
- A racing heartbeat
- A tight feeling in the chest
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Tense muscles in the neck and shoulders
- Trembling or uncontrollable shaking hands
- Dizziness or light-headedness
Anxiety Habits & Behaviors
There are a few outward signs of an individual struggling with anxiety. If you notice the following behaviors in your teenager, they might be dealing with acute or chronic anxiety.
- Skin picking
- Pulling out hair
- Avoidance of situations they used to consider fun.
- Developing irrational rituals that they repeat
- Excessive hand washing
- Frequently checking that doors & windows are locked
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
How Can I Help My Teenagers Manage Their Anxiety?
While anxiety is largely related to brain chemistry, there are a few things you can do to help your teenager better manage anxiety and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Just keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Some of the following techniques might work better for some people. Gently encourage your teenager to try each of them to see which ones they are most comfortable with.
Encourage Or Introduce Mindfulness
A growing body of research points to the benefits of mindfulness both in helping to improve overall mental focus as well as helping balance brain chemistry. This can have a significant impact on a teenager struggling to deal with anxiety.
You could try introducing your teenager to things like guided meditation or other mindfulness exercises to help give them a greater sense of balance as well as personal insights. Even the simple process of measured breathing can have great benefits for an individual who is experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety.
Another way to find mindfulness is in positive social gatherings. Many parents have found success encouraging their teens to join the youth group of their particular religious community. Also, sometimes local schools or even psychologists have set up group forums for kids to discuss issues that concern them. This social support can be very useful in alleviating anxiety and the feeling that you are in this alone.
Exercise is about more than just staying fit and healthy. The brain releases positive endorphins and does a better job of balancing its internal chemistry when routine exercise is added to a daily routine. Vigorous exercise can also help decrease the feeling of tension that many people feel with anxiety.
Yoga combines the best of exercise and mindfulness training. It employs controlled breathing as well as physical exertion. Also, many of the more popular forms of yoga include a gentle element of self-reflection. Like other forms of exercise, yoga, too, can help ease the tension that is often associated with the physical aspects of anxiety.
Today yoga is more accessible than ever before. Even if your teenager is against the idea of going to the gym or a yoga class, you can usually find online yoga videos that they can do from the comfort of your own home without feeling self-conscious.
Keeping A Gratitude Journal
A lot of times teenagers and most adults keep a “Diary” or a journal that details all the things that are going wrong in their lives or upsetting them. For someone with anxiety who is often feeling overwhelmed this type of diary or journal keeping can end up reinforcing the negative self-talk that sometimes comes with anxiety.
Worse still, negative journal keeping can make your teenager feel more withdrawn. Some will even worry that friends or family might read their intimate thoughts, which can insert trust issues into the complex anxiety equation.
A “Gratitude Journal” turns this idea on its head. Instead of writing down their negative thoughts, they focus on something positive in their day or their life. Writing about something they are thankful for helps combat the negative self-talk that sometimes comes with anxiety. It can also help to affirm positive emotions.
A growing body of research has even found that the positive experience that comes with keeping a gratitude journal in the long-term can start to help balance brain chemistry. Some people who do it as a daily exercise even report a greater sense of mindfulness, patience, and even an improved threshold for pain.
Good Nutrition & Avoiding Drugs, Alcohol & Nicotine
Eating a balanced diet is about more than helping keep you and your teen healthy and strong. Research has found that people who eat a balanced diet rich in whole foods and low in processed foods also tend to have better brain chemistry. This in turn can help decrease feelings of anxiety.
It’s also worth noting that bad habits like smoking, vaping, drinking alcohol, and taking controlled substances can increase both the physical and mental elements of anxiety in teenagers. Any prescription medications and controlled substances in your home need to be locked securely away. At the same time, you should also avoid drinking and smoking in front of your teenager, which they might interpret as passive permission for them to do so as well.
Social Media and Anxiety
No one knows the full effect of social media on anxiety, but many studies suggest that social media can have a very negative effect on a child’s feeling of self worth. The images portrayed on social media are often idealized, and do not reflect reality. We all need to be social with our peer groups, but social media can also be harmful and needs to be significantly limited, or else it may have a strong negative effect on a child’s anxiety. Here are some rules of thumb that may help you when your teen resists suggestions to limit screen time:
- Experts recommend that total screen time, including social media, be limited to only two hours per day on average.
- Cell phones should be put away during social engagements, such as dinner time.
- Cell phones should stay out of the bedroom at night. Children need time to escape, to reflect, and just to be left alone. Studies have shown that not sleeping with your phone in the room significantly improves restfulness and time spent sleeping.
When Should I See A Doctor About My Teenager’s Anxiety?
For a lot of teenagers, chronic anxiety is related to imbalances in brain chemistry. If your teenager’s anxiety is worsening to the point that it prevents them from living a healthy life, or is causing them to withdraw excessively, or they have demonstrated a risk for self-harm, then you should strongly consider seeking out professional help.
Many times teenage anxiety can be treated with a prescription for mild anti-depressant medications. Coupled with individual therapy or group therapy, your teenager may very well return to the life they enjoy and flourish. In time, your physician can help you and your child choose a long-term anxiety management plan that they can carry with them into adulthood.