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It is a common feeling that most of us feel at one time or another.
Some people have anxiety that is not-so-common. It can be a true disorder that leads to depression, anger and isolation.
It is important to help your teen manage any level of anxiety.
Tips for Parenting a Teen with Anxiety
My teen has not been diagnosed with anxiety.
Though I recognize the signs in him, he has thus far been deemed to suffer from anxiety that is “typical” of teenagers.
However, I do have firsthand experience with anxiety as I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder of my own.
All information shared here has been thoroughly researched through professional channels.
Any details that are my own opinions are clearly stated as such.
1. Get Professional Help
Your teen seems to exhibit signs of anxiety. That is very normal.
The moment those signs become troubling, contact a professional.
An anxiety disorder that goes undiagnosed and untreated will only worsen. Your child may develop panic attacks and depression.
This could lead to substance abuse and suicidal tendencies.
2. Build a Foundation of Communication
A child with anxiety may not want to discuss their problems with you. Try to find out why they don’t want to talk.
As parents, we often tell ourselves that’s just how teens are.
The fact is, there is usually a reason. It could be that your child feels that they will overburden you. They might worry that you will judge them.
They could feel too pressured. In my case, I was always worried my mom would share my secrets or laugh at me.
Think about these factors and do your best to mitigate them.
Explain to your child that you understand why they might not always want to discuss personal things with you, but tell them that you will be there.
Furthermore, ask them what kind of listener they want you to be.
Some may be looking for a problem solver while others might just want you to hold their space.
3. Be There for Your Child
Communication is vital. So is the simple act of letting your child know that you are there for them no matter what.
As a parent, your love and support need to be unconditional.
Studies have shown that children are more resilient and stronger adults when they feel the power of unconditional love from their parents.
That said, there are also studies that show conditional love may be a better choice.
I personally believe we should never withhold love from our children for any reason, particularly when they are managing anxiety.
4. Understand Anxiety
Typical anxieties come and go.
For teens, anxieties may arise around homework, tests, grades, friendships, dating, sports, acne, and any number of things that we associate with being a teenager.
These anxieties are very normal.
That doesn’t make them less important. Talk your teen through these anxieties or listen to them as they share.
An anxiety disorder is a chronic illness. It requires some combination of cognitive therapy from a professional, support groups and/or medication.
5. Avoid Medication (if Possible)
Medication has its merits. However, it also comes with risks. Anti-anxiety medication can cause suicidal thoughts and actions in teenagers.
This is quite obviously a huge problem, especially when suicidal tendencies are not uncommon with sufferers of anxiety.
Other side effects include fatigue, headache, nausea, constipation, insomnia and excessive sweating.
None of these side effects are going to help a child with anxiety.
In my case, these disorders led to a very real depression that contributed to two suicide attempts.
Once I received professional help, the only reasonable recourse for me was medication.
The suicidal ideation caused by the medication caught me off-guard. It was surreal and different from the suicidal thoughts I had had in the past.
I suffered through these extreme thoughts for a few days before my body adjusted to the drugs and those side effects went away.
I was lucky.
There is solid evidence that suicide rates increase when teens take these medications. That said, some of us absolutely need them.
I tried going off of my meds a couple of times and I deeply regretted it.
Now, in my 40s, I am resigned to the fact that I will always need anti-anxiety medication.
I am also convinced that kids should try all other methods of coping before medication is attempted.
6. Learn Stress Management Techniques
Anxiety and stress are best friends. Stress management techniques lessen anxiety and help your teen take control.
There are different types of stress management that should be tried until you find the right one for your teen.
Start with breathing exercises. This can be as simple as finding a focal point, breathing in deeply and slowly exhaling.
That can be repeated until your teen feels calm. Journaling is also a positive way of managing stress and anxiety. Another great outlet is meditation.
You can enroll your child in a yoga class that focuses on meditation, use a meditation app or encourage them to find their own path.
Many of us prefer to meditate without others around.
I feared that my son was suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Kids with parents who have anxiety disorders are three times more likely to suffer from anxiety themselves.
He showed all of the signs of someone on the verge of collapse.
I didn’t want to overreact but I didn’t want to ignore it either so I sent him to a therapist who said, in no uncertain terms, he is dealing with anxiety but not at the clinical level.
His therapist’s prescription was exercise.
He said that a child who suffers from even a small amount of anxiety will benefit from daily, cardiovascular exercise.
My son was already somewhat active at the time, but he discovered how much better he felt after an hour of dedicated exercise.
Now, even when he isn’t involved in football practice, he goes out of his way to run, swim or cycle for at least an hour each day.
8. Kids Need Sleep
A teenager needs between eight to 10 hours of sleep every night. Is your teen a night owl?
Encourage them to go to bed earlier. It may be difficult for a child who is anxious to sleep. About 30 percent of teens report not sleeping due to stress.
Limit the amount of screen time in the evening, which can disrupt sleep.
Encourage exercise (see #7), which will help kids sleep more soundly. Let them sleep in on weekends or on days they don’t have commitments.
9. Give Them Space
Sometimes, anxiety comes from the parents.
My child’s therapist told me to give him some space to make mistakes. He told me to allow him to figure some things out on his own.
He also said I should try not to pressure him into feeling happy when he doesn’t.
Making him feel like there is something wrong with being sad, worried or stressed only added to his anxiety.
Your children need to know that you’re there for them, but they sometimes need you to take a backseat as well.
10. Know That the Future Can Be Bright
I am a walking, talking, breathing example of how someone with anxiety can have a great life.
I have a wonderful, supportive husband. I have two amazing children. I have a career that I love.
Through stress-management techniques, medication and patience, I have taken control of my life.
With your help, your children will be able to manage their anxiety so they can enjoy their lives and embrace a hopeful future.
Your teen needs you whether they are happy, sad, calm, or anxious.
Be there for your child and help them get the help they need.
Do you have any experience with an anxious child? Have you lived through anxiety? We want to hear your stories in our comments!