Everyone feels anxious now and then –before a job interview, an exam, a doctor’s appointment, a date or for no reason at all. Even though it might not look like that – this is an adaptive response to situations that are perceived as threatening. Our amygdala lights up and it is prepared to make a fight or flight choice. This should I stay or should I go dilemma is evolutionary justified, which is why the decision should be made in environment when real threat is perceived. But if these feelings persist even when there is no actual danger in our surroundings, anxiety could block us from making the right choice.
For each person alive, adolescence is a white-knuckle ride through many manifestations of growing up, getting to know yourself, and finding your place in the world. But what happens when a sidekick of this process is anxiety? How do we cope with pervading feelings of irritability and stress that affects our mood, eating and sleeping habits, school performance, self-esteem? How do we build Resilience?
1. Stop reassuring
“Don’t worry”, “Relax’’, “There’s nothing to worry about”. How many times did you hear this? Did it ever help you or provide necessary support? When teenagers hear these common phrases – they’ll automatically believe that you don’t understand them and that you don’t take them seriously. If a teenager accepts that his or hers problems are just a product of their imagination, he or she might develop anxiety about anxiety and be overwhelmed because they are feeling in inappropriate way.
2. Acknowledge their feelings and thoughts
There is a common misconception that asking questions about anxiety would trigger even more negative thoughts and excessive worry. On the contrary - children and adolescents need to be heard and to feel that their feelings are normal, but in a non-intrusive way. Encourage your kid to share their worries and overwhelming experiences. Don’t be afraid to draw parallels to your own teenage distresses, or to ask questions about how, why and when did this feeling occur. If you don’t empathize with your child, he or she will not be willing to share and discuss with you in the future. Allow them to worry.
3. Learn about anxiety
Understanding how anxiety works, how it blocks our rational way of thinking and how it makes us feel is a good step forward to recognizing such cues and addressing them appropriately. If you know how the body and mind react when anxiety strikes, you can try to calm your kid down and help them interpret their own reactions and situations which are causing the distress. You can also suggest making check-lists that will focus on their thoughts when anxiety occurs, collect evidence to support or negate the facts, and to seek for alternative reactions to cues that triggered the anxiety.
4. Practice self-compassion
Anxiety often acts in social situations – when they’re being judged or monitored by their peers, or when their performance is being assessed. Boosting self-esteem, encouraging connection with your inner world and with the others, nurturing well-being and recreation is always a great channel for assuring your teen that he has capability and strength to cope with problems he or she encounters. This might sound like an intuitive and logical step, but it’s often neglected or set aside. While focusing on relationships, grades and everyday tasks, we tend to forget to spend some time on ourselves.
5. Seek help
If anxiety becomes too much and your teenager is not available to leave the house without a chaperone, and/or starts isolating himself or herself from others – you should seek a professional that will give you tailored guidelines for you and your child. It might be in a form of slow and gradual exposure to stressful situations, meditation and relaxation, and in some cases appropriate medication.
Other information which may help is the Grit or resilience. How to build a resilient mind so anxiety doesn't affect us as much.