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Adolescents and Anxiety: 8 Things Every Parent Should Know

1. Anxiety is the physical manifestation of fear and “worry" - a pattern of negative thinking.

Ask your kids what symptoms they may be experiencing – racing heart, shaking hands, pounding chest, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, sweating, etc.

2. The fear behind anxiety is meant to be a warning system for imminent physical danger.

In today’s world though, this fear can be healthy or unhealthy – but it is most often unhealthy. Many events in our lives that we respond to with fear and worry are not actually things that will harm us.

Work with your teen on changing their perspective and being able to recognize what is a real threat and what isn’t – taking a test is not dangerous – it shouldn’t result in anxiety.

3. Anxiety leads to many of the same symptoms as ADHD – distracting thoughts, difficulty concentrating…

Seek a mental health professional who can help you determine the difference between the two.

4. Adolescent brains are still growing and are more sensitive to their environment - this is a particularly difficult period to be able to navigate through stresses in daily life and cope with anxiety.

Have patience, as well as realistic expectations of what your adolescent can handle. They still need us to guide them. But if they’re afraid of our negative reactions as their parent, they’re much less likely to come to us for guidance.

5. Anxiety leads adolescents to feel the need to control what’s going on around them, and when they can’t control their environment, their anxiety increases.

Teach your kids how to handle uncertainty and accept that they cannot always be in control – and that’s okay.

6. Avoidance only makes it worse.

Help your adolescent learn how to be self-reflective, so they can better recognize when anxiety might be starting. Increase their problem-solving skills, so they can feel confident when addressing anxiety-provoking situations.

7. Anxiety in adolescents often comes from what we as parents have taught or modeled to them.

As a parent remind yourself that mistakes are what make us stronger in life – it’s okay for your adolescent to make mistakes. In fact, you want them to make all those big mistakes while they’re still under your roof and protection. That way you can be the one to help them get up, dust themselves off, and move on, rather than someone who might make them feel worse about themselves or lead them down a dangerous path.

8. Anxiety can be contagious.

Notice if you begin to feel anxious when your adolescent is anxious, or vice versa. The more anxious we are, the less likely we are to handle negative situations in positive ways. Learn how to handle your own anxiety– modeling healthy behaviors and coping skills is the most effective way for your adolescent to learn the same.

Here are some ideas for handling a common anxiety situation - Test Anxiety

If your adolescent is worried about how well they’ll do on a test they have next week, make sure they know effective study skills so that they can go into the test feeling confident and prepared. Reassure them that as long as they’ve done their best to prepare, that’s all they can do, and that they can be proud of their hard work – no matter what their grade is. Teach them some coping skills that have worked for you, and offer some alternatives. Sometimes what works for us is also likely to be effective with our children – and sometimes they want nothing to do with it.

We recommend doing a search online for Mindfulness. Research has demonstrated over and over the efficacy of this technique when treating anxiety, especially in children and adolescents. It combines several skills, including learning how to breathe in ways that will help us cope when feeling anxious, as well as learning how to refocus and reshape our thoughts to reduce or eliminate unhealthy anxiety altogether.

When your adolescent comes home after taking their test, make sure to ask them how they felt about how they did – not “how did you do?”. Remember, their performance will improve as their anxiety lessens. Right now, you want to positively reinforce changes in how they think and feel about themselves and their ability to do their personal best on a test. This, in turn, will lead to long-lasting changes in their anxiety, which will in turn improve performance.

We all need a little help sometimes. If you or your teenager would benefit from learning how to implement these healthy behaviors, reach out to a therapist.

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