It isn’t easy to help teens with anxiety.
You try to reassure them that everything will be okay, but their fears and doubts are paralysing.
You hate to see your teens struggling, but nothing you say seems to ease their worries.
First off, know that you’re not alone.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders, and anxiety in teens has increased over the years.
Having said this, everyone feels anxious sometimes, and that’s okay!
Anxiety is a persistent feeling of worry or dread that something terrible will happen in situations that aren’t actually threatening. These feelings can persist even after the event has passed.
Physical changes like increased blood pressure, nausea, and tremors are common.
It’s crucial that your teenagers learn how to cope with anxiety so that they can face challenges head-on.
5 tips to help teenagers deal with anxiety
Let’s explore research-backed strategies to equip your teens to develop this important life skill, which will serve them well into the future.
1. Don’t solve your teenagers’ problems for them
Your teens get home from school, slump on the sofa, then immediately begin to complain about their never-ending to-do list.
You already know that they feel social pressure to fit in at school. And now they’re facing additional stress because of their academics and extracurricular activities.
No wonder they feel anxious!
As a parent, it’s natural for you to want to fix your teens’ problems. So, when you hear your teens venting, it can be tempting to say things like:
- “If you’re so worried about the test next week, why don’t you start studying now?”
- “Don’t worry so much about what other people think. Everything is going to be okay!”
- “You should put your phone away whenever you’re doing your work. Then you won’t have trouble meeting all your deadlines.”
Here’s the thing about helping teens with anxiety…
They don’t need a lecture from you, and they don’t need you to fix the situation. They need to know that you’re trying hard to understand their feelings and perspective.
I recommend that you use active listening techniques as frequently as you can.
Give your teens your full attention and try not to offer unsolicited advice. Demonstrate that you empathise with your teens’ feelings by saying something like:
“It sounds like you feel a lot of pressure to juggle your responsibilities, and you’re afraid that you’re not going to be able to fulfil all your responsibilities well.”
Such emotional validation helps teens understand that it’s okay for them to be worried or afraid. Over time, your teens will feel less overwhelmed and more capable of confronting challenging scenarios.
2. Help your teenagers practise coping skills
The global COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives of teenagers around the world.
School closings led to social isolation and a lack of routine, and many teenagers are still struggling with the unpredictability of it all.
A University of Calgary study reveals that depression and anxiety have doubled in children and adolescents since pre-pandemic times.
When it comes to helping teenagers who have anxiety, it’s vital to equip them with the tools to deal with feelings of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. Here are two coping skills and strategies that you can encourage your teens to practise:
Rapid and shallow breathing is a natural reaction to anxiety.
What’s the problem with this?
Shallow breaths make anxiety worse — and can even lead to panic attacks.
Teach your teens to take slow, deep, and steady breaths. As clinical psychologist Juli Fraga says: “Deep breathing can help intense sensations, experiences, and emotions feel less threatening.”
If your teens have a difficult time talking about their anxiety, invite them to try journaling. They’ll probably find that their thoughts are less scary when they’re written down.
Here are some apps that make it easy for teens to journal regularly. By doing so, their anxious thoughts won’t creep into every moment of the day.
3. Encourage your teenagers to volunteer
When it comes to working with teens who have anxiety, sometimes the best solution is to start doing things for the benefit of others.
Research shows that volunteering helps our overall mental well-being. One reason for this is that serving others releases dopamine, which reduces stress and increases positive emotions.
I’ve noticed the benefits of volunteering first-hand with my coaching clients.
When teenagers are engaged in helping others, they often become more grateful. They learn to think beyond themselves, which gives them a sense of purpose and meaning.
If your anxious teens are hesitant to volunteer, don’t force them into it. Instead, find a community activity or service-learning project that you can participate in as a family.
Your teen will see that you, too, are committed to giving back — and you’ll strengthen your relationship with your teen in the process.
4. Encourage your teenagers to take care of their physical health
Sometimes, simple lifestyle changes are what it takes to decrease teenage anxiety.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, sleep problems are widespread in individuals with anxiety.
That probably doesn’t come as a surprise.
It can be a vicious cycle — teenagers can’t sleep when they’re anxious, yet they feel overwhelmed because they’re not well-rested!
If your teenagers struggle to sleep, try helping them to:
- Limit screen and phone time before bed.
- Avoid bright lights at night.
- Develop an evening routine. This could include a hot shower, reading a book, or relaxing with a cup of caffeine-free tea.
- Get morning sunlight whenever possible.
When it comes to helping anxious teens, exercise matters, too.
Physical activity stimulates the production of serotonin and endorphins, both of which positively affect teens’ ability to manage stress and anxiety. And teens don’t necessarily need to join a gym — a brisk 15-minute walk will do the trick.
It’s also important to promote healthy eating habits.
When we’re worried, it’s tempting to make a bee-line for a soda or candy bar, but sugar and caffeine can worsen anxiety.
- Dark chocolate
5. Pay attention to your teenagers’ strengths
The teenage years are a curious time of transition.
Teens’ brains are changing, and they’re seeking more autonomy. At the same time, they’re discovering their personality, talents, and interests.
As your teens navigate these changes, it’s natural for them to sometimes question their self-worth.
Negative thoughts might start to seep in, such as: “Why am I such a failure?” or “Do my friends actually like me?”
Say positive things to your teens often. Celebrate their unique strengths, and encourage self-compassion.
Your teens will gradually learn to become okay with their flaws, thus reducing their anxiety levels and building self-esteem.
I know it’s challenging to watch your teens struggle.
But the next time you have the urge to fix their problems, use these 5 proven tips instead.
You’ll help your teenagers to develop essential skills and habits, no matter what challenges come their way.
Depending on the situation, they may need some extra support.
Maybe they’ve experienced a traumatic life event. Or maybe, even after implementing the tips in this article, they still can’t stop worrying — and it’s crippling them.
If so, the 1-to-1 coaching programme I offer will help. Through this coaching programme, I equip teens with the mindset and tools to overcome these problems and thrive. You can learn more about the coaching programme here.
References for this article:
1. Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health. (2022).
2. Stress vs. anxiety – Knowing the Difference Is Critical to Your Health. (2018).
3. The Art of Validation. (2017).
4. Depression And Anxiety Double In Youth Compared to Pre-Pandemic. (2021).
5. How shallow breathing affects your whole body. (2020).
6. How Volunteering Can Help Your Mental Health. (2018).
7. Five Ways to Help Teens Build a Sense of Self-Worth. (2018).
8. 5 lifestyle changes that may help with managing anxiety or depression. (2022).
9. The 4 Worst Foods for Your Anxiety. (2021).