If there is one thing in life that everyone can understand, it’s the feeling of being stressed out. Stress is a reaction we all experience at one time or another from feeling under pressure, which comes from a situation. Usually once the thing, commonly referred to as a stressor, is gone our stress has passed and we feel relieved.
People experiencing stress on a consistent basis can develop a bunch of problems that affect their physical and emotional health. If you Google search stress reduction you will no doubt find solutions such as using coping skills, eating healthy foods, and getting plenty of rest and exercise. While stress can come and go in our lives and be managed, it is very different from anxiety. Anxiety is a bit more complicated due to it being an emotion that we feel when we can’t predict the outcome of a situation and we are afraid of what we think may happen, or the unknown. Anxiety is different from stress, in that stress goes away when a situation causing pressure passes, but anxiety tends to stick around even in the absence of a stressful situation. What’s more confusing is that we can feel anxious and not even know what it is that we are feeling anxious about!
Anxiety can present itself in the life of teens in so many different ways. Teens I’ve worked with have described a sudden feeling of fear, as though something bad was going to happen, but not knowing what. Some teens feel anxiety at home when it comes to having to communicate with parents about stress at school such grades and conflicts with their peers. Research is currently showing that about 8% of teens ages 13 through 18 years have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is an emotion can result in teens being vulnerable and believing negatively about themselves. Take a minute and imagine constantly thinking that people don’t like you, that you will bomb on your next exam, and that nothing will ever get better. Whoa, can you imagine what it’s like to be constantly worrying? It’s all too common for teens to have anxious thoughts, but what is more alarming is that data shows that only about 18% of teens receive any type of counseling or mental health services to address it. Anxiety is the unspoken problem that teens can drown out by self-medicating with marijuana or by self-harming. Self-medicating is often the only things teens use because they don’t know any other way to deal with their anxiety.
There are 4 main areas that parents can talk with their teens about in helping to reduce the severity of anxiety.
1. Hit snooze, more sleep!
Teens who have anxiety may have difficulty sleeping, or may not be getting enough sleep, which is contributing to the problem. I’ve seen a lot of teens (and adults) gulping down energy drinks to get them through the day. Current studies in sleep by the National Sleep foundation show that teens need up to 10 hours of sleep a night. The same percentage of teens that have anxiety also report now getting enough sleep, what a coincidence. What can help a teen get a good night’s sleep is them creating a routine where they can unwind, relax, and get to sleep at a time that will give them 8-10hrs before they have to get up for school. Encourage your teen to do themselves a favor they will thank themselves for when they have to wake up in the morning.
2. You are what you eat
If you notice that majority of what your teen is snacking on is potato chips, soda, or anything that is in a wrapper, you may want to switch them out for produce such as fruits and veggie snacks. Poor eating habits like eating junk food or skipping meals can have a big effect on a developing teen body and how their mind and body deal with stress and anxiety.
3. Get up and get moving
Teens need at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, which they may not be getting at school. Teens don’t have to be involved in after school sports to get exercise, and whether it’s skateboarding, riding a bike, or walking the dog, what counts is that their bodies are generating endorphins. Endorphins are the bodies natural stress relievers that can also boost our moods.
4. Don’t hold it in, talk it out.
A lot of teens aren’t talking about their anxiety because they believe no one will understand them, or don’t know how to help. Teen’s may be reluctant to talk to their parents if there is conflict that is contributing to their stress or anxiety. Talking to a therapist to explore what the anxiety is about can uncover the thoughts, beliefs, and cause of the anxiety. Understanding their anxiety is the first step in a teen overcoming it. A therapist can help teens learn specific coping skills to calm down when they’re feeling stressed and anxious, and new ways of looking at their emotions.
Along with the four main areas parents can help their teens by encouraging healthy habits and creating routines at home to reduce stress. Above all else, invite a discussion about what they find is stressing them out, and if they are experiencing frequent worrying. Let you teen know that stress and anxiety is something that’s normal, and that it’s manageable.