Tips to manage anxiety in teenagers

Many parents may wonder if teenage anxiety is normal. The truth is that teenage anxiety is very real and is a natural part of a child’s social and emotional development. This is because adolescence is a time of emotional, physical and social change when adolescents seek new experiences and independence. It’s natural for teenagers to feel anxious about these changes, opportunities and challenges. 

Teenagers might feel anxious in their schooling environment. For example, they may have concerns about making the right subject choices, upcoming examinations, gaining social acceptance or the general turmoil in the world today. As their independence increases, teenagers might also feel anxious about their responsibilities, future career choices and financial security. 

In this article, we will take a deeper look at signs of teenage anxiety and discuss ways to deal with and treat anxiety naturally. 

Signs of teenage anxiety

Anxiety is the feeling of worry, apprehension or dread that something bad is going to happen or that you can’t cope with a situation.

Your pre-teen or teen may experience physical symptoms such as:

  • butterflies in their stomach
  • tension (headaches, a stiff neck and shoulders)
  • shakiness
  • nausea
  • excessive perspiration
  • irritability
  • trouble concentrating
  • stomachaches or headaches
  • drop in grades or school refusal
  • substance use
  • irregular sleeping patterns

Anxiety symptoms vary widely – from withdrawal and avoidance to irritability and lashing out.  We often overlook anxiety in teens because they are masters at hiding their emotions and thoughts.   

How to identify signs of anxiety

Look out for certain behavioural and attitude changes, these can include:

  • Isolation and avoiding family interaction: they may start to isolate themselves in their bedroom and avoid spending time in living areas. 
  • Avoidance: they may avoid the situation causing the stress (an assignment, a sports practice or even friends). In some cases, they will withdraw from all social activity.
  • Irritability: sometimes you may feel that your mere presence annoys them.
  • You may notice a drop in their grades and a lack of interest in academic tasks.
  • They may start to continually seek reassurance and validation.
  • Sleep problems or irregular sleeping patterns (this may range from episodes of insomnia to excessive tiredness).

Ways to deal with anxiety

Learning to manage anxiety is an important life skill, which you can help your child develop. Here are some guidelines (acknowledging that every teen is different and every family has their own value system).

  • Don’t attack their behaviour or attitude, they generally know that they are being difficult and criticising their behaviour can lead to them feeling more emotionally isolated. 
  • Talk to them gently. Start with identifying a scenario or a problem that may be causing you some concerns to help them understand how their behaviour is being perceived. 
  • Involve them in making family decisions and show them that their opinion is valuable. Perhaps the family is planning a holiday that requires some careful planning, purchasing a new car, or considering a geographical move. 
  • Encourage them to share their frustrations, sometimes just verbalising their worries can reduce the anxiety it presents. When they talk listen carefully for clues that allow you to understand their anxiety more comprehensively. With this understanding, you will be better prepared to help your child manage their anxieties or find solutions to problems. 
  • Acknowledge their anxiety as a problem that can be solved. Don’t tell them not to worry, rather discuss a plan that would help them lessen or alleviate their concerns. For example, if your child is anxious about whether they are properly prepared for an assessment, let them know you understand how they feel and everything will work out, as long as they try their best. When you acknowledge your teen’s feelings with warmth and compassion, it helps your child to apply self-compassion when faced with other challenging situations.
  • Analyse the problem and help your teen find a solution by breaking it down into small, achievable goals. Avoid pushing your teen into situations they feel they are not ready to face or are not fully prepared for. 
  • Encourage your teen to talk positively when faced with a problem – “I can handle this, I’ve faced a similar situation before.”
  • Support assertiveness and show them that they can reach out to you when they feel overwhelmed. They should feel confident in asking for help with an assignment or project if they feel out of their depth.  

What if your teen’s anxiety persists and depression sets in?

If your teen’s anxiety persists and you think that there is a chance that they may become depressed, then it is advised to seek professional help. Speak to your GP about referring your teen to a psychologist. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) teaches anxious kids strategies for thinking differently about anxiety and responding to it more positively when it occurs. By tolerating anxiety rather than avoiding things that trigger it, they learn that it can diminish over time. 

Parents can help their teens with some of the big decisions that might be triggering their anxiety, such as subject choices or career pathways, by booking an assessment with our CambriLearn education psychologist. Subject and Career Choice Assessments enable learners to better understand their personal interests and strengths and encourage them to use this self-awareness to make informed subject and career choices.

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