Parenting a teenager can be both rewarding and challenging, especially when your teen is struggling with anxiety. Adolescence is a time of significant change and growth, and it’s common for teens to experience feelings of anxiety. As a parent, you play a crucial role in helping your teen navigate these emotions and develop healthy coping strategies. In this blog post, we’ll explore four steps to assist your teen in moving through their anxious thoughts.
1. Embrace the Positive Side of Anxiety
It’s important to recognize that not all anxiety is inherently bad. Anxiety is a natural response wired into our biology to keep us safe. Instead of viewing anxiety as a negative emotion to eliminate, understand that it serves as an alert system. When your teen feels anxious, it could be a signal that something doesn’t feel right, or they might perceive a potential danger. Acknowledging and respecting their anxiety helps them learn to interpret their feelings and responses more effectively.
2. Activate the Calming Response
Anxiety triggers the sympathetic nervous system, often leading to a heightened sense of panic. To counteract this response, it’s vital to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for relaxation. One of the simplest ways to achieve this is by practicing controlled breathing techniques. Box breathing is an excellent method to guide your teen through this process. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, and hold for 4 again. Repeat this cycle to help them regain control over their breathing and emotions.
3. Address Catastrophic Thinking
Teens often fall into the trap of catastrophizing, imagining worst-case scenarios and overestimating the severity of potential outcomes. Engage your teen in open conversations about their fears. Validate their feelings and concerns without judgment. Once they’ve expressed their worries, guide them to explore more realistic perspectives on the situation. Help them envision the most likely outcome, which is often far less dire than their anxious thoughts would suggest. This practice encourages rational thinking and reduces unnecessary anxiety.
4. Encourage Progressive Exposure
Resisting the urge to shield your teen from situations that trigger anxiety is crucial for their long-term growth. Overprotecting them can inadvertently reinforce their fears. Instead, encourage them to confront their anxiety triggers gradually. Whether it’s public speaking, meeting new people, or trying a new activity, suggest that they approach these challenges in manageable steps. By progressively exposing themselves to anxiety-inducing situations, they build resilience and confidence in their ability to handle discomfort.
If you’re seeking more guidance on helping your teen manage anxiety, consider exploring resources like Under Pressure by Lisa Damour. This book offers valuable insights and practical strategies for parents navigating the complexities of teenage anxiety.
Need Extra Support?
If you feel like you have already tried everything, and your teen is still struggling with anxiety, which is preventing them from doing the things they want to do and really enjoying their lives, you can check out all of the amazing supports we have for teens at Guided Passages. Your teen can work one-on-one with Certified, Trauma Informed, Professional Life Coach, Jasmyne Chandler for Life Coaching sessions that will help address their anxious thoughts and feelings. Life Coaching for teens is a powerful way to help teens identify their ideal vision for themselves and their lives and then take steps to move towards those goals with support and guidance. Teens can also access Guided Passages’ Youth Connect Program, both in-person and online, so they can be in a community of other teens who are going though similar things and receive tools and strategies for navigating the teen years.
In conclusion, supporting your teen through anxiety involves a combination of understanding, patience, and empowerment. By acknowledging the positive aspects of anxiety, practicing calming techniques, addressing catastrophic thinking, and promoting gradual exposure to anxiety triggers, you can guide your teen toward healthier ways of managing their emotions. Remember, your role as a parent is not to eliminate anxiety but to equip your teen with the tools they need to navigate it successfully.
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Lisa Damour, Under Pressure, 2019