Anxiety is among the most common mental health issues affecting teenagers and young adults today. Yet often times, parents do not know how to get their children the proper help. Perhaps this is because anxiety has become so normalized, that we tend to overlook or dismiss its symptoms. However, it’s important for parents to know that leaving anxiety untreated can have dire consequences for youth.
Well before the pandemic, the NIMH (National Institute on Mental Health) estimated that close to one-third of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Then in 2022, the World Health Organization reported that the COVID-19 pandemic caused a 25 percent increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression. Young people, they explained, have been the most affected in recent years, and are now disproportionately at risk of mental health disorders, suicide, and self-harming behaviors.
As a parent, you may have noticed your teen showing symptoms of anxiety: avoidance of social activities, constant overthinking, extreme self-esteem issues, persistent worry and fear. However, you may be questioning how to help a teen with anxiety. What steps should you take to ensure they are healthy and safe? How can you get your teen to listen to you, especially those locked in their rooms?
You are in the right place. In this guide, we will walk you through the key steps in helping your anxious teenager. Anxiety is a chronic mental health condition, but it is highly manageable—especially when caught and treated early on.
What to Remember When Helping Your Anxious Teen:
Before helping your teenager take steps to overcome their anxiety, it’s important for you to remember a few things about this mental health condition.
- Anxiety is not a weakness. It has nothing to do with your teenager’s character or ability to live a happy and healthy life. Some of the happiest people in the world still struggle with anxiety. Remember that is treatable and manageable, and it does not define your teen.
- Symptoms of anxiety can come (and go) at any time. Anxiety is triggered when your body senses danger or predicts a loss of control. Those with anxiety disorders may sense these problems even when they do not exist, causing the body and mind to go into a state of panic. At the end of the day, anxiety is a manifestation of our brains trying to keep us safe. It releases chemicals designed to make us more alert, a fight or flight response. However, the patterns of anxiety are not always easy to predict without professional therapy.
- Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Just as many people can experience feelings of depression, many can also experience anxiousness occasionally. However, an anxiety disorder requires professional support. Anxiety disorders are classified as involving more persistent symptoms of anxiety, or frequent feelings of anxiety that last for months or years. These anxious feelings get in the way of daily functioning, whether that is going to school, hanging out with friends, or driving a car.
- Anxiety is a natural reaction for many teenagers. Teens are going through a lot during the adolescent years. They are trying to establish independence, fit in with friends, build their identity, navigate high school, and cope with all the dynamic changes occurring within their bodies at the same time. It’s normal for teenagers to face some anxiousness throughout this process. However, anxiety can become a larger concern when it disrupts their day-to-day life.
- You did not cause your teen’s anxiety. Anxiety is a mental health disorder that occurs for a large variety of reasons. For teenagers especially, modern risk factors include things like a global pandemic, social isolation, social media usage, an unsteady political climate, academic pressures, and an inherent, seemingly unyielding desire to fit in with their peers.
- Your teen is not alone. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 1 in 3 adolescents (between the ages of 13 and 18) will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Your teenager is not the first one going through this, and certainly will not be the last. Rest assured that there is help available – and anxiety treatment programs specifically designed for teens.
How to Help an Anxious Teenager:
- Open the lines of communication.
As a parent, the first thing you can do to help a teenager with anxiety is simple: talk it out with them. Of course, this is easier said than done. Your teen may be more reserved and unwilling to have these conversations. The best thing you can do is to set the stage and let your child know that you are there to talk. You are there to listen. You are there for them, no matter what.
You can also encourage conversation by asking questions: How was your day? What’s bothering you? Are you struggling in school? Are you having problems with your friends? Try to ask questions where you will get an open-ended response. And when you get a response, be sure to listen. Listening to your child, without interruption or judgement, will help you get a better understanding of what they are going through. You should also acknowledge and validate their feelings, even if you think they may be irrational. Show them empathy. Doing so can help establish trust between a parent and a teen.
- Respond to your teen’s anxiety.
If you notice your teenager is exhibiting anxiousness, respond right away. Do not wait for your child to come to you to talk through their problems, but rather, take a proactive approach by bringing up your concerns. Show your concern and your love for them, and let them know that you are there to lean on for support. Make an effort to understand what they are going through, and always support your teenager’s feelings even when you may not agree with them. Most of all, let your child know that anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of—it is normal and they will be able to work through it.
As a parent, you are your child’s greatest support system. If your teenager is feeling anxious, be their advocate. Be there to pick them up if they need to leave a situation, or be there to talk if they are feeling overwhelmed. This will mean a lot to your teenager.
- Know the signs of an anxiety disorder.
As you begin to have more conversations with your teen, you will get a better sense of their level of anxiousness. Remember that it is normal for teens to experience feelings of anxiety, occasionally. However, there are indicators that anxiety may be a larger struggle for your teenager. For example, take stock on whether your teenager is:
- Exhibiting constant feelings of nervousness, worry, and/or fear,
- Experiencing these feelings for several weeks or months at a time, and
- Struggling in school, work, or other aspects of life because of their anxiety.
These signs often means that a teenager needs professional therapy and support. You can learn more about the common signs of anxiety disorder in teens here.
- Explore treatment options.
If your teenager’s anxiety has reached a point of concern, be sure to have resources lined up to get your teen proper help. While there are more steps you can take to help your teenager at home, getting your teen enrolled in a treatment or therapy program can ensure they are best set up for success long-term. A mental health treatment center that specializes in teen anxiety will be able to:
- Teach your teenager proper coping mechanisms for anxiety symptoms,
- Connect your teen with other peers, of the same age/gender, experiencing anxiety,
- Identify your teenager’s triggers for anxiousness,
- Show your teenager healthy ways to prevent anxiety attacks,
- Establish a newfound sense of self and confidence in your teen.
Professional anxiety treatment may involve a range of therapeutic methods, depending on your teenager’s needs. Ultimately, the goal is to help your teen get to a place where they can live happily, productively, and positively without anxiety disrupting their everyday lives. As a parent, this is one of the most important steps you can take in helping your teen with anxiety.
- Encourage positive coping techniques at home.
While anxiety treatment is a great way to learn new coping mechanisms, there are things you can encourage your teen to do at home. Mindfulness and meditation are great examples. These practices allow teenagers to ground themselves in the present, breathe their way through challenges, and gain a different perspective on stressful situations. These are great stress management techniques. Exercise is another example of an effective way to cope with anxiety. Research shows that regular exercise and movement positively impacts the pathophysiological processes of anxiety, reducing anxiety symptoms. Other coping techniques you might encourage are:
- Breathing exercises
- Taking a walk outside
- Listening to music
- Reading a book
- Talking with a friend or family member
- Meeting with a therapist/counselor
- Encourage good health.
Physical health is strongly connected to a person’s mental health. As a parent, you can show your teenager that staying healthy can greatly benefit the mind. This can be done by cooking nutritious meals, setting a consistent sleep schedule, and eliminating drugs and alcohol.
Let’s start with nutrition. Research has found a connection between food and mental health, and eating too much sugary or processed foods can throw off your brain’s functioning. By serving and encouraging healthy meals at home, you can ensure that your teen’s physical health stays in check (which can help ease the mind, too).
Similarly, research shows that substance use – drugs or alcohol – can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. In fact, drug and alcohol abuse has been shown to contribute to the onset of anxiety disorders. Therefore, it’s important to help your teenager avoid these substances, particularly at this age when their brain is still developing.
Prioritizing sleep is also important, as sleep and mental health go hand-in-hand. Make sure your teen is getting enough rest. If they are having trouble sleeping, you may encourage a bedtime routine to get them into a state of relaxation—a hot shower, reading a book, putting away the phone before bed.
By enacting healthy behaviors in your home—this means encouraging your child to do them, but also doing them yourself—you can help to create healthy behaviors and routines that lead to a more balanced mind.
When and Where to Seek Anxiety Treatment for Your Teen:
If your teen is exhibiting signs of an anxiety disorder, that means it is time to seek help. However, please note that it is never too early to seek help for anxiety problems. Anyone can benefit from mental health therapy, even those who do not struggle with a diagnosed mental health condition. You may suggest therapy to your teenager, to help them better cope with anxious feelings.
However, if you know that anxiety is affecting your teen’s quality of life, a longer-term treatment program may be necessary. There are dedicated mental health treatment programs available for teenagers struggling with anxiety and depression. They utilize a range of behavioral therapies, and sometimes medication, to help teenagers overcome these difficult disorders at an early age.
At Turnbridge, we focus on engaging teenagers in their treatment program. Teenagers are exposed to holistic activities like yoga, meditation, hiking, fitness, music therapy, and more to help them overcome anxiety symptoms. Teenagers learn how to establish healthy ways of living and participate in therapy, both individually and in group sessions with other, similarly-aged peers. Our goal is to help teenagers develop the coping techniques, life skills, and physical and mental wellness needed to live independent, purposeful lives long-term.
If you are unsure where to begin, or whether your teen needs treatment at all, you may always contact us for guidance. You may also turn to your family doctor for support. Many parents begin helping their teenagers by scheduling a doctor’s appointment and requesting a mental health screening, where they will get an in-depth evaluation of their teen’s symptoms and condition, and referral to mental health treatment (if needed).
Do not hesitate to help your teenager, as anxiety can be devastating when left untreated. Turnbridge is an adolescent and young adult treatment center, specializing in anxiety and other mental health disorders. We are here for you. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.