Anxiety is like fire: It can keep us safe and warm, or completely devastate our property and our lives. It’s good to be a little anxious at times. When walking down a deserted street at night, anxiety keeps us on alert and ready to fight or take flight should a dangerous situation arise.
But for many people, especially adolescents, anxiety can become the norm instead of the exception. Just walking into a classroom or being with a group of people they don’t know can become crisis situations. And, the more they experience these scary events, the more anxiety becomes a chronic condition.
Here are 4 things parents and teachers should know about adolescent anxiety.
1. Anxiety Refers to Physical Symptoms Associated with Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts such as, “No one will like me,” or “Everyone is going to think I’m stupid” come first. These thoughts are then followed by physical symptoms such as a stomach ache, diarrhea, or shaking and shallow breathing. Young people need to learn how to not only shift their thinking (“This will feel awkward but I’ll be okay”) but also cope with the physical stress (take slow, deep breaths). This will help kids know without a doubt they can handle uncomfortable feelings instead of avoiding them.
2. Dealing with Anxiety Requires Problem Solving Skills
Life is full of uncertainties and gray areas. Parents of very young children help them navigate through these situations. But adolescents must be equipped with problem solving skills so they may tolerate uncertainty instead of avoiding it, as avoidance only makes things worse and gives anxiety more power.
3. The Adolescent Mind is More Sensitive to Environmental Stress
The adolescent mind is a jumble of chemical changes that can make any situation seem like time spent in a fun house. Anxious responses to stress can impact mental clarity, ability to concentrate and social and family relationships. These hormonal changes make adolescence a particularly challenging time to cope with anxiety.
4. Anxiety is a Vicious Cycle
When young people are anxious, it’s easy for the adults around them to become anxious as a response. But, the more anxious parents and teachers are, the more controlling, inflexible or reactive they may become.
As adults, it’s important we manage our own anxiety around our kids and students so we can model healthy stress responses, teach them about healthy coping skills, and better manage the overall situation.
If you, your child, or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye-Movement-Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), and Mindfulness can help. Contact your local mental health provider for more information on available treatment for kids and teens struggling with anxiety.