Anxiety can be compared to 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. For example, 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 teens and 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 a crisis situation. And, the more they experience these scary events, the more anxiety becomes a habitual and chronic condition. The body gets accustomed to being on high-alert and having a “set point” that is always ON.
4 things parents 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 (for example: 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 can tolerate uncertainty instead of avoiding it, as avoidance only makes things worse and gives anxiety more power.
“The attempt to avoid legitimate suffering lies at the root of all emotional illness.” ~ Scott Peck
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. 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 and inflexible they may become.
As adults, it’s important that we manage our own anxiety around our kids and students so we can manage the overall situation much more effectively.
In the next post, I’ll address the 4 Types of Anxiety Disorders
- Social Anxiety
- Generalized Anxiety
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders
Monday Mental Health Moment
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