Tips For Battling Teen Anxiety

Annie Miller TherapyBlog

Adolescence can be a difficult time for many and anxious feelings and worries are common. Many teens have busy schedules, packed with extracurricular activities on top of hours of homework, social pressure and family stress.

Some teens feel stress much more deeply and become overwhelmed by stressful situations. Even thinking about the pressure can cause great distress.

Signs To Watch Out For

When worries become overwhelming, some teens can have a hard time completing daily tasks and maintaining their busy schedules. Sometimes, teenagers may not even be aware of how much the stress is affecting them.

The following are some possible signs that an adolescent may be experiencing anxiety:

  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Physical symptoms (stomach aches, headaches, and other “illnesses”)
  • Avoidance of school and other activities
  • Irritability
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Withdrawal or isolation

Strategies That Help

There are a number of strategies that can help teenagers with their symptoms of anxiety. Finding a therapist who specializes in anxiety is important for teenagers who are feeling stuck. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as well as Psychodynamic Psychotherapy can be very helpful techniques for treating anxiety. For some forms of anxiety, like social anxiety, the most helpful treatment is often repeated exposure to the anxiety-causing situations.

Biofeedback, meditation and other types of relaxation techniques can also be effective in reducing anxiety. A few techniques that can help are:

It is important to teach teens about how anxiety works and our body’s fight or flight response. Once adolescents can understand the course of anxiety, they can start to work on reducing it.
It is helpful to recognize the somatic symptoms that accompany anxiety- these are our clues that anxiety is coming. For instance, one teenager might have sweaty palms when the anxiety is starting. Understanding that “when my palms get sweaty, it means I am feeling anxious” can be an important step in slowing down the process of anxiety.
Find activities that teens can engage in once the anxiety begins. For instance, listening to music, exercising, cooking or drawing can be helpful.

Breathing exercises can also be very helpful to manage anxious feelings in the moment. Try “4 square breathing”: breathe in for 4 counts, hold it for 4 counts and breathe out for 4 counts. Doing this for 3- 5 minutes can help your body start to relax. It is also helpful to use imagery of a calm, relaxing place that can be recalled during stressful times.

Often, anxiety gets out of control because teens can have thoughts like “I shouldn’t feel anxious about this.” By making themselves feel bad or wrong for having anxiety, teens can feel worse. Normalizing the fear as something other people experience and something normal and understandable, can really help teenagers feel supported.
Identify the negative and critical things teens believe about themselves. When teens are aware of their negative self-talk, begin to challenge their misinterpretations. For instance, an adolescent may be consumed with worry about a test they “failed.” A few questions answered incorrectly does not usually mean a failed test, but it is possible that teens may catastrophize when they are overwhelmed and anxious.
Envisioning a more confident and relaxed version of yourself is a great exercise for teens to see how they want themselves to feel. Teens can practice imagining what it looks like when they are confident and relaxed. What would they be doing and how would they feel?
Mindfulness is just about being aware and focusing on the present moment. Teens can use mindfulness practices to slow down and also to reduce judgement and self-criticism of their thoughts. Many of us, and especially adolescents, have a tendency to negatively judge our thoughts when we have them. We say things like, “I shouldn’t think like that” or “I shouldn’t feel this way.” Mindfulness teaches us just to notice; we are simply observers of our thoughts and feelings and we don’t attach any negative judgements.