Anxiety And Adolescence

Adolescence can be a time of turmoil not only for those going through it but for the family as well.  It seems that the everyday stress that teens have to deal with increases exponentially for each generation.  Not only do they have the same or similar stressors of competition in academics, sports and fitting in with peers as we did, but they get to learn how to navigate the influences of a vast array of drugs, technology, and increased competition in college entry.

We all know that our journey through adolescence can be one of the most challenging times in our lives; it’s a time of individuating, our childhood fades away, we are neither adult nor child.  It’s a time of struggle with moral issues, with social interactions and can be a time of friction in families.  Erik Erikson the developmental theorist suggested that this is a time for the teen to begin to establish his own philosophy of life and it is also a time that strong devotions to friends and causes become paramount.

With all of these changes on the horizon how do we help our children cope while at the same time developing a different set of skill sets as parents?   As parents the most important thing we can do is make sure that the lines of communication with our children are open. If for some reason your child feels more comfortable talking to a relative or family friend, let them have that resource, but also make sure that you as the parent or guardian can also communicate with this other adult.  We can help open lines of communication by being available if and when our kids want to talk.  This may not mean giving advice or having an opinion, it may mean just listening and then asking if they want advice or would like to hear how things worked when you were a kid. It also may mean biting your tongue when they simply need you to listen.

Also in my work with teens I have found that often they appreciate a story, not only stories from your childhood but also stories that sort of relate to what they may or may not be struggling with.  So… you as the parent get to work on your inner storyteller and tell some tales its okay to tell someone else’s story or add to a story of your own to add a moral question. In this way they get to tease ideas out in their own mind or tease it out with you. There are lots of great books out there; I’ll give you list at the end of this post.

What if your child appears to be really struggling with some anxiety and self-esteem issues?  First, normalizing anxiety is a good thing as we all experience some anxiety and in small amounts anxiety can be a positive thing. Anxiety is our body’s fight or flight response; our body’s alarm system as it were.  So in mild doses it can act as a sort of motivator to study harder or pay more attention or do something with more caution.  That being said if it anxiety lingers for too long an individual might experience feelings of doom or foreboding if this is happening to your child it would be best to enlist the help of a counselor and primary care physician to get a better handle on might really be going on.

For mild anxiety symptoms here are some strategies that your child can employ that may help alleviate some of his symptoms:

1.     Relaxation. Chilling out with friends or watching T.V. or surfing the web isn’t really relaxing nor are drugs and alcohol.  Doing some yoga, deep breathing or tai chi help the body on both a psychological and a physiological level.

2.     Get enough rest, eat a good diet, and exercise.  All of these ensure that our minds can do the work that is expected of us, all help our bodies to feel more relaxed and strong.

3.     Connect with others.  Spending time with friends and family help us to feel more supported and secure.  Having a place to let one’s hair down helps kids feel happier and less worried.

4.     Connect with Nature.  Going for a walk or running bare foot in the grass has a way of helping people let go of the things that might be less important in that moment.

5.     Think positive thoughts.  Having dreams about the future, focusing on what brings joy, creating a wish list or thinking about positive possibilities for the future can help bring more positive energy into our children’s lives. Working with them to learn some of these techniques can be good for both of you

Adolescence can be tough on everyone so take some time, play, and remember to smile.

Peace ~ M