So many of us struggle with anxiety. For our teens it can be triggered by school pressures, social situations, family drama, or some reason your child can’t even pinpoint. Anxiety is not something that will simply go away, but it does not need to control your or your teenager’s life. It can be managed. Let’s talk about how.
First, it’s important to define anxiety. While the physical symptoms vary from person to person, anxiety is a feeling of worry, unease, apprehension or nervousness. We often use it as a “catch-all” emotion when we’re unsettled and alerted to some kind of discomfort. It has it’s purpose, which is to protect us from danger. The problem is our brain was developed at a time when we were living in caves, frequently in life-threatening situations that luckily we’re simply not often exposed to now. So, considering the human brain is a mechanism that has been around for about 40,000 years, it has not had much time to catch up to present-day living. This means when we face modern danger (like a chapter test or not getting an invitation to the party Friday night), our brain reacts with the same anxiety-producing thoughts that it would to the possibility of death around the corner. Maybe something like, “Don’t even try,” “Your life is over,” “That’s the worst idea,” “You’ll never make it.” Then most of us think there is something wrong with us, compounding the negative self-talk a million times over.
Sometimes the most freeing thing is to know that nothing is wrong with you. Nothing has gone wrong in your body if you’re feeling anxiety. It is a part of the human experience. There is no need to fight it, so lets talk about what we can do instead.
Dealing with Anxiety
Again, remember that when we feel anxiety, it is because we are perceiving some kind of danger. So, we naturally want to seek safety or relief from the anxiety. This is often done in three ways:
- Resist: When many us feel anxiety, we want to push it away. We add worry and stress about the anxiety by thinking that we shouldn’t feel it. Arguing with the anxiety only makes a battle within yourself, compounding the unease and strengthening the anxiety.
- React: The second thing a lot of us do with anxiety is react to it. We may start talking fast, rushing around, try to control things we can’t, and lose our tempers at others.
- Avoid: The third most common way to handle anxiety is avoidance. This means were doing something that gives immediate distraction and pleasure to our brain. For most people that is eating, drinking alcohol, doing drugs, or going on social media.
Did any of those sound familiar? I want to offer you a better way.
Process: The skill of processing our feelings is valuable for many negative emotions, but especially anxiety. It requires us to accept, observe, and be curious about what is going on before we can change it. In moments of anxiety, know that it is normal and okay, then give yourself the control by choosing to allow it to happen. Think of yourself as an observer and try to describe what is happening. Observe what anxiety really is by asking: Where do I feel it? What color would this feeling have? Is it fast or slow? Is it cold or warm? Is it contracting or expanding? With those answers, know that you can handle that feeling. Again, we will want to get rid of the anxiety as soon as we feel it, but allowing ourselves to process it in this way gives us the authority over the anxiety. It can be there, and you can still be okay.
The next step is to realize the thoughts that trigger the anxiety. That is the powerful work we do with coaching.
If your teen has been struggling with anxiety, let me help them understand and conquer it.