By Erica Ardinger, MSW candidate (intern at Body Image Therapy Center)
Being an adolescent is hard. Being an adolescent with anxiety is harder, especially as teens may not understand what is going on in their minds and their bodies. It is up to the parent to recognize these signs in order to give teens the language and guidance to manage anxiety.
What are the signs?
How can you help your teen with anxiety?
We interviewed several teenagers who have worked on their anxiety issues to get to help adults and other adolescents understand anxiety what parents can do to help. (Names have been changed)
What does anxiety feel and look like for a teen?
Frustration can be one of the most noticeable signs. Having anxiety doesn’t always mean rolling up into a ball and hyperventilating. It often can come across as irritability. “I just feel stupid and lonely, like why am I feeling like this? It feels like no one else knows what this feels like,” says Anna, 15. The confusion and frustration of why a teen is feeling anxious can manifest into short tempers, anger, or mood swings. It can result in isolation from others and disinterests in hobbies they previously enjoyed out of fear of being anxious around peers or family members.
You may notice physical symptoms in your teen as well. Headaches, fatigue, aches, and changes in eating or sleeping patterns can all be a part of anxiety. Dave,13, says, “I didn’t want to be around anyone during lunch. So, I just walked around and didn’t really eat lunch most days. Then I would go home and eat a lot after school.” Take notice in changes in your teens eating and sleeping patterns. If your teen starts complaining about stomach aches or headaches that seemingly have no reason, this may be symptoms of anxiety.
Some other signs of anxiety for teens may include emotional outbursts, panic attacks, sensitivity to criticism, constant worrying, and being doubtful of skills and abilities. There are many more signs that teens can present. If you think your teen has anxiety or they have told you they do, ask what symptoms they may be experiencing so you can recognize when anxiety is happening.
What is the biggest pet peeve about anxiety for a teen?
“Belittling it, saying it’s not a big deal,” Anna shares. You never want to dismiss a teen’s concern regarding their anxiety. Teens are experiencing anxiety at an increasingly alarming rate. When teens feel their anxiety isn’t valid or they have no reason experiencing it, they will likely further isolate themselves. Anxiety is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain your child cannot just shut off because someone said to. It is important to acknowledge and treat this as a serious issue they are going through.
What frustrates a child most is parents “not knowing what anxiety feels like,” stated Michelle, 14. “They just don’t get i.” Step one then is for parents and loved ones to educate themselves on anxiety. Teens we asked hoped their parents start to read about symptoms, examine their own first-hand experiences, or watch videos about anxiety and related conditions such as OCD, trauma, and the like. Then allow your teen time to share their symptoms and experiences with you and practice empathizing with them and let them know you believe them.
What else can parents do to help?
Give your teen the language to express how they are feeling. Printing out a feelings chart and presenting it to teens is a great start to begin navigating the language of anxiety. Educate them on the symptoms of anxiety to help them feel less isolated. You can then begin to discuss what steps should be taken to help manage their anxiety.
Treatment may include medication, therapy, cutting down on obligations, changing habits, and reducing stress. Together you can navigate when anxiety is present the most in order to alleviate or change the situation causing tension. If your teen is experiencing anxiety most of the time without any kind of situation or trigger, it may require a medical evaluation.
Model self-care, don’t just give it lip service. Begin looking at your sleep patterns, eating habits, and stress management to make healthy adjustments your teen can replicate. It’s ok to admit changing habits is hard to do. But recognize that doing it together is a way of bonding as well.
The rule of thumb is to always allow space for your teen to express how they feel without judgement. Once you have provided some tools and guidance, allow them to take control of their anxiety with the understanding that everyone experiences it differently.
When asked what her parents could do to help, Anna said, “Just don’t belittle me about it. Just be empathetic.” Validating that your teen is experiencing a real issue that is affecting them can be the most beneficial thing you can do.
For more information on teens and anxiety visit, https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children
If your teen is struggling with anxiety, body image concerns, eating disorders, and related issues, please contact The Body Image Therapy Center at 877-674-2843 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We are located in Baltimore and Columbia, MD and Washington, DC.