Anxiety is part of being human. It becomes a disorder when it interrupts someone’s ability to live a normal life. Feelings like this surface whenever we face challenges and can help us perform under pressure. Anxiety going rogue can cause us to freeze because of an overactive fear response.
In situations like this, our brains are viewing a danger as more detrimental than it is. One common anxiety for teens is test anxiety. Even after weeks of studying, they sit in front of the test and freeze. This isn’t because they’re unprepared. It’s because their brain is screaming at them to escape a dangerous situation.
Is Your Teen Stuck and Anxious? How to Help them Prepare to Launch
Watching your teen struggle with anxiety is hard. The good news is that you can help. Parents can help their children cope with anxiety and give them the resources they need to thrive. Here’s how.
Understand Growth Mindset
Understanding a growth mindset involves first understanding a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset means having thoughts like, “This is just how I am.” They think there’s nothing they can do to change it.
A growth mindset acknowledges our brain’s superpower. This superpower is called neuroplasticity. With repetition and positive reinforcement, we can literally train our brains to change their physiological makeup. This is a growth mindset. When people know they can get better, they can improve, they know they can grow. It values practice and perseverance over perfection.
Help Them Identify Anxiety
Anxiety is more than just an emotion or a mental disorder. It’s an activation of our flight or fight response. That means it creates physiological sensations within our bodies. Helping your teen identify what anxiety feels like gets them a step closer to identifying their triggers. You’re empowering them to take control of their anxiety. Physical sensations of anxiety include:
- Trembling or shaking
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased rate of breathing
- Nausea or queasiness
- Dry mouth
- Tunnel vision
- Attempts to disassociate
- Avoidant behaviors
- Preference for isolation
Practice Breathing with Them
Deep breathing is a powerful tool for managing the symptoms of anxiety. It helps lower your heart rate and provides more oxygen to the brain. Giving the brain and the body its basic needs lets the brain know the body is safe. Practice deep breathing with your teen.
Breathe in for a count of four, then breathe out for a count of six. Breathe deep into the belly, not just into the chest. Count four or five breaths on your fingers. Focus on making the breaths slow and deep. The anxiety won’t go away, but the symptoms will become reduced. This makes the anxiety easier to cope with and think through.
Talk Through It
Anxiety attacks our prefrontal cortex. It attacks our ability to reason and traps us in a whirlpool of negative and intrusive thoughts. Anxiety brings on thoughts like, “I can’t do this.” Or “I’m just going to mess this up.” When you hear your teen say things like this, talk them through it. Ask them what makes them think they can’t achieve. Remind them of a time when they’ve overcome something similar.
Ask them what they would say to a friend who’s saying the same things. The way we talk to ourselves is often very different from how we talk to others. When they answer with how they would talk to a friend, for instance, by saying, “You can do this. It’s okay to be scared.” Tell them to say that to themselves.
Providing care might mean letting your child rest at home on a school day. It may mean giving them water while they’re studying or making sure they’re eating a healthy meal. Providing care might also mean providing them with an opportunity to talk to a professional. As parents, we want to do everything for our kids. It’s okay to talk to a professional with your child and encourage them to seek professional help.
If you want to learn more about how to help your children deal with anxiety, contact us and reach out for an appointment.