While stress is a completely normal response to challenging situations, stress that runs rampant can be harmful to both mental and physical health. According to a 2014 report by the American Psychological Association, approximately 42 percent of teens do not take active measures to manage their anxious thoughts. It is important for parents to help teens learn healthy strategies to cope with stress and anxiety, ensuring that these feelings do not prevent youth from leading fulfilling lives. While parents should consult a mental health professional for anxiety issues that have become disruptive or debilitating, the following are steps that parents can take to help teens learn to manage anxiety on their own:
Help your teen understand that stress is a normal biological response to situations that could be difficult or dangerous—not a flaw or indication of a lack of courage or ability. While the psychological and biological changes associated with anxiety have helped humans survive throughout their existence, situations that don’t pose a real threat—such as a test or social situation—can still trigger a stress response. Everyone feels anxious at one point or another, and in helping teens understand the neurobiological causes of anxiety, as well as how it can be helpful, parents can frame anxiety as a surmountable challenge.
Instill healthy habits.
Although they may seem insignificant, small aspects of one’s daily routine can have a noticeable impact on mental health. As a parent, you should help your teen develop healthy habits that will ensure he or she is both mentally and physically prepared to handle life’s challenges.
Staying active is one of the best ways for individuals of all ages to manage stress. In addition to promoting physical fitness, exercise provides a positive outlet through which to build self-esteem, release aggression, and, in many cases, socialize. If teens are able to find a physical activity that they genuinely enjoy, they will be more likely to practice it regularly. While sports are a popular way to stay fit, a diverse range of activities such as yoga, skateboarding, hiking, or simply going for walks can have a positive impact on one’s anxiety levels.
By maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, teens can ensure that they have enough energy to think clearly and face daily challenges. Teens should fill their diets with proteins, whole grains, and vegetables while avoiding excess sugar and caffeine, which only provide a temporary boost of energy.
It can be difficult for teenagers to find adequate time for sleep while keeping up with an ever-growing number of obligations, but getting a full night’s rest is one of the simplest ways to increase one’s ability to manage anxiety. By reducing the amount of time they spend before bed watching TV or using their smartphones, as well as limiting their caffeine intake, teens can increase their odds of being alert and well rested the next day.
Mental health research has pinpointed mindfulness as one of the most effective strategies to manage anxiety. By practicing mindfulness, individuals can prime their brains to handle stress more effectively and learn to live with a greater awareness of their thoughts. Mindfulness encourages us to be more present in each moment and, in the process, better manage the consequences of negative thoughts and feelings.
Parents can help their teens learn mindfulness techniques by encouraging them to think realistically, even when they have trouble thinking positively. When a teen is struggling with an anxious thought—for example, the fear that he or she might fail a test—it can be helpful to consider whether there is evidence to support or negate that thought, as well as to consider potential solutions, such as studying for the impending test.
In addition to being aware of their thoughts, awareness of the physical impact of anxiety can also help teens learn to manage it. Anxiety can often cause an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and a general feeling of tenseness throughout the body. However, by practicing deep breathing techniques, teens can encourage both mental and physical relaxation. Deep breathing actually has a biological impact on the body, calming a major nerve that extends from the diaphragm to the brain and prompts the entire body to de-stress.
Help your teen learn to focus on the good things about themselves and the world around them. Even when the mind feels clouded with fear and anxiety, retaining an awareness of one’s strengths and successes can be an effective way to stay realistic and focused on moving past stressful situations. By encouraging teens to build upon their strengths and find joy in daily life, parents can help teenagers build a sense of confidence that will aid them in anxious moments.
Promote fun and social interaction.
Although schoolwork, extracurricular obligations, and plans for the future may make it difficult for teens to set aside time for themselves, they should strive to dedicate time to the people and activities that make them happy. Encourage your teen to have fun and spend time with other people, be they friends or family members. In addition to helping us refresh our thoughts and enjoy ourselves, friends can be a valuable source of support for those struggling with anxiety. Oftentimes, simply feeling that someone understands their experiences can help teens address their anxiety constructively.