How to Help Teens with Anxiety
Updated: Jul 7
The teenage years are full of uncertainties, transition, growth, and change. Growing up can be both exciting and stressful. During this stage of life, it's normal for teens to feel confused, frustrated, lonely, scared, and disconnected at times.
Teenagers often experience a wide range of emotions and challenges as they navigate the complexities of adolescence. Their changing brains and bodies can lead to intense emotions, relational conflicts, evolving identities, low self-esteem, and even engagement in high-risk activities.
In today's fast-paced and demanding world, anxiety has become an increasingly common experience among all people, including teens. Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, everyone worries about things now and again. Anxiety is almost like a smoke detector, the purpose is to keep you safe, sending off a signal alerting you to danger. A certain level of anxiety can be helpful, even critical. Just like a smoke detector, our anxiety keeps us safe.
As a parent, it is crucial to recognize and empathize with the unique challenges teens face as they navigate this tumultuous period in their lives. By gaining a deeper understanding of their fears, worries, and struggles, you can create a nurturing environment where they feel supported, validated, and empowered.
Understanding Anxiety in Teens
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues affecting young people today, it's said to be the “common cold” of mental health challenges. The pressures of academic performance, social expectations, and the rapid changes experienced during adolescence can contribute to feelings of worry, stress, and unease. It is important for parents, educators, and healthcare professionals to recognize the significance of anxiety in teens and take proactive steps to provide the necessary support for their well-being.
Recognizing the symptoms of anxiety in teenagers is essential to provide the necessary support and resources. While it's important to note that everyone's experience is unique, you might notice these common symptoms in your teen indicating they might be struggling with anxiety:
Excessive worrying: If your teen frequently expresses uncontrollable, persistent worry or appears preoccupied with various aspects of their life, such as school, peers, relationships, or future events, it could be a sign of anxiety.
Avoidance behaviors: Often teens with anxiety will try to avoid certain situations or activities that make them feel anxious. This could include skipping school, avoiding social gatherings, or withdrawing from hobbies they once enjoyed.
Physical and somatic symptoms: Anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, muscle aches and tension, chest tightening, rapid heartbeat, sweating, or difficulty sleeping. If your teen frequently complains of these symptoms that don't have a clear medical cause, they may be linked to anxiety.
Changes in behavior or mood: Look out for significant changes in your teen's behavior or mood. They may become irritable, agitated, or easily overwhelmed. They might also exhibit signs of restlessness, have difficulty concentrating, or seem more tearful than usual.
Perfectionism and self-criticism: Teens with anxiety may place excessive pressure on themselves to meet high standards. They may constantly seek reassurance or exhibit a fear of failure. They may also be overly self-critical, constantly judging themselves harshly.
Social withdrawal: Anxiety can make social interactions challenging for teens. If your teen starts isolating themselves, avoiding social situations, or expressing a fear of being judged or embarrassed in front of others, it could be a sign of anxiety.
Academic difficulties: Anxiety can impact a teen's ability to concentrate, focus, or complete tasks. If your teen's academic performance starts to decline, it could be due to anxiety interfering with their ability to perform at their usual level.
Changes in appetite or sleep patterns: Anxiety can disrupt normal eating and sleeping patterns. Your teen may experience changes such as a loss of appetite, comfort eating, insomnia, or excessive sleeping.
Physical restlessness: Teens with anxiety may exhibit restlessness or an inability to sit still. If your teen struggles with anxiety, you may notice your teen frequently fidgets, paces, or has difficulty relaxing.
It's important to remember that experiencing one or two of these signs doesn't necessarily mean your teen has unhealthy anxiety. Anxiety is a common experience for most of us. If you notice your teen is experiencing multiple of the above signs, they could very well be struggling with their anxiety.
How to Help Teens with Anxiety:
There are several ways to help your teen and make a positive difference in their ability to manage anxiety and thrive in their daily lives:
Name it: Anxiety has a funny way of demanding attention but escaping identification. When you can help your teen identify their anxiety it can inadvertently help ease the anxiety. “Are you feeling anxious about X?” can be a gentle way to name anxiety.
Validate Their Feelings: Let your teen know that their anxiety is valid and that their feelings are normal. Avoid minimizing their concerns or telling them to "just relax." Instead, reassure them that you're there to support them. Validation could sound something like “of course you feel worried about X because it's so important to you”.
Encourage Open Communication: Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where your teen feels comfortable talking about their anxiety. Encourage them to express their thoughts and emotions openly, and actively listen without interrupting or dismissing their concerns. This can be hard for parents because seeing or hearing about our children’s struggles can spark us to jump to problem solving, trust that being open and giving them space to share is helping them navigate through their anxiety.
Teach Relaxation Techniques: Help your teen develop coping strategies to manage anxiety. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness techniques can be effective in reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Encourage them to practice these techniques regularly, even when they're not feeling anxious. There are many easy to use phone apps your teen may enjoy to help them practice relaxation techniques.
Teach Stress Management Techniques: Equipping teens with effective stress management techniques can empower them to cope with anxiety in healthy ways. Encourage creative expression activities such journalling, art, music, or hobbies. Physical activities like yoga, sports, or regular exercise can also be beneficial in releasing tension and promoting a sense of well-being. A great way to encourage stress management techniques as parents is to role model your own use of these techniques.
Promote Healthy Lifestyle Habits: Encourage your teen to prioritize self-care activities that support their overall well-being. This includes getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and engaging in activities they enjoy. A healthy lifestyle can positively impact their mood and reduce anxiety levels. Again role modeling your own healthy lifestyle habits can help promote your teen to develop a set of their own.
Assist in Time Management and Organization: Teens often experience anxiety due to overwhelming academic and extracurricular demands. Help them develop effective time management and organizational skills to reduce stress. Encourage them to use planners, set realistic goals, and break tasks into manageable steps. By teaching them how to prioritize and manage their time effectively, you can alleviate anxiety associated with feeling overwhelmed. Starting off the conversation around time management and organization from a place of curiosity can encourage your teen to accept your guidance. It could sound like “I wonder if you picked out a day timer or calendar if it could be helpful to you and planning your schedule?”
Set Realistic Expectations: Recognize that your teen may be experiencing pressure from various aspects of their life, such as academics, extracurricular activities, or social expectations. Consider whether they are involved in too many external demands, and where they might need to take on less stress. Remind them that it's okay to ask for help and take breaks when needed. Coming from a place of curiosity and empowerment, you may want to ask “I wonder if you have too much on your plate right now, what do you think you may want to take off?”
Problem-Solving and Planning: Assist your teen in breaking down overwhelming tasks or situations into smaller, manageable steps. It can be helpful to remember that the brain is not fully developed till around age 25, the part of the brain that develops last is responsible for decision making and problem solving. As parents, we can help teach them problem-solving skills, such as brainstorming solutions, weighing pros and cons, and developing action plans. This can foster brain development, and empower them to take control and build confidence in managing anxiety-provoking situations.
Seek Professional Help: If your teen's anxiety significantly impacts their daily functioning or quality of life, consider seeking professional help from a qualified therapist. A mental health professional can provide specialized interventions, guidance, and support tailored to their individualized needs.
Let's face it, worrying about our children never stops but sometimes the helplessness we feel as parents can be even scarier. Maybe you are seeing signs that your teen is struggling with anxiety or maybe you try to reach out and check in but they tell you they're fine. As a parent, it's natural to want to support your teenager during this phase, but sometimes it can be challenging to know how to best help them. That's where youth counseling can make a significant difference.
Youth Counselling for Teens in Calgary
Youth counseling provides a safe and non-judgmental space for teenagers to explore the difficulties they are facing. By seeking the assistance of a skilled therapist, your teen can better express their thoughts, emotions, worries, and dreams. They are empowered with the confidence to practice skills, try new things, and learn from their experiences.
At Therapy Alberta, we strive to create safe counseling spaces where each teen's unique individuality is valued and affirmed. Our therapists are open-minded, non-judgmental, and supportive of various cultures, identities, and abilities. We welcome 2SLGBTQIA+ and BIPOC teens and families, ensuring everyone feels seen, heard, believed, understood, and accepted.
Our therapists are experienced in utilizing a range of counseling approaches tailored to meet the specific needs of teenagers including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR), Family Systems Therapy, Mindfulness, and Narrative Therapy. These methods help teens explore big topics, navigate difficult transitions, improve self-awareness, nurture better relationships, and heal from past hurts.
Therapy can help your teenager:
gain a deeper understanding of themselves
explore their strengths, values, goals, and aspirations
find their voice
uncover & build resilience
enhance their self-esteem
increase their ability to cope with anxiety symptoms
feel confident in themselves and their ability to navigate life's challenges
To make counseling accessible and convenient, we offer online counselling for youth. This means that your teen can connect with a therapist from anywhere in Calgary and Alberta, eliminating the need for travel and providing a private and flexible experience. We have found that online counseling can foster great relationships, and sometimes the distance makes it easier for teens to connect and open up.
We understand that choosing a youth counsellor can be a significant decision. To ensure the best match, we encourage teens to read our youth counselling page and therapist bios to find someone they feel comfortable with. We offer a free consultation where they can meet the therapist and decide if it's a good fit. If needed, we can also help you in matching your teen with the therapist who is best equipped to meet their needs and availability.
It's important to remember that not all teenagers may be open to the idea of counselling initially. It can be challenging for them to take that step and seek help. The best thing parents can do is provide information and choice. Let your teen know they can meet with a few therapists to find the best fit and decide when they're ready.
Confidentiality is an essential aspect of teen counseling. Our family counsellors discuss with parents and teens what information will be kept private and what will be shared concerning safety concerns. Building trust between the therapist and the teen is crucial, and teens can choose what they want to share with their parents after sessions. Depending on the situation, parents may also choose to see a different counsellor, or family therapy may be a valuable option.
Helping Your Teen
Remember, every teenager is unique, and the strategies that work for one may not work for another. Be patient, flexible, and adaptable in your approach. With your support and the assistance of a counsellor, your teen can learn to manage their anxiety and thrive during this transformative stage of their life. Your teen can find their own voice and confidently move forward on their path to success and fulfillment.
Danielle Morran is an anxiety therapist who specializes in working with families, teens, and parents with anxiety stress, emotions, and family conflict. Danielle is a Certified Canadian Counsellor and practices narrative therapy, functional family therapy, mindfulness, motivational interviewing, and CBT.