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​GUEST BLOG POST by Laura Pearson

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Adolescent Anxiety – How to Help Parents and Teens Cope

Teens who experience regular anxiety attacks are unusually physiologically sensitive to external stimuli, experts say. When you’re the parent of an anxiety-prone teen, you have to teach your child that anxiety attacks will happen—no matter what—despite his or her wishes that they not occur. Usually, it’s difficult for children of this age to come to terms with the fact that life will throw them curve balls from time to time, maybe even on a permanent basis, and that they have to learn to deal with the problem, rather than cling to wishful thinking that the problem will go away on its own.

Deep subconscious issues are usually linked to anxiety attacks and require years of psychological treatment to address. While it’s good to tell teens that the problem may disappear or fade as they turn into adults, the problem may last a good while, so it’s best to prepare your teen to cope with it in the long run.

Here are four tips on how best to handle fits of adolescent anxiety, for parents and kids alike.

Keep Your Expectations Realistic

As a parent, you have to start teaching your child adult ways of coping. You need to help your teen acknowledge that the anxiety attacks are manifesting for the time being and have to be dealt with, one fit at a time. As fits can take place at any place and at any time, whether your child is by him or herself or with friends, guide your teen on what to do in social situations. Teach your teen how he or she can best explain the fit to peers who don’t know about his or her propensity for anxiety attacks. The more teens warn other people around them what to expect when they go through an anxiety attack, the more they will feel comforted and supported when a fit actually takes place.

Teach That Anxiety Attacks Are Learning Opportunities

It’s also important to help teens be optimistic about such fits, that is, to help them understand and recognize that each anxiety fit is an opportunity for learning more about themselves. By helping teens reflect and identify the factors and circumstances that “triggered” the fit, with time, during therapy, they may be able to recognize the subconscious roots of their anxiety fits. Teens may discover that they have deep abandonment issues tied to their upbringing as young children, which, when triggered, lead to an anxious physiological manifestation (i.e., an anxiety attack).

Ask Open-Ended Questions

It’s best not to ask questions that stir up your teen’s feelings of anxiety surrounding a certain event, such as prom or an important test. Simply “check in” on your teen’s feelings about the event rather than verify whether he or she is already feeling anxious about the event. For instance, asking teens, “How are you feeling about the prom?” is more conducive to letting them blow emotional steam about the event. This is better than asking, “Are you feeling anxious about the prom?” which indirectly makes them imagine the worst-case scenario—with an anxiety attack probably already looming over their head.

Why Encouraging Communication Is Important

It’s important to constantly check in with teens and to help them slowly (1) recognize the nature of their feelings, expressing these to you when you ask, and (2) to encourage them to come to you when they’re going through a stressful situation that you might not be aware of. When you don’t keep an emotional “open door” policy, your teen may bottle up and suppress dissonant feelings that may find expression through dangerous behaviors, like drinking too much alcohol or using drugs.

You may suspect your teen is keeping a secret from you, such as being the victim of a cyberbully, and refuses to open up to you, for whatever reason. If this is the case, have your child hang out with a trusted friend of the family. This could be a “cool,” mentor-like figure who is safely non-family and can harbor your teen’s secret—even from you—and give him or her guidance until your teen is ready to open up to you.

A Final Thought

Anxiety can be a thorny issue to overcome because it involves recognizing and venting deep stresses and emotions, while identifying the subconscious roots of a problem. Unfortunately, in the United States, many adults lack the ability to do this for themselves—not having probed their own childhood-era problems—and find it hard to teach their children how to walk this path effectively.

Embrace your child’s anxiety problems as an opportunity to learn more about your own issues regarding emotions and their expression. Think about how your own family—that of your childhood and the current one you’re spearheading—can become more tight-knit by giving vent to a long-overdue expression of emotional problems. Consult an experienced therapist, if necessary. 

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