3 Critical ways to help your teen overcome anxiety

It’s funny how the month of March has become somewhat of a 5 letter word in the past year. That’s right, many of us are coming up on a full year of pandemic life. I can’t say that’s an anniversary I’m particularly thrilled to celebrate…

A friend told me just this morning that when asked what he was most looking forward to this March, how answer was “the end of it”. It’s a funny quip, but when taken seriously, it strikes me that a lot of us are living our lives with that “just get it over with” mindset lately.

Things have been so hard for so long that we can’t really look forward to joyful things the way we used to, instead we just look forward to difficult things being over.

I can’t wait until the pandemic is over, I can’t wait until this week is done, I can’t wait until that meeting has happened, I can’t wait until I’ve written that exam…and then I will be able to breathe and relax.
This type of thinking is a glimpse into what it is like to experience anxiety (and other mental health experiences like depression). It can feel like you are locked into a misery state where everything ahead of you on the calendar is something to be feared and managed (or avoided) and nothing in the present state is particularly joyful.

When did life become about “getting over” all the crap? How do we get back to enjoying the moment?

So many of you have reached out to me asking how to support a tween or teen in your life that is struggling with this type of thinking. Mental health concerns are on the rise in younger people, and the pandemic has seen a surge in mental health crisis across all age groups.

Focusing on tweens and teens is especially important because cognitively many haven’t reached the developmental milestones that are needed to help combat some of this negative thinking. Plus, emotionally, many tweens and teens haven’t yet developed the necessary resilience to survive all of it.

So how can you support a tween or teen that is experiencing anxiety, or that is struggling to cope with any aspect of life (from friends, academics, pandemic isolation, and so on)?

There are three important steps that you can take to help your tween or teen cope:

1. Validate their experience
2. Ask the magic question
3. Offer support

The first thing you need to do is validate how your tween or teen is feeling without offering any solutions. Validation lets your kid know that what they are feeling is OK to feel (even if it is difficult). A person who knows they are allowed to feel their feelings has a better foundation from which to overcome their feelings than a person who feels shame or blame or pressure to change how they feel to suit others.

Start by saying: I can totally see why you would feel that way given what you just told me about the situation. Tell me more about how you are experiencing this….

For many tweens and teens, this step is enough. A lot of us are so deprived of validation (and so overwhelmed with difficult emotions) that we aren’t even ready to move on to step two. That’s ok. Stay on step one as long as necessary. When your tween/teen is ready, they will ask you what to do.

Which brings us to step two.

This step is to ask them what they think their ideal outcome to the situation is. To be clear, this is not pressuring them to find a solution and it is not coming up with a solution for them. This is about helping them find hope or direction in a situation where they feel powerless or out of control. The magic question goes like this: If I could wave a magic wand that would deal with this situation perfectly, what would that look like? What would happen and what would the outcome be and how would you feel at the end of it?

You can then follow up with: What is the first thing that needs to happen/ or the first step that you are ready to take to move towards that outcome?

The third piece is then to ask how you can support them in that journey. Literally saying, How can I support you? or What role can I play in helping you get there? or What do you need from me? are excellent questions that will get them thinking and feeling more in control and capable. This may be enough to lighten their load.

Anxiety is a complex experience. What makes anxiety the most difficult is how uncomfortable it is for so many of us to simply experience un-fun emotions. Anxiety is often the fear of unpleasant emotions that come with difficult situations more than a fear of the difficult situation itself.

Want to know more? Join us to get access to our upcoming course offering “Feel your Feelings”. This course teaches you how to feel even your most challenging feelings effectively so that you can increase the joy and peace in your and your child’s life fast!

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. If you are concerned about the wellbeing of someone in your life, please seek guidance from your medical or mental health professional.