Anxiety is a mortal enemy for the mom of today’s teenager. It creeps in and morphs itself and changes your kiddo into someone you don’t recognize. It can take years to understand it, though learning of its ways is an ongoing process. Not all days are bad. But helping an anxious teen who is trying to make her way in these already tumultuous years is a marathon race for a mama.
If you have sat at the bedside of your overwhelmed teen daughter begging her to finish homework, or go to an event, or even get up in the morning, you are not alone. Uplifting words often ring hollow and often don’t trump the thoughts going on in her head.
Her reality during these times is based solely on fear. Fear of not completing everything, fear of looking like a fool, fear of imperfection. Just irrational fear.
At least that’s what a parent sees. Your teen doesn’t recognize the irrationality of these moments. This is her reality. She is lost in a world of impossibilities.
Anxious teens tend to be fingernail biters and worriers. Just entering the early teen years can bring on full-blown overpowering panic. Hormones mixed with the greater stresses of school and sports are an ugly cocktail resulting in hopeless inaction.
Parents with anxious teens have learned much as they’ve ridden this rollercoaster, a crazy dramatic ride, full of ups and downs. I want to share with you ideas and actions to make your days easier if you are loving and raising an anxious teen.
Before doing anything else, make a doctor’s appointment for your child. There are medications and supplements that can help but every child is different and I will leave the medication piece of this puzzle for you and your doctor to figure out.
AT HOME: Your child needs you to be calm
(Believe me when I tell you that most parents have learned this the hard way.) If your child melts down, completely refusing to deal with whatever is going on in her life, you must be calm.
Guard your words when encouragement or support slowly change into frustration and anger.
Mamas on this rocky road see the answer to the ‘overwhelm’ as simply getting up and doing the work. She sees her life, at the moment, as impossible, not worth the effort to even try.
Though parents are able to see the big picture, often we can’t convince this child of the truth, that her life is just not as overwhelming as she perceives. It’s excruciating and requires more patience and willpower to ‘not lose it’ than we ever imagined. The mama MUST remain calm.
Here’s what you need to understand: Your anxious teen puts WWWAAAAYY more pressure on herself to succeed and do well than you could ever put on her. Understanding this was monumental. She does not need even more pressure from her parents.
The puzzle, then, is figuring out how to walk this tightrope. We must have expectations and requirements as parents, but how we implement them with these anxiety-ridden kids may be different from your other siblings.
AT SCHOOL: Talk with teachers and counselors at the beginning of the year
Your teenager, like most, desperately wants good grades and she wants to be able to work through situations with her teachers without your help. Parents have learned that if we let teachers know at the beginning of the year that an anxious teen has some anxiety issues and that she may or may not let them know when she is struggling, they will more readily join with you to solve an issue.
Let teachers know. Communicate with them early in the semester before pressure mounts and grades are on the line. Most likely they will accommodate appropriately.
Math, for example, may be your student’s nemesis. She may struggle with this subject, typically on test days when she may tend to freak out and have panic attacks. This doesn’t happen with other subjects she feels more confident in. After contacting her teacher and informing her of the situation, odds are her teacher will be very helpful and accommodating.
AT SCHOOL (OR HOME – OR BOTH): Exercise and nutrition are key
Your teen needs regular exercise. Daily. I learned how important this is in my own depression journey. (In case you may not know, depression and anxiety are siblings, often treated the same way in medical circles.) A simple walk or run clears the head and pent-up frustration like nothing else. Get that kid involved in a sport or even a yoga class, or even walking the dog.
Help her to make nutritious choices, if for nothing else than brain health. A poor diet can bring on anxiety. Besides your basic meals with lots of veggies and fruit, adding anything rich in Omega-3 helps the brain find calm. Processed ‘anything’ is not your friend.
If it helps your teen to be ‘in control’, ask her to keep a food journal for a few days as an experiment. Have her write down what she eats and then throughout the day, write what her mood is. Anxious kids are typically deep thinkers and feelers who are more attentive to their moods and feelings than most, and ‘feel’ with more intensity. She might be surprised about her moods after eating junk food.
AT HOME: Require order in her room
Parents will learn the hard way that clutter is the mortal enemy of an anxious teen. Mama, you’ve got to fight this. Require a clean room and/or bathroom, along with an ordered closet. Yet sometimes, if she’s overwhelmed with school, and she comes home to a disaster in her room, it just adds to the hole she feels she has fallen down.
Here’s an important tip: It doesn’t make your kid feel better if you clean her room for her. At the beginning of this anxiety rollercoaster, a mama may try to help her with tidying her room, just so she will have less on her plate of what she needs to do. Your intentions are good, mama, but it never helps.
She needs the self-satisfaction of completing this task. If you pay attention, mama, a meltdown will probably happen when her room is in bad shape. Sunday night before the week starts is a great time to get herself organized for the week.
Odds are, she probably doesn’t realize how much clutter is affecting her. A parent may learn not to pressure her too much about this during her busy week, but the weekend is a good time to make sure her room is clean and laundry is done. This is a foundational habit to help your teen as they prepare for adulthood.
AT HOME: Require visual structure of her life
If she does not use a planner, now is the time. Teach her how to brain dump her assignments to a planner or a simple whiteboard in her room. Somehow, not having to waste brain energy trying to ‘not forget’ a test or assignment frees her up to focus on appropriate learning. Having a visual list or calendar on the wall of her room helps immeasurably, and surprisingly.
Help her develop the habit of adding daily or weekly tasks or homework to the whiteboard or planner. Crossing off completed tasks eases an anxious mind, though itself a simple concept.
Mamas, the goal of raising children is to make them into rational, functional, independent adults. For parents dealing with anxiety, this job is a little trickier.
Though anxiety is your enemy, these tools will help you, the mama of an anxious teen, to fight it. I’m not sure why anxiety is on the rise in today’s teen world, but it’s a real problem, requiring real answers. Be sure to check out my Pinterest board for other helps with anxious teens.
The mamas can help each other as we raise these kids to make their way into adulthood. If you’ve discovered a tip or helpful insight on this journey, be sure to comment below.