Anxiety in Teens - How to Help a Teenager Deal With Anxiety


Anxiety can be tough for anyone to deal with, but add in the whirlwind of changes that come with adolescence, and anxiety can feel like an intrusive mind hog that spends way too much time squeezing, surprising and overwhelming anyone it lands on.

If anxiety is making a menace of itself, the good news is that there are ways to take it back to small enough. First though, it’s important to understand the telltale signs of anxiety and where they come from. When you understand this, anxiety will start to lose the power that comes from its mystery and its unpredictability.

Teens With Anxiety. A Few Things You Need to Know

Anxiety has absolutely nothing to do with strength, character or courage.

People with anxiety will be some of the strongest, most likable, bravest people any of us will know. Anxiety and courage always exist together. Courage doesn’t mean you never get scared – if you’re not scared, there’s no need to be brave. What courage means is that you’re pushing right up against your edges. It doesn’t matter where the edges are. They will be different for everyone. The point is that courage is all about feeling them and making a push to move through them – and people with anxiety do it all the time.

Sometimes it drops in for absolutely no reason at all.

Anxiety happens because your brain thinks there might be danger, even when there is no danger at all. Brains are smart, but they can all read things a little bit wrong sometimes.

Anxiety is soooo common. Almost as common as having feet. But not quite.

On average, about 1 in 5 young people have anxiety. Without a doubt, someone you know or care about will also struggle with anxiety from time to time. Stats don’t lie. They don’t gossip and they don’t start scandals either, which is why they’re so reliable. They’re good like that.

Everyone experiences anxiety on some level.

Anxiety exists on a spectrum – some people get it a lot and some people get it a lot less, but we all experience anxiety on some level at some time in our lives – exams, job interviews, performances. Sometimes it can happen for no reason at all.

Anxiety is a feeling, not a personality.

Anxiety doesn’t define you. It’s a feeling – it will come, but it will always go, and it’s as human as having a heartbeat.

Your brain that is strong, healthy and doing exactly what brains are meant to do.

Your brain is magnificent. It’s just a little overprotective. It loves you like a favourite thing and it wants to keep you safe. And alive. Brains love keeping people alive. They adore it actually.

Anxiety can look a little something like this …

Here are some of the common signs of anxiety. If you have some of these, it doesn’t mean that anxiety is a problem for you. This list is a way to make sense of things that feel as though they’re getting in your way, but if you experience some of them and you’re travelling along beautifully, then there’s no problem at all. Something is only a problem if it’s causing you a problem.

Thoughts …

  • Negative thoughts – what-ifs, thoughts about being judged or embarrassed, small thoughts that grow into big worries.

  • Excessive worry about physical symptoms (that a cut might become infected, that a headache might mean brain cancer).

An anxious brain is a strong brain, and anxious thoughts can be persuasive little beasts that stick to the inside of your skull like they belong there. Write this down and stick it to your mirror, so you see it every morning when you’re getting a faceful of your gorgeous head: ‘Thoughts are thoughts. They are NOT predictions. Let them come. And then let them go.’

Feelings …

  • Fearful, worried, overwhelmed, out of control.

  • Dread, as though something bad is going to happen.

  • Panic that seems to come from nowhere.

  • Feeling separate to your physical self or your surroundings. (This is called depersonalisation and it can be driven by anxiety. Manage this one by managing your anxiety. Keep reading for how to do this.)

Physically …

  • Racing heart.

  • Tightening in the chest

  • Butterflies.

  • Tense muscles.

  • Shaking hands.

  • Feeling as though you’re going to vomit.

  • Dizzy or light-headed.

  • Feeling as though you want to burst into tears.

  • Feeling angry.

These are all because of the surge of neurochemicals that happen when the body is in fight or flight mode. They can feel frightening, but they are all a very normal part of the way your brain and body protect you from possible danger (more about this later).

Behaviors …

  • Skin picking (dermatillomania).

  • Pulling out hair (trichotillomania).

  • Nail biting.

  • Avoidance of people or situations, even if they are things that would probably be fun. (This isn’t necessarily about wanting to avoid the people involved and more about wanting to avoid the anxiety that comes with certain situations such as parties or get-togethers or anything unfamiliar.)

  • Feel compelled to perform certain habits or rituals that don’t seem to make sense (e.g. having to stack things in even numbers, having to touch the door handle a certain number of times before you leave, compulsive hand-washing, checking locks etc).

People with anxiety tend to find all sorts of ways to make their anxiety feel smaller for a little while. These self-soothing behaviors will often escalate with the intensity of the anxiety, but will ease once anxiety is under control. If you can manage your anxiety, this will help to fade these symptoms. (Sit tight – we’ll talk about how to do that.)

You might have a bit of …

  • Tummy trouble – (constipation, diarrhoea, irritable bowel).

In the gut are hundreds of millions of neurons. This is affectionately known as ‘the brain in our gut’. These neurons are really important for mental health because they send information from the belly to the brain. When the environment in the gut is out of balance (not enough good bacteria, too many bad ones), the messages sent back to the brain can stir anxiety.

And those zzz’s …

  • Difficulty sleeping – either trouble falling asleep, or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep.

When you’re still, quiet and trying to relax, negative thoughts or worries will see it as an invitation. They’ll put on their fancy pants and get the party started in your head. Pushy little sleep-thieving pirates that they are.

Practical, powerful ways to help manage anxiety.

Understand why it feels the way it does.

Understanding why anxiety feels the way it does will be one of your greatest tools in managing it. Think of it like this. Imagine being in a dark room that is full of ‘stuff’. When you walk around in the dark, you’re going to bump into things. You’re going to scrape, bruise and maybe drop a few choice words. Turn on the light though, and those things are still there, but now you can navigate your way around them. No more bumps. No more scrapes. And no more having to hold your tongue in front of people who can confiscate your phone. Here’s what you need to know …