Tuesday, April 16, 2024

TECHNIQUES TO DEAL WITH A TEEN’S ANXIETY

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Illustration: Christina Avdikou

Adolescent anxiety is a huge challenge for the whole family, but especially for the teenager himself who often becomes dysfunctional in his daily life and tends to avoid what his peers do with ease. A psychotherapist with many years of experience in managing stress gives practical advice to parents.

I have a teenage daughter and when I talk to my friends about teenage anxiety , most of the time I am not understood. People think I’m referring to a natural anxiety that a child has who is on the threshold of many big life changes or performance anxiety , when for example they are worried about how they will write in the test.

But stress in a teenager is much more than all that. It is a generalized fear reaction to most parts of his life . It’s a paralyzing feeling that grows and makes you want to run away from some danger that others don’t see. And they don’t see him, because he doesn’t exist.

Yes, the period of adolescence has many challenges and many new things for a person to face: the transition to a new school, another educational process, the first outings with friends, the relationship with the opposite sex, the prospect of studies, the changes that occur in the body and so much more.

What do we mean when we say teenage angst?

All of the above alone justify the increase in anxiety levels, but in the case of an anxious teenager, all of the above become huge problems, insurmountable obstacles, that make his fears prohibitive, so that he seeks to withdraw from what for the rest it’s everyday life .

 

Teenage anxiety

Illustration: Christina Avdikou

 

This kind of anxiety, and not just worrying about grades or the impression you will make on the person you are romantically attracted to, is an extremely dysfunctional situation for both the child himself and his family and cannot be don’t notice it.

Anxiety of this kind has increased among teenagers, according to expert measurements, in recent years and especially after the pandemic period , but also due to the widespread use of Social Media .

The observation of this phenomenon also led to the creation of the  sequel to the film The Minds You Carry , in which anxiety has been added as one of the fundamental emotions of the teenage protagonist.

According to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital professor of psychology-neuropsychology, Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein : “For most teenagers, this anxiety doesn’t last and goes away on its own at some point. For some, however, things are more difficult and this feeling can interfere even with their daily activities.”

How do you know if your child is suffering from anxiety?

So, if you’re still wondering to what extent your child is experiencing anxiety, a first estimate can be given by the Adolescent Mental Health Assessment Questionnaire , a great tool used by mental health professionals in the US and beyond.

Dr Regine Galanti , a clinical psychologist, specialized in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, with many years of experience in the anxiety of children and adolescents and author of several books on the related literature, has some useful tips for managing adolescent anxiety .

First, it emphasizes that anxiety is to some extent necessary in our lives, as it protects us from recklessness and from experimenting with situations that would expose us to danger. He then reminds us that if one does not pay attention to their anxiety, it will pass like any other emotion, since its goal is simply to protect us.

The real problem, however, is that stress cannot go unnoticed, because it mobilizes a series of reactions , triggering a wave of emotions, and above all stress about stress, so a vicious circle is created that makes the person several times dysfunctional.

What are the 3 parts of stress?

Dr. Galanti makes a separation in the 3 phases of stress so that we can understand its mechanism better. These individual elements are interconnected and any one of them can act as a trigger that ignites the stress cycle :

1. Thoughts

Thoughts affect feelings. If you find yourself in a busy square where you don’t know anyone and think These people are looking at me strangely and might want to hurt me , you will feel anxious. But if you think How nice! A square buzzing with life! Maybe this way I will meet new friends , you will be fine. Thoughts are like sunglasses : you can change them or take them off and the world will look different.

2. Bodily sensations

Anxiety involves a physical reaction called the fight-or-flight response . When you feel anxious, adrenaline begins to flow and a series of symptoms appear, such as rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, dilated pupils, tense muscles, sweating, nausea… These reactions prepare the body to move away from danger or to fight the enemy and although they look dangerous, they are harmless.

3. Behaviors

This third part of stress involves how we behave in response to our thoughts and bodily sensations. If you think that people are curious about me because they definitely want to hurt me and you feel like your heart has jumped out of your chest, you probably want to run away .

It’s perfectly normal to want to escape stressful situations. This would be very effective if it were a real threat, but can become very problematic in the context of a false alarm. Avoidance not only causes practical problems, but fuels more anxiety in the future .

To help a teenager manage their anxiety, Dr. Galanti suggests 3 ways that essentially target each of these parts of anxiety.

1. Correct thoughts with rationalization

  • Help your teen check if their thoughts are related to reality: It’s normal to have anxious thoughts, but just because you’re worried doesn’t mean your thoughts are real. Thoughts are not facts. Ask yourself if there is evidence that your thought is true. You are afraid that everyone will make fun of you if you make a mistake on the board. Does such a thing apply?
  • Help the child separate himself from his thoughts: You worry that your friends will judge you harshly. Stop and say it out loud I think my friends will judge me and not want to be my friend anymore. Using the word think ahead of your thoughts helps you distance yourself from them. Your thoughts are one thing and you are another. Thoughts have the power you give them.

2. Address physical sensations with relaxation practices

The next time you feel stressed, ask yourself: what is happening in my body right now? Am I dizzy? Is my heart pounding? If the answer is yes , there are some practices to change this natural reaction .

A simple and effective game is the game of colors:

  • Choose a color. Let’s say, white.
  • Now, look around the room and find everything that is white.
  • Name everything, big and small. Notice the details and find all the white objects.
  • When you finish, ask yourself: what was I thinking while doing this exercise? For most people, the answer is: nothing, I was finding white objects like you told me . That’s exactly the point. When you focus on something specific, you help your brain focus on something other than your stress.
  • You can repeat this exercise with different colors as many times as necessary to give your physical sensations a chance to fade.

3. Manage fears with gradual exposure

  • Find a fear you would like to overcome. Start with a moderate fear, not a big one. For example asking 3 questions in front of your whole class.
  • Break the goal into 4-5 steps, that is, into smaller pieces. For example, ask 1 question to 2-3 classmates, then to a larger group, and so on. Be sure to be very specific.
  • Do this step 4-5 times before moving on to the next one.
  • Before starting each step, rate from 1 to 10 how stressed you felt. Also, think about the worst thing that could happen. Are you afraid that everyone will point and laugh at you if you ask something? It’s helpful to write these fears down so you can refer back to them later.
  • After you have completed exposure to the stressful event, rate your anxiety again on a scale of 1-10. What happened; Did what you feared the most come true? Did you get over it?
  • Continue with the next steps of the exercise. You will find that when you do not avoid the situation that causes you anxiety, but stay there, often your anxiety in the end is significantly reduced or has disappeared.

You are not alone, nor alone: ​​Seek help

“In my experience, the most effective way to manage anxiety is by using exposure-based strategies and learning to face your fears. These exposure techniques will work for more than just a specific fear,” says the expert.

As the purpose of this strategy is for the child to face his fear, remind him that it is natural to feel anxious while performing the exercise . As for you parents , remember that you are definitely not alone. Stress can have a big impact on life, but there are also effective treatments that can help.

After all, there are now many specialists who deal with children and teenagers, but also with parent counseling. Don’t hesitate to look them up. Because, indeed, your child is not the only one dealing with anxiety problems. Now lately there are more and more.

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