The teenage years are often met with a rollercoaster of emotions. Hormones, school stress, and social pressures can bring about a perfect storm for the development of mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression. And with a new school year back in full swing, many teens may be struggling to juggle a mixture of emotions alongside their academic and extracurricular obligations.
Fortunately, teens don’t have to navigate this rocky journey alone. With the help of family, friends, and therapy, teenagers can find ways to manage and cope with anxiety.
Common Sources and Symptoms of Anxiety in Teens
Generalized anxiety disorder is actually quite common among teens, with around 31% of teens experiencing it. There is certainly no shortage of triggers for teens that can lead to stress and the development of anxiety and depression.
Back-to-school season is a big one, and while it’s perfectly normal for teens to feel nerves around going back to school – especially after the uncertainty of the pandemic – it’s important to notice if these feelings persist or increase in frequency or intensity.
A few common triggers of stress, which can lead to anxiety or depression, include:
- Starting a new school
- Social pressures to “fit in” with friend groups
- Family/caregiver turmoil (e.g., separation or divorce)
- Academic pressures
- Figuring out sexual or gender identity
So how can you figure out if a teen is going through normal stress or nerves and when to get them additional support? Here are a few signs that may signal the need for an assessment with a mental health professional:
- Frequent unexplained physical complaints, such as stomachaches and headaches
- Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy or withdrawing from social interactions
- Loss of appetite and other changes in eating habits
- Difficulty concentrating
- Extreme mood swings
- Performance dip in school and/or extracurricular activities
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness, despair, and worthlessness
- Using drugs and drinking as forms of self-medication for anxiety
How to Help Teens Cope with Anxiety
As mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression, have become more openly discussed, so too have the approaches and tools for managing symptoms. Ranging from improved self-care to talking with a therapist, below are a few ways you can help a teen with anxiety.
- Journaling. There is a lot of evidence that journaling can provide a positive outlet when facing a difficult time in life. Writing can help to prioritize concerns and fears, track symptoms to better identify triggers, and reduce stress by “letting it all out.” Buy your teen a notebook and encourage them to write a little bit every day to help make sense of their feelings.
- Breathing exercises. The 4-7-8 Breathing Method has an almost immediate calming effect on our nervous system and quiets the “fight or flight” response that can lead to the physical symptoms of anxiety. These are exercises that can be practiced in an anxiety-inducing situation without anyone noticing.
- Spending time in nature. In our frenetic world where we spend more time in front of screens, it can be easy to go long stretches without enjoying outdoor time. Research shows that spending time outdoors has benefits for both our physical and psychological well-being. Make time to take your teen on a hike in the woods or a walk along the beach to relieve stress.
- Staying connected. Making time for meaningful connection with good friends and family can help teens cope with anxiety. Encourage your teen to spend time with trusted friends whom they can talk to and find support from. And set aside time – whether it’s a game night or nightly dinner – for the family to come together and be present with one another.
- Seeking out professional support. Sometimes we all need a little extra support, and your teen may need help managing their anxiety. A highly trained and empathetic counselor can be a kind ear and offer tools to cope with anxiety. Our counselors utilize therapeutic approaches such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Mindfulness, which are proven to be helpful in working with adolescents.
Stress Is Inevitable; Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Be
Stress is part of the human experience; however, it doesn’t have to develop into symptoms of unmanageable anxiety. Recognizing the varied sources of stress and signs of anxiety can help you and your teen develop mechanisms for navigating the journey into adulthood.
If anxiety is interfering with your teen’s quality of life, please know that you’re not alone. Sunstone has a team of counselors ready to guide your teen to a brighter tomorrow. Reach out to us to get matched with the right counselor for you and your teen.
Upcoming Support Groups for Teen Anxiety
Sunstone offers several support groups as a safe and non-judgmental space for teens to develop coping strategies as well as relate to peers experiencing similar challenges.
Consider joining our newsletter to stay informed of these and future offerings.