Looking back on our teenage years, many of us can relate to common experiences: changes in our bodies and emotions, pressure about our futures, navigating social dynamics, and the stress of trying to cope with all these things.
Some of us were also dealing with discrimination, housing insecurity, mental and/or physical illness, relocation, and more.
When looking at the common triggers of stress and anxiety in teens today, we can understand why our children struggle with them. Social and academic stress are timeless; world events impact all of us right now. Family discord and life changes, reported to be stressors for teens, are experiences we’ve all been through. And most of us have experienced at least one traumatic event, such as death, accidents, abuse, or assault.
What we tend to forget, however, is how heightened teenage emotions are. This is thanks to a combination of fluctuating hormones and the fact that the adolescent brain is still developing (and not even close to being finished). The life-or-death “dramatics” of teenage life felt very real and very strong for us in secondary school, no matter how it looks to us from the outside now that we are older and more experienced. Now that we have weathered so many storms, it is easy to forget that our children are navigating them for the first time. You might feel a million miles away from your teenager. You may struggle to relate to your teen(s) or find it difficult to connect. This has been true of every generational divide before us. Still, the advent of global technology has added an aspect to teenage stress and anxiety that nobody has ever dealt with before.
The way this teenage generation experiences the world, in real-time and via social media, is unprecedented. Teenagers these days have access to endless information; they are bombarded with messages, images, videos. While this has served to make them an incredibly empathetic generation, relating to people from all walks of life, it can also be overstimulating. The ability to watch a war happening in real-time on their phones gives them access to history as it happens but doesn’t give them the tools to deal with what they are seeing.
In fact, most of us still need help dealing with anxiety; we see people from all walks of life here at our practice in Woodland Hills. If you are concerned that your teen is experiencing stress, the odds are good that you are correct.
Are you having a hard time connecting with your teen? Are you concerned about their mental health and wellbeing? Teen therapy in our Woodland Hills, CA office can help your teen learn CBT tools to better manage emotions and life stressors.
4 Signs That Your Teen’s Anxiety is Getting Worse:
1. Change in mood:
Anxiety and depression do not always show up as panic or sadness. Most often, irritability, indecisiveness, and indifference to things can be the manifestation of anxiety and stress. The indecisiveness comes from an overload; your teen may feel too overwhelmed by negative emotions to make any decisions, whether those decisions would appear to you to be positive or negative. Indifference comes about when depression overtakes our ability to see anything positive or hopeful. Any drastic shift in attitude is cause for curiosity: why is this going on? When did I notice it? Is my teen talking to me about how they’re feeling?
2. Changes in their relationships:
During adolescence, teens gravitate towards their peers over family members, especially parents. While some of these preferences are age-appropriate, you would want to assess for any extreme change in interactions.
Is your son more withdrawn than before?
Is your daughter more socially anxious lately?
When our relationship with ourselves is disconnected, then our relationship with others will also be impacted. This one can be tricky, as your teen isn’t with you for a large part of the day. There may be changes in peer relationships that you can’t see; you may have to listen for which friends your teen is talking about and how often.
3. Lack of clarity for their future:
Have you ever been asked what your plan is for 5 years from now? Most of us have heard this during an interview or a family gathering, and most of us find this question overwhelming or intimidating to a certain extent. That feeling of being overwhelmed by the future can exacerbate when the anxiety and stress are high because with anxiety comes a lack of concentration and more doubt and confusion. There is a lot of pressure on kids to pick their paths early, as one class leads to another, then another, then another, which impacts college or university, and so on. Your teen may have seemingly been on one path and is now avoiding it. Or maybe avoiding making decisions at all.
4. Experiencing grief and loss:
Many teens are dealing with grief due to pandemic. Some may have lost family members or friends to COVID, but most teens are grieving the loss of social experiences that they can never get back. Whether it was the prom they missed in their senior year of high school or the dorm experiences during their first year of college, the void of these experiences leaves them with a lot of sadness and unresolved emotions.
Every person is different and handles stress and anxiety differently, and everyone has different life experiences. You may have never struggled with anxiety, but now your teen is; vice versa, you may have been battling anxiety for years, and this is your teen’s first taste of it. Approaching a change in your teen’s life with sympathy, empathy, and curiosity will enable you to understand what is happening to the best of your ability. Teens are in the midst of growing up: they need guidance and support but want to feel listened to and recognized as individuals and young adults. Where many parents see this as a conflict, it can be a way to invite your teen to communicate with you. “I recognize that you are growing up and making decisions for yourself. Everyone needs support and understanding no matter their age, and things are very stressful in the world right now. I have some worries that I would feel better talking about. Maybe we could talk about them?”
Therapy for young adults with our anxiety therapists online or in-person at our Woodland Hills office can help to address worry, stress, and/or relationship issues many late teens are struggling with today.
3 Tips to Help Manage Your Teen’s Anxiety and Stress:
1. Learn more about anxiety and stress:
Understand that anxiety and stress are not the same as a developmental phase. It can be easy to say, “All teenagers are moody!” or “Teenage years are a nightmare,” but those statements don’t paint an accurate picture.
Yes, teenagers’ moods change due to hormones; dismissing that is dismissing their actual physical situation. Teenagers have a lot of change and social dynamics to deal with, which can make navigating rules and safety exceptionally difficult; it does not have to be a nightmare. When you understand anxiety and stress, you can understand why your teen’s heightened emotions have the potential and ability to disrupt your household the way they tend to do. You can approach the issue differently when you understand the difference between normal teenage development and psychological disruption. You can separate what is expected and what needs to be dealt with.
Do what you can to know your teen’s triggers. What is going on for your teen that might have increased anxiety? Even if nothing has changed in your family home, maybe things are changing at school. What can you, as a parent, find out about how the school looks for your teen? Depending on how the school has tackled the pandemic, you may be surprised at some of the classroom formatting these days. Think to yourself, “If this was me, how would I be feeling about this?” Then, imagine you have half the life experience. Practice empathy; even though your teen is young and may not have experienced all the hardship you have, what they are going through is hard on them. They’re still learning and developing. Understanding your teen’s triggers can also enable you to circumvent issues before they become catastrophic
2. Model healthy coping skills:
As it has been with every life skill you’ve taught your child, you have to lead by example. You didn’t teach your toddler to use a spoon by eating with your hands. It is not enough that you asked your son about his anxiety; you also need to be willing to share about your own. If you can’t be vulnerable about your emotions, it will make it harder for your teen to open up.
When you share your feelings, make sure not to come across as if you are making it all about yourself. Ask them if they would like to listen or are open to hearing about your day. Invite your teen to have a mature discussion with you from a place of respect and be willing to share without preaching. The best way for your teen to learn to analyze and express their emotions is to practice in a safe environment!
Outside of connecting with your teen through discussion, make sure that your own coping skills aren’t a secret. You will be more effective if you talk the talk and walk the walk. The last thing your teen wants is you to lecture them about getting up early and going for a walk when you never do the same.
Ask yourself, do I meditate? Do I journal? Do I talk about my feelings? Do I have a good self-care routine? Figure out where you can provide yourself with more self-care and how you can share it with your teen. This can include practicing self-care in front of your teen, such as, “I feel stressed, so I’m going for a walk. Would you like to join me?” It can also mean that you communicate without inviting, such as, “I had a long day. I’m going to go have a bath and decompress.” Or, you can share your self-care after the fact; “I was struggling with this issue, so I meditated about it this morning.” Resist the impulse to add, “…and you should, too.” Model what you want your teen to learn, as well as your change in mood or attitude afterward. Let your teen see these tools in action.
3. Encourage your teen to attend therapy:
A big part of obtaining and utilizing coping skills for anxiety may be attending therapy. It might be hard to know how to start this conversation or wonder where to look for a therapist to help your young adult cope with anxiety. If you feel this way, your teen is most likely, too. Your teen may express fear about attending therapy. This may manifest as anger or flat-out rejection of the idea, worrying what attending therapy “says about them.”
They will need to have therapy normalized in order to feel comfortable seeking the help they need. While you can start the conversation in many different ways, one way is to talk about it is if someone in the family has already gone through therapy, like yourself, your partner, or an extended family member. If not, maybe discuss someone your teen is into who has gone through therapy. Zendaya, Billie Eilish, and Olivia Rodrigo have spoken publicly about attending therapy for anxiety and depression. They are three of the most successful young people in America right now.
You can also point your teen in the direction of older, established public figures who have worked hard and stuck with their positive changes. There are many athletes or artists who talk openly about utilizing therapy long-term. For example, in the Super Bowl 2022 half-time show, most people were celebrating Eminem’s 14 year-long sobriety and Mary J. Blige’s 11-year long sobriety. These artists are a great example of people who have continued to garner success and respect for decades; their use of therapy has enabled them to do so. It is notable that people are rooting them on and celebrating their success, not waiting and hoping for them to fail or thinking less of them for getting the help they needed.
The hardest part of supporting your teen through anxiety is often starting the conversation. You might worry that you’ll say the wrong thing or that your teen will reject your offers for help. Take time to center yourself before engaging in conversations so that you can approach them with curiosity and compassion. Make sure that you are a safe space for your teen to talk about worries by reminding them that you love them no matter what they are going through. Prove it to them by appreciating their honesty, even if their words shock you a little. This doesn’t mean that rules and boundaries fly out the window; it just means that you seek to cooperate with your teen in navigating their development into an adult. Their anxiety will make things hard on them sometimes. Learning how to cope with it will be easier for them if they know they can come to you for support; that they are not alone.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije, Ani Seferyan, AMFT, Cindy Sayani, AMFT, and Ani Seferyan, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns including panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression, Codependency, and Addiction.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.