How to Mitigate Anxiety in Teens
As any parent knows, the teen years can cause some angst. With all the raging hormones and daily stress kids are feeling, every teen is bound to "lose it" at one time or another. Probably more than once. But add Anxiety to that mix, and it's a whole different beast.
Sometimes it manifests in a meltdown of epic proportions, sometimes it's silent, hidden demons. And sometimes it's the slamming of a door or two.
If you're the parent of a teen with an anxiety disorder it can be hard to know how best to help him or her cope. In addition to helping your child obtain a proper diagnosis and effective treatment, you need to be able to tune in to her mood and quickly suss out the situation of the moment. Because teens learn to put a smile on their face, to grin and bear it sometimes. How are you, we ask? “Fine,” they say with a giant knot in their stomach. Why?Because really, no one wants to talk about the tough stuff.
Hell, I don’t want to talk about the tough stuff! Anxiety. Anxiety is tough. It's heartbreaking watching your child struggle with this. To be clear, anxiety is not just feeling nervous before you take a test, or talk on the phone or go into a party by yourself. It’s constantly having excessive worry or fear strong enough to interfere with your daily life. It’s when you freak out over the length of time it takes someone to reply to your text, nervously going over all you might have done or said wrong. It’s checking and rechecking your work; whether the door is locked; or if your bed is clean. It’s wanting to go to a party and have fun but knowing your anxiety won’t let you; so you stay home.
It's gut-wrenching watching them having to grow up when they'd rather not. To see them battling depression or feeling anxious because so much is hanging over their heads. To watch as they literally climb in bed, fully clothed and pull the blankets over them as their way to cope. They would rather not do homework for hours; they'd rather not tackle the college application process. They'd rather not face what's coming. They'd rather not "adult."
As a mom, I'd rather not face that angst. Or the teen when she's feeling the angst. But that's not an option obviously. One day last year everything was going along fine; it usually does. Until it doesn't. Being asked (or told) to swap out the laundry and start another load was kind of a bummer. I get that; but add walking the dog, and suddenly our daughter careened off an edge that I was unaware she was standing on. To her credit, she did the laundry and took Brodie out--in fact, she even brought him home and took herself for a longer walk. Sensible choice, actually a great coping mechanism and it was a good sign that she was going to calm herself down. I was proud of her for trying that actually. Seeing her use her different coping skills is heartening--especially when it worked.
It didn't. The door slammed, feet stomped, muttering was heard. Clearly she was back and had brought the anxiety beast with her. My instinct was to immediately bring her a snack. She hadn't had much to eat after the morning stack of pancakes. As I have said before, my kids need food if they are cranky. So down I go to the laundry room where she is grudgingly folding towels. I offer her a snack. She takes one look and says, "there's rind. I'm not eating it." Ok. Right. Deep breath--me not her.
Not to be defeated, and really trying to understand the issue instead of snapping myself, I go back up for something she can't refuse. Upon my return, she was sitting on the floor leaning against the washing machine. She was gritting her teeth, clenching her jaw and cracking her knuckles, and she didn't even realize it. So without a word, I plunked myself down next to her and silently held out the snack. She took it, ate it and grabbed another piece from my hand. A taste of success.
Asking her if something happened or she was just in a bad mood, she declared life sucks. Kind of true for a teen so I didn't argue on that. I just asked whether it was life in general or school, homework, parents, college. Pretty much, yes. She was spinning her ring on her finger and I grabbed her hand. She held on, just clinging as though I was the lifeline, the bridge between reality and that cacophony sounding in her head.
So we sat there on the floor, heads together --there wasn't much I could do, so I let her vent. I started to disagree with the whole "It's not my job to get the dog out," but managed to stop myself mid-sentence. Went back to being quiet--a good decision. She railed on for a minute, about the dog, about doing laundry, folding towels and then rolled her eyes about homework, applications and college. " I don't want to go to college; I don't want to grow up." She looked sad, dejected and tired. And she was, she said. Tired of adulting. I get that; I was tired of it too right then.
It's hard to hear your child say they don't like life; they don't want to grow up and they are just over it all. It's harder still --at least for me--to listen and not utter a word or try to convince her otherwise. But that's what works for her. Sometimes that is all it takes to chase the angst away. We needed to take that moment and acknowledge the stress; but I didn't want it to take over. So we shared the misery for a time and we found a way to let it go. And when our dinner was ready, I helped her up, turned her around 3 times--it's my kids' little thing we've always done to shake off the bad and call forth a new attitude-- and held hands as we went up to eat. We had tamed the beast for the moment.