Butterflies in your stomach. Sweaty palms. The unshakeable feeling of worry or dread. Everyone has some experience with anxiety, but statistics are skyrocketing among teens. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in three adolescents between the ages of 13-18 will experience an anxiety disorder. If you think your child may have an anxiety disorder, reach out to a licensed therapist who can provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. But to help your teen manage everyday anxiety, build a strong foundation of wellness, support, and coping strategies. Here are tips to reduce three of the most common types of teen anxiety.
Symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Worry about being judged negatively or humiliated
- Intense fear of interacting with strangers
- Avoidance of social events, talking to people, or doing things out of fear of embarrassment
- Self-criticism after social situations
First of all, know that shyness, introversion and preferring a smaller circle of friends are not signs of social anxiety. Some nervousness in social situations is completely normal, and a little anxiety can even help teens steer clear of unsafe situations. But if anxiety is preventing your teen from enjoying their social life or doing things they want to do, it’s time to tackle it. If they avoid every anxiety-provoking situation, they\’ll miss opportunities to learn social skills and build confidence, fulfilling their fears of embarrassment.
To overcome social anxiety, help your teen gradually expand their comfort zone to include more interaction with others. Encourage them to order for themselves at restaurants and ask for assistance when shopping. If they’re open to help, work together to pick a social goal – like joining a club or making a new friend – and plan baby-steps they can take towards meeting it. Help them create a simple ritual for when their anxiety is triggered– like taking three deep breaths and silently saying “I’ve got this” before going into a new or potentially anxiety-provoking situation. Let them know that a little discomfort is a sign of growth and it’s good to lean into it– and that it’s ok to take their time. Praise them each time they challenge themselves and whenever you see them acting with more confidence.
Perfectionism and anxiety are closely linked in teens, especially in high achievers. Some of the signs to watch for include:
- Fear of taking risks and trying new things
- Procrastination and being anxiously indecisive
- Constant self-criticism and frustration about mistakes
- Being overly concerned about the opinions of others
Again, a little anxiety can motivate teens to work hard and do their best. But if your teen’s sense of self-worth is based on what they do and not who they are, they need help to calm their fears of failure.
Lots of anxious teens say they feel pressure from parents to be perfect, so even if you think it’s obvious, remind your teen that their worth and your love for them have nothing to do with their achievements. Help them get more comfortable taking risks and trying things they’re not already good at. Perfectionist teens often have trouble setting boundaries and taking time for self-care. Help them get organized and assess which activities are the most important and rewarding so they can put those things first. Teach them how to recognize the emotional and physical signs of stress – like getting frustrated or struggling with sleep – and know those signs mean it’s time to take a break. Perfectionist teens also get big benefits from anxiety-reducing exercise, creative hobbies, and time in nature or with friends.
Teens with test anxiety experience some or all of the following when preparing for or taking a test:
- Sweating, shaking, racing heartbeat, feeling faint
- Mind going blank
- Negative thoughts about past poor performances or future failure
- Self-judgment and criticism, feeling inadequate
A little nervousness before an exam is normal and can motivate teens to study and be well-prepared. But too much test anxiety causes smart, capable teens to suffer and even struggle academically.
To help your teen, talk through their sources of stress. Is the material challenging? Is it their lack of preparation or disorganization? Or is the pressure of test-taking too intense? A lot of teen test anxiety can be reduced with good study skills and prioritized preparation. Help teens schedule study time well in advance and break it down into smaller, spaced-out chunks– no cramming the night before the test! Work with them to figure out which study methods work best for their learning style. Encourage them to open up to their teacher or school counselor, too. Just saying “I’m studying hard but I’m dealing with test anxiety– do you have any suggestions?” can release the pressure teens feel and prompt teachers to offer support. A calming fidget or worry stone in their pocket helps ease anxiety. And stress-reducing mindfulness techniques– like box breathing and progressive muscle relaxation– empower teens to relax their bodies and minds, feel more in control, and face their fears.