Validating your teen’s anxiety is the first step in supporting their mental health. Here are some tips on talking to your teen.
1. Validate your teen’s emotional pain and discomfort
It may seem like your teen is freaking out about “nothing” when, for example, they enter full tantrum mode because the outfit they planned on wearing to school is currently dirty, but to your teen this is a tremendous deal. Think how bad it has felt in your own life when you were upset about something and someone responded to you and your pain with a sentiment such as, “It is not such a big deal, you are fine.” How did you feel in that moment? We have all experienced the one-two punch of experiencing emotional pain and then beating ourselves up for having that pain. Give your teen the gift of learning to recognize and acknowledge when they are experiencing emotional distress. Explaining a phenomenon is not the same thing as making excuses. Nonjudgmentally acknowledging when we are experiencing emotional distress is the first step in learning how to move through the unavoidable moments of suffering that are built into the human experience.
2. Educate yourself and your teen about the body on anxiety
The discomfort your teen experiences when they are in “anxiety mode” is real. Their brain’s fear response system (otherwise known as fight, flight, or freeze) has been triggered and your teen is now experiencing all of the physiological changes to their body that would occur in a true emergency. Heart rate and breathing is increasing, blood flow is moving from the small muscles to the big muscles that are associated with fleeing, and pupils dilate in order to improve vision for potential dangers. All of these physiological changes would be quite helpful if they were in a real emergency. Thankfully, they are not in a true emergency when experiencing the false alarm of anxiety, but it feels to them like they are.
3. It is okay for your teen to get some anxiety coaching from the sidelines
Therapy does not have to be a long-term complicated endeavor. There is effective, empirically supported short-term therapy available to assist your teen and family when stuck and overwhelmed.
If you would like more information about how to help your teen move past anxiety, visit www.adaa.org, for tools, information and provider recommendations.