Stress and anxiety impact all of us, and that includes our kids. Young adults and teens are just as likely as adults to struggle with their mental health, especially given their evolving environments, physical development and relationships. Mental health can be a lot for teens to handle on top of everything else they’re experiencing. In this blog, we’ll give some much-needed attention to the topic of teens and anxiety and discuss what you can do as a parent.
A Quick Overview on Anxiety
First of all, what’s anxiety? To some extent anxiety is a normal part of the way our brains function. And over our evolution this mental and physiological response has helped us respond to external threats and dangers. But our brains haven’t evolved as fast as our society has at this point, and anxiety triggering a fight or flight response can have negative implications for us when it starts to impact our day to day lives. In simple terms, anxiety is worry, and causes physiological reactions like a fast heart rate, tense muscles and sweating.
Pandemic Effects on Teens
Anxiety in teens is not a new issue. The covid-19 pandemic has really shone a light on the fact that teens and young adults struggle with mental health. For many, the pandemic was a huge source of stress and anxiety. Between social distancing, social anxiety, school closures and uncertain times, their mental health suffered.
It didn’t take long for these impacts to be felt. Early data from the first month of the pandemic found over 57% of participants aged 15-17 reported that their mental health was either somewhat worse or much worse than it was before to the pandemic being declared. This intensified an already existing issue. Data from 2019 found of children and teens aged 5 - 17, 17% reported poor or fair mental health, while 5% reported having anxiety. And unfortunately this study also found that over half of them felt they viewed their mental health differently than their parents did, and almost two thirds rated it less positively than their parents did.
So existing issues were definitely present for teens and the pandemic made these struggles harder. While many safety measures like social distancing and online education have gone back to ‘normal’, the impacts of this time can still be felt. So, what can parents do about this?
Recognizing Symptoms of Anxiety in Teens
Young kids worry about lots of things. Their worries range from potential monsters in their closets, to meeting new people or talking in front of their class. As kids age, the things they worry about change. Anxiety in teens is different than routine worries. It causes the fight or flight physiological response to scenarios that don’t in fact present a life-or-death threat. It can start to become a problem for teens when it:
- Happens frequently
- Is intense
- Is upsetting and distressing
- Impacts regular life activity like school dances, parties, doing school work, or taking a test
As we know, teens can be hard to read at times. They don’t often wear their hearts on their sleeves, so recognizing symptoms of anxiety in your teen might be difficult. The key thing is looking for behaviour changes that you find out of character or out of their norm, like lashing out at you over a small thing, refusing to go to school, or constantly complaining about headaches or upset stomachs. Substance use is also a sign that your teen might be trying to deal with anxiety and stress.
It’s important to keep an eye on these things because anxiety can lead to depression. But the good news is that there are things you can do as a parent to help your teen deal with their anxiety and stress.
How to Help with Anxiety in Teens as a Parent
Be open and honest with your teen so they know you’re a safe person to talk to about their feelings, worries and stress. If you can have an open dialogue with them then you’re more likely to understand how they need support. Talking about the normalcy of these feelings is key. It will help them understand that their worries are normal, and that they don’t have to feel alone with their thoughts.
Teens are often digitally savvy, and there are a number of digital tools to help with anxiety. These tools, based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), can help with coping strategies. They’ll learn how to relax and be mindful of how their thoughts are impacting their physical and mental wellbeing.
Providing resources like this to your teen, as well as more traditional help like counsellors or therapists, will give them guidance and tools to help them navigate their mindset and take charge of their anxiety and worries. Ideally this gives them tools they can take into adulthood.
The pandemic may have worsened existing mental health issues for many of us, including and especially teens and children. But it has also helped shed light on how important it is to discuss them openly. The earlier children can learn about managing their mental wellbeing the better.
If you think your child would benefit from talking about their mental health to a therapist or counsellor, GMS has personal health insurance plans that include coverage for these professionals. You can learn more about that here.