How to Help Your Teenager Get Beyond Their Anxiety - Part 1

empowering your teenager Jun 05, 2023

Does your teenager ever get anxious before a big test?


Or how about the week or two leading up to the start of a new school year … are they a little on edge?  Are they not their usual selves?   This was certainly the case for my youngest daughter.


What about the morning of a big presentation in one of their classes?   Do they refuse to eat breakfast and complain about an upset stomach?


How about social situations?   Does your teenager get really uncomfortable or avoid them?


Truth be told we all experience anxiety at some level.  For me back when I was in school one of my biggest fears was being called on in class or a group discussion.  I should qualify this.    I was good with being called on to answer a question with a specific answer.  For example: What is the capital of Indiana ?   It was the questions that required me to share my thoughts or opinion that freaked me out.   Questions like.   What did you think the author was trying to say in this poem?  I would feel exposed or vulnerable in these moments. 


But now I stand up in front of people and share my ideas and thoughts all of the time.  Now I am not going to lie.   There are still some nerves before I start a talk.   But over the years I have learned strategies for overcoming this fear and more importantly I have developed a new mindset that prevents the anxiety from ever starting in the first place.


This is the stuff I wish someone would have shared with me when I was a teenager. 


This is part 1 of a 7 part series - How to help your teenager get beyond their anxiety.


Over the next 7 posts we will start by exploring the different types of anxiety and what causes them. Next, we'll talk about strategies that can help you and your teenager get past anxiety in the moment… when you are feeling it.  Then we will wrap up this series with some strategies for preventing anxiety so that you and your teenager can be their absolute best. 


This sounds good … doesn’t it? 


So let's start off with some observations on fear and anxiety.  


Do you know anyone (maybe you) who is afraid of spiders?   What  is this called?  Arachnophobia.


If someone is afraid of spiders all you have to do is say “I think I saw a spider” and they start freaking out.   Right.  Most of the time if you ask them why they are afraid of spiders they will say that they don’t really know.   They just always have been creeped out by them.   


How about the fear of heights.   Or the fear of tight spaces 


There are a lot of phobias and they provide a window into how anxiety and fear work. .   The first item of note is the distinction between the fear itself and the anxiety caused by anticipating a circumstance involving the fear.   For example, if I told a person who is afraid of spiders that we are about to go into a room that is known for having spiders in it, what are they going to experience?  Anxiety.  It should be noted that there is not a spider crawling on their face at this moment.  It is their thoughts about the possibility of a spider crawling on their face that creates the anxiety.   It could be said that anxiety is the fear of having to face a fear.  Now, will the possibility of seeing a spider in this case cause a response?


Not only will they have the physical experience of fear, they will probably react with one of the common fear responses. 


Fight - Flight - Freeze.


So our person that is afraid of spiders is either going to run away.   This is the most likely response.  Or they are going to enter the room ready to fight with a weapon in hand.   Or they will just freeze.  They will be unable to do anything.


Can you imagine this?


Anxiety is caused by thinking about or anticipating a circumstance that involves a fear that you have.   So it makes sense that one of the ways to reduce or eliminate anxiety is to reduce or eliminate the underlying fear.  If I am not afraid of spiders anymore, then I will not experience anxiety before going into a room that might have a spider in it.    Makes sense … doesn’t it.


Think  of it this way.   Learning to manage anxiety is treating the symptom while eliminating the underlying fear is treating the cause.   Certainly, treating the symptom is very helpful in the short term, but my long term goal for you and your teenager is to treat the cause. 


To move beyond the anxiety.


In part 2, I will share a model for our life experiences, behaviors and results. This model will provide the foundation for managing the symptoms of anxiety as well as eliminating the underlying fears. 


Until next time remember…


A change  in perspective changes everything.


Your family enrichment coach,

Jim White






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