Teenagers often have worries and intrusive thoughts that can lead to ongoing anxiety. One of the most common types is Generalized Anxiety. The DSM-V explains Generalized Anxiety Disorder as, “excessive anxiety and worry occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities such as work or school performance.” Anxiety can have physical and emotional effects that can feel like an endless burden. As adult mentors, educators, and caregivers, here are tips for how to help a teenager with anxiety.
The anxious brain is conflicted as the mind can race, but inversely “blank out.” The frustration of not having a clear mind can lead to poor performance in school. Teens can start to lose concentration after school during homework or at work. Validate some of their worried thoughts by using logical thinking such as separating facts from fiction. Encourage creative outlets after mentally draining tasks. Teens can use journaling and stream of consciousness type writing to free these intrusive thoughts. Make sure there is a safe place for creativity as expression can be personal. Respect the privacy of your teen, but encourage them to share if comfortable.
Anger & Tension
Anger and irritability can unfortunately arrive during anxiety as a result of frustration. As we feel tense with worry, our bodies follow suit. Find what works best for your teen in the realm of movement. Sports are an obvious go-to, but yoga, tai chi and even light stretching can help. Giving your teen a time and space to calm down when angry will benefit you both. Talking about the anger when clear headed will improve your connection.
Sleep & Rest
Since one purpose of anxiety is to keep the brain and body on alert, there is a restless component that comes with anxiety. Frequently one can feel hypervigilant, especially when racing thoughts are added.
As a result, teens with anxiety may feel more tired and lethargic. Sleep becomes more crucial as anxiousness is prone to poor sleep patterns. Teenagers also need more sleep than their adult counterparts. Make early mornings less stressful by sticking to a more relaxing “down time” routine before bed. Find what type of nightly routine and sleep schedule works best. Remember that rest isn’t always sleep; meditation and taking breaks when acceptable can refresh the mind. A “mental health day” off school or work when appropriate can rejuvenate the soul.
One of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a sense of safety. The recent pandemic drastically affected schooling and activities. As a result, teens have had to learn to adapt to change and deal with disappointment. Teens especially crave the consistency of routine. Knowing what to anticipate in advance can help calm the anxious brain. Try to be realistic with expectations and set rules together. If you are uncertain of plans, be honest with your teen and come up with alternatives so that they know what to expect.
Using the 5 senses can be grounding to calm the nerves. For example, making a favorite meal together is comforting and incorporates all senses. Carrying a rollerball scent to smell, a fidget spinner to touch or sour candy to taste can be quick remedies when anxiety starts. Small changes of surroundings can also be refreshing, such as letting your teen rearrange and redecorate their room. There has been a resurgence in sensory items among teenagers. Being playful and letting teens enjoy video games and toys from their younger years also creates a sense of comfort.
There are many disorders that accompany anxious feelings such as Major Depressive Disorder, ADHD, and OCD. Anxiety can also be a result of traumatic events or major life changes.
Social anxiety (social phobia) is common among teens. Based on data from The National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), an estimated 9.1% of adolescents have social anxiety disorder, with an estimated 1.3% causing severe impairment.
Therapy for teens with a licensed professional counselor gives space to divulge these complicated thoughts and emotions. Group Therapy for Teenagers is a unique opportunity to gain skills and new behaviors with the benefit of an expert-led experience while being accelerated through the lens of social learning that can only come from peer support. Group formats have been used to successfully manage a variety of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Remember to practice your own self care when anxious as we are a great influence in their lives. When children see us coping better, they experience positive results firsthand. Normalizing honest conversations about emotions will show teens how to develop into healthy adults.
Group Therapy for Teenagers: Teen Art Group
This in-person Group Therapy for Teenagers runs from September 26-November 14 at 6PM on Mondays. It takes place at our Monroeville location. The group will be led by Licensed Professional Counselor Rachel Taylor, author of this article.
Teen Group Therapy: Teen Art Group will help teens learn Social Skills, Depression Coping Skills, Anxiety Strategies, and How to Handle Anger all within the context of making art.
Sept 26: Intro to Group: Ice Breaker Activity, Review Rules and expectations
Oct 3: Social Skills: Healthy relationships and make bracelets for friends
Oct 10: Depression Coping Skills: Jeopardy game
Oct 17: Anxiety Strategies/Discuss Group Topic choice
Oct 24: *Group topic Choice and craft*
Oct 31: Halloween!-Mask Craft and discuss different “sides” of self
Nov 7: Anger: role plays
Nov 14: Closure *Apples to Apples type game to review Group Skills *discuss future groups
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.)
Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality ([1st ed.].). New York: Harper.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Social Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/social-anxiety-disorder
When it comes to healthy eating, we all have questions to ask a dietitian—conflicting information is everywhere. Our Registered Dietitian answers some common questions about diet and nutrition.
Q: Is vegetarian (or keto, or…) the best way to eat?
A: There’s not one best way to eat. We are all unique, and some individuals may have various medical conditions that play a role in the way we fuel our bodies and the food choices we make. The best plan for you is that one that meets your medical and nutritional needs. And one that is enjoyable, accessible, and something you are able to stick with for the long term. By meeting with a registered dietitian, they can help you navigate and understand the best possible plan for you.
Q: How many glasses of water should I consume daily?
A: Staying hydrated is very important for many reasons related to our bodily functions, such as maintaining a normal body temperature and removing waste through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements. So it is essential to make sure we are consuming enough water throughout the day. Consider your thirst sensation as being the best indicator that you need to drink. Make sure to keep beverages visible so you remember to take a sip throughout the day. Although there is not a static number of ounces for everyone, aim to consume water with each meal and snack.
Q: Is food labeled “organic” more nutritious?
A: There are a plethora of marketing claims on products all throughout the grocery stores and markets. When a product or food is labeled as “organic”, this is referring to the method of farming, not the nutritional value of the product. An organic logo does not reflect the nutritional contents of the food, such as calories, fat, salt, or sugar. Nutritious foods, whether conventionally or organically grown, are those that provide a good source of fiber, protein, and are low in salt and saturated fat.
Q: Should I avoid fruit because it has too much sugar?
A: The number one source of added sugar for Americans in their diet is from sweetened beverages, such as soda and energy drinks. Fruit provides about 1% of the added sugars individuals consume. Of note, health advice to limit “added sugar” does not apply to the natural sugar in fruit. Even if Americans consumed the recommended daily amount of 1-2 cups per day, it wouldn’t come close to the volume of sugar from ultra-processed foods and beverages. Bottomline, keep enjoying fruit, especially those with skins and seeds, as these are great sources of fiber.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve experienced a breakup. Breakups can be difficult depending on how long they’ve lasted and/or how much we’ve emotionally invested in the person. We can expect a period of grieving the loss, even if we know it should have ended. We need to take some time to process what happened that caused the relationship to end and learn from that experience. Here are therapist-recommended tips on how to get over a breakup:
- Process what you’re walking away with rather than walking away without. This can look like thinking through, “What did I gain from this relationship?”, “What did I learn about myself?”, “What do I need to take note of for any potential relationships in the future?” Some possible answers to these questions may be: “I gained a lot more self confidence and the ability to be more self-sufficient.” “In the future, I want to make it clear how important time with my family is.” This can be a great journaling exercise.
- This is a time for good self-care: proper nutrition, regular exercise, and healthy sleep patterns. Invest in activities that are meaningful and where you can express your gifts and talents in ways that are fulfilling. You will have more time to invest in others, so engaging in volunteer roles where you are serving and helping others can add meaning and increase the quality of your life.
- Be mindful of how you are processing the loss. If you feel inadequate, unlovable, not significant, etc., as a result of the break-up, it might be helpful to process these beliefs with a therapist so you don’t end up with a distorted and negative view of yourself. If you sink into long periods of depression, anxiety, or grief, you may also want to process this with a therapist to be able to work through these feelings and return to a more positive view of life.
- Take a break from social media and spend more quality time with your most supportive friends. As humans, we require healthy attachments to others. Surrounding yourself with friends and loved ones (support system) can help soothe the attachment trauma. Also, allow yourself to grieve!! This is a loss and it is okay to feel it.
- Accept that feelings of sadness and loneliness are a normal part of any life change and they are not a signal that you should ‘be with’ the person who you are experiencing the break up with. Many people confuse sadness for a reason to continue on in that relationship. Remember, even people who struggle with substance abuse disorder crave their desired substance for a period of time after ‘quitting.’ Not everything we desire aligns with our higher goals and well being!
While it may not happen as quickly as you’d like, people have a resounding ability to heal from loss, regain autonomy and grow stronger. If you feel stuck or like it may be taking you longer than what feels appropriate, it may be helpful to reach out to a therapist for additional support.
Cover photo by Alex Green