Anxiety is the feeling of worry, apprehension or dread that something bad is going to happen or that you can’t cope with a situation. It’s also the physical reactions that go with the feeling, like ‘butterflies in the stomach’, tension, shakiness, nausea and sweatiness. And it’s behaviour like avoiding what’s causing the anxiety or wanting a lot of reassurance.
Anxiety can happen in response to a specific situation or event, but it continues after the situation has passed. It can happen without a specific situation or event too.
Anxiety is a common and natural part of life. Everyone feels anxious sometimes Anxiety is very common in the pre-teen and teenage years.
This is because adolescence is a time of emotional, physical and social change, which is happening at the same time as teenage brains are changing. Pre-teens and teenagers are seeking new experiences and more independence. It’s natural for teenagers to feel anxious about these changes, opportunities and challenges.
For instance, pre-teens and teenagers may experience anxiety related to starting secondary school, dressing a certain way, making friends, participating in school plays, or attending formal. Also, as their independence increases, they might feel anxious about responsibilities, money and employment.
Anxiety in pre-teens and teenagers isn’t always a bad thing. Feeling anxious can help to keep teenagers safe by getting them to think about the situation they are in. It can also motivate them to do their best. And it can help them get ready for challenging situations like public speaking or sporting events.
Learning to manage anxiety is an important life skill, which you can help your child learn.
Encourage your teens to talk about anxieties
Just talking about the things that make them anxious can reduce the amount of anxiety your teen feels. Talking and listening also help you understand what’s going on for them. And when you understand, you are better able to help them manage anxieties or find solutions to problems.
Acknowledge your teen’s feelings
Teen anxiety is real, even if the thing they feel anxious about) about is unlikely to happen. This means it’s important to acknowledge the anxiety and tell them that they are confident they can handle it. This is better than telling them not to worry because telling them not to worry sends the message that worry isn’t a valid feeling. For example, teens might be anxious about passing an exam. Let them know you understand how they feel, but you are sure they will do their best and that’s the most important thing.
When you acknowledge their feelings with warmth and compassion, it helps them to use self-compassion in challenging situations too.
Encourage brave behaviour
This involves gently encouraging teens to set small goals for things they feel anxious about. Just avoid pushing them to face situations they don’t feel ready to face. For example, they might be anxious about performing in front of others. As a first step, you could suggest your child practises their lines in front of the family.
You can also help teens by encouraging them to use:
Positive self-talk: for example, ‘I can handle this. I’ve been in situations like this before’
self-compassion – for example, ‘It’s OK if I do this differently from other people. This way works for me’
Assertiveness: for example, ‘I need some help with this project’.
It’s also good to praise them for doing something they feel anxious about, no matter how small it is.
When anxiety is severe and long-lasting, it might be an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders usually respond very well to professional treatment. And the earlier anxiety disorders are treated, the less likely they are to affect young people’s mental health and development in the long term.