4 Things I’m Doing to Help My Teenager With Anxiety
I could tell she had been crying the minute I answered the phone.
So it was going to be one of those talks.
On the other end was my tearful daughter (a college junior), who was having a panic attack trying to juggle the next week of projects, papers, and an internship.
Her call reminded me of something I’ve become increasingly aware of: the rising rates of anxiety among teens and young adults. Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students. More than half of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern, according to a recent study of more than 100,000 students nationwide by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.
I’m not going to lie: this anxiety factoid gives me anxiety.
As a parent of a student who suffers from severe anxiety, I’ve been trying to figure out the best ways to help my daughter, as well as my sons who are both in high school and experiencing their own levels of stress. While I don’t have a fail-proof road map, I have learned a few things so far.
Here are 4 things I’m doing to help my daughter with anxiety:
1. I’m keeping the lines of communication open and honest.
When my daughter first started experiencing anxiety, she did an excellent job of covering it up, both from herself and from those closest to her. It wasn’t until the anxiety got too overwhelming for her to handle on her own that she finally opened up about what she was experiencing.
Since then I’ve worked hard to maintain open lines of communication and to reassure her that she can be honest with me about how she’s feeling. I don’t want her to worry about worrying me or disappointing me (and therefore pass off things as better than they are), so I listen calmly without reacting, dismissing her feelings, or immediately trying to “fix” things.
2. I’m helping her explore healthy ways to cope.
Stress is a natural part of life, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. But what I can do is help her recognize how certain choices might compound stress and coach her through a variety of healthy ways to cope. I ask questions about the things that are causing her stress and help her prioritize the things she can tackle, focusing on one doable item at a time. I also help her explore what things she can eliminate and teach her how to give herself permission to let go or say “no” to certain commitments or pressures to please others. Another coping strategy I remind her of is to make healthy body choices–through regular physical exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy. Lastly, I try to point her back to God. A lot. I often text her Bible verses along with words of encouragement. I remind her that God is alongside her every step of the way and to take her worries to him in prayer. She loves yoga, so I’ve also encouraged her to use her yoga time as a time of mind/body/soul nourishment with reflection and meditation focused on Jesus.
3. I’m helping her get connected to the resources and support she needs.
There is a lot of help available for teens and young adults struggling with anxiety. Family doctors, guidance counselors, campus health centers, coaches, youth/young adult pastors, and friends are just a few places that can offer support.
With my daughter, I knew that she needed professional help. I also recognized she needed to “own” this decision by choosing her support and that trying to force her into a specific group or counselor wouldn’t work. But I also knew that I could help provide her with information and options that she was too overwhelmed to collect herself. So I researched, I asked friends for referrals, and I interviewed a few people. I shared what I found and then let her make her own choices. The only option that wasn’t an option was to do nothing.
4. I’m trying to not be afraid (or ashamed) to accept the reality of anxiety.
Confession: it was scary to listen to my daughter share her anxious thoughts. I worried about her future. I worried about what her friends and peers would think–that they would treat her differently. I worried for her safety and health. And I worried that somehow I’d let her down as a mom because I’d missed (ignored?) some signs along the way.
The most effective solution I’ve found for these worries has been prayer. Giving my anxiety about her anxiety over to Jesus (sometimes every five minutes) has consistently reminded me that he cares for her even more than I do and that she’s not alone. I can’t take away her anxiety for her, but he can. I can’t think clearly for her when she’s stressed, but his voice can break through her fear. And I can’t choose peace on her behalf, but his peace covers her.
By the time we got off the phone, both of us felt more relaxed and peaceful. We’re figuring this out, one conversation at a time. And as we head into the next six weeks of final projects and tests, I’m praying for all of my kids to reach out when anxiety shakes their confidence.
Parent, if you have a child struggling with anxiety, take one easy step with me: let’s pray right now.
Jesus, thank you for these kids. We love their courage and their desire to be pleasing to you and others. Help us give them wisdom and a listening ear, and to not freak out when they’re freaking out. Show all of us steps we can take today to invite peace and remove stress from our schedules. We thank you for your help with anxiety. Amen.