Since Covid, record numbers of teens report feeling anxious. The majority of the girls I coach describe various forms of anxiety, from social anxiety to test anxiety. The feelings are strong and uncomfortable. Often, they are compounded with a sense of “something is wrong with me.”
Anxiety can be debilitating and in many cases, girls who experience it, need medical intervention. In other cases, anxiety is situational and manageable without serious intervention. Test-taking is an example of situational anxiety. Although anxious about the test, a teen will still go to school and complete the exam. She finds ways to push herself through. However, when anxiety is debilitating, a teen in a similar situation may be unable to get herself out of bed on test day, and eventually, start avoiding school altogether. Whether manageable or debilitating, teens often believe that there must be something wrong with them.
In either case, when you see your teen or young adult daughter struggling, you naturally want to help. You may reassure her that nothing is wrong with her and that things will get better. You may suggest she do something to make herself feel better. In more serious cases, you may take her to the doctor and explore medication or therapy.
While all of these are helpful and may provide immediate relief, it is also important to teach your daughter practical ways to think about and cope with anxiety.
1. Explore her triggers. Identifying the specific cause of anxiety is the first step to taking control of it. Most of the time, anxiety is triggered by fear and when you can help your teen see that she really has nothing to be afraid of, her feelings of anxiety will soften. For example, if your teen experiences social anxiety, ask her what is uncomfortable about that situation? What does she think is going to happen? As she describes the situation she is expecting, listen for unrealistic fears and point them out by saying, “How likely is it that that will happen?” Ask her how she would like the experience to be and identify the actions she can take that will make that outcome more likely.
2. Help her see anxiety as information. Feelings provide insight into what matters to us. Anxiety is usually triggered by fear-thoughts related to the future. This reveals that your teen cares about her future. She’s curious about what will happen and may be fearful that her vision of the future may not turn out the way she imagines. This is an opportunity to point out what she can do to create the kind of future she wants to experience. Get excited about her hopes and dreams. Point out that an unknown future is an opportunity for her to manifest and create the life she envisions.
3. Use anxiety as energy to take action. All feelings are energy. I often encourage my teen clients to stop using phrases like “my anxiety” and instead call their feelings “energy.” This helps reduce negative feelings and promotes motivation to channel their energy into helpful action. When your teen has connected with the important information embedded in her feelings of anxiety, help her use the energy of anxiety to take action.
These suggestions are not a replacement for medical intervention. If you have concerns that your teen is unable to cope with anxiety or if anxiety is disrupting her ability to live her life, it is important to seek medical advice.