Supporting teenagers through stress and anxiety

Can you explain anxiety in teenagers?


Anxiety is a common experience among teenagers as they navigate the challenges of adolescence and the transition to adulthood. Anxiety is a natural response to stress and can be triggered by a range of factors, including academic pressure, social challenges, family conflicts and hormonal changes.

In teenagers, anxiety can manifest in various ways, such as:

  • Excessive worrying: Teenagers with anxiety may worry excessively about a range of issues, including school performance, social relationships, climate change, social media, and future goals.
  • Avoidance behaviours: Teenagers with anxiety may avoid situations that trigger their anxiety, such as social events, academic challenges or public speaking.
  • Physical symptoms: Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping.
  • Irritability: Teenagers with anxiety may become irritable or easily upset and may have difficulty regulating their emotions.
  • Perfectionism: Some teenagers with anxiety may set unrealistic standards for themselves and feel intense pressure to meet these expectations, which can contribute to feelings of anxiety.

It is important to note that while some level of anxiety is normal and can even be beneficial in motivating teenagers to perform well, excessive or persistent anxiety can be a sign of an anxiety disorder and may require professional intervention.

How do I identify if my teenager is struggling with anxiety and stress?

Identifying anxiety and stress in teenagers can be challenging, as they may not always express their feelings openly or may not be aware of what they are experiencing. However, here are some signs that may indicate that your teenager is struggling with anxiety and stress:

  • Changes in behaviour: If your teenager suddenly starts avoiding social situations, school, or work, or if they stop participating in activities they used to enjoy, it may be a sign of anxiety and stress.
  • Physical symptoms: Anxiety and stress can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping. If your teenager complains of these symptoms regularly, it may be a sign of anxiety and stress.
  • Changes in eating habits: Anxiety and stress can affect eating habits, leading to overeating or under-eating. If your teenager has experienced a sudden change in weight, it may be a sign of anxiety and stress
  • Irritability: If your teenager becomes irritable or easily upset or if they seem to have difficulty regulating their emotions, it may be a sign of anxiety and stress.
  • Perfectionism: If your teenager sets unrealistic standards for themselves and becomes overly focused on achieving perfection, it may be a sign of anxiety and stress.

If you are concerned about your teenager's mental health, it is important to seek professional help from a mental health professional. They can provide a diagnosis, offer effective treatment options, and provide ongoing support and guidance.

Why are our teenagers struggling with stress and anxiety?

Teens may struggle with stress and anxiety due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • school and academic pressure
  • social media and technology use
  • peer pressure and bullying
  • climate change and uncertainty about the future
  • family and relationship issues
  • physical and hormonal changes
  • exposure to traumatic events
  • lack of sleep and unhealthy coping mechanisms

It's important for adults to recognise the signs and provide support and resources for healthy coping.

What can I do as a parent to support my teenager with stress and anxiety?

As a parent, there are several things you can do to support your teenager with stress and anxiety:

  • Be supportive: Let your teenager know that you are there for them and that you support them no matter what.
  • Encourage them to talk to you about their feelings and be a good listener.
  • Validate their feelings: Acknowledge that their feelings are real and understandable and that it is okay to feel anxious or stressed at times.
  • Help them manage their stress: Encourage your teenager to engage in stress-reducing activities such as exercise, meditation or deep breathing. You can also help them prioritise and organise their tasks to reduce feelings of overwhelm.
  • Encourage self-care: Help your teenager practice self-care by getting enough sleep, eating healthy and engaging in activities they enjoy.
  • Seek professional help: If your teenager's anxiety or stress is impacting their daily life or causing significant distress, it may be time to seek professional help. A mental health professional can offer a range of treatment options, including therapy, medication or a combination of both.
  • Take care of yourself: Supporting a teenager with stress and anxiety can be emotionally taxing. Make sure you are taking care of your own needs, such as getting enough sleep, exercise and social support. This will help you be a better support to your teenager.

How can therapy help my teenager with anxiety and stress?

Therapy can be a highly effective way to help teenagers manage anxiety and stress. 

  • Identify triggers: A therapist can help your teenager identify the specific situations or experiences that trigger their anxiety and stress.
  • Develop coping strategies: A therapist can teach your teenager practical coping strategies to manage their anxiety and stress, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and positive self-talk.
  • Cognitive restructuring: A therapist can help your teenager identify and challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety and stress.
  • Provide a safe space: Therapy provides a confidential and non-judgmental space for your teenager to talk about their feelings and experiences.
  • Offer support: A therapist can offer emotional support and validation and can help your teenager feel less alone in their struggles.
  • Collaborate with parents: A therapist can work with parents to develop a plan to support their teenager and ensure that they are getting the care they need.
  • Monitor progress: A therapist can help your teenager track their progress and adjust treatment as needed to ensure the best outcome.

Overall, therapy can help your teenager develop the tools they need to manage anxiety and stress, improve their mental health and well-being, and increase their resilience and confidence.

Will therapy help with eating disorders?

Yes, therapy can help with eating disorders. In particular, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and family-based therapy (FBT) have been shown to be effective in treating eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.

Therapy can help individuals with eating disorders:

  • identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about their body and food
  • develop healthier coping strategies and coping mechanisms
  • improve self-esteem and body image
  • learn to regulate emotions and feelings
  • improve relationships with family and friends
  • foster a more positive and balanced relationship with food
  • address underlying psychological and emotional issues
  • it's important to seek professional help early on, as eating disorders can become deeply ingrained and more difficult to treat over time.

Will therapy help with self-harming?

Yes, therapy can help individuals who self-harm. Therapy can provide:

  • a safe and supportive environment to explore underlying emotions and experiences
  • improved coping strategies for managing distress and overwhelming emotions
  • increased self-awareness and understanding of self-harm behaviours
  • better communication and problem-solving skills
  • improved relationships with family and friends
  • a positive outlet for expression and processing experiences
  • development of a support system

Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have been shown to be effective in treating individuals who self-harm. It's important for individuals who self-harm to seek professional help in order to address the underlying issues and develop healthier coping strategies. With proper treatment, it is possible for individuals to reduce or stop self-harming behaviours and improve their overall well-being.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and mindfulness are two techniques that can be helpful in reducing anxiety in teenagers. Here are some ways they can be beneficial:

NLP: NLP is a technique that helps people change their behaviour patterns and thought processes. It can be used to help teenagers identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviours that contribute to anxiety. For example, a teenager who worries constantly about the future may benefit from learning how to reframe their thoughts and focus on the present moment

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a technique that involves paying attention to the present moment and accepting it without judgment. It has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety in teenagers by helping them become more aware of their thoughts and emotions. By practicing mindfulness, teenagers can learn to identify when they are feeling anxious and develop strategies to cope with those feelings.

Both NLP and mindfulness can be used in combination or separately, depending on the individual needs of the teenager. They can be helpful in reducing anxiety symptoms, improving emotional regulation, and enhancing overall well-being. 

What do I do if my teenager does not want to engage with a therapist?

If your teenager is resistant to engaging with a therapist, it can be frustrating and concerning as a parent. Here are some things you can do to encourage your teenager to seek therapy:

  • Normalise therapy: Let your teenager know that seeking therapy is a common and effective way to manage mental health concerns. Share stories of people they know who have benefited from therapy.
  • Listen to their concerns: If your teenager is hesitant to engage with a therapist, ask them what concerns they have. Listen to their concerns without judgment and try to address their worries.
  • Provide options: Offer your teenager a range of therapy options, such as individual, group or online therapy. Allow them to choose the type of therapy that feels most comfortable to them.
  • Find a good match: Help your teenager find a therapist that they feel comfortable with and trust. Allow them to be part of the process of choosing a therapist and consider their preferences.
  • Start small: Encourage your teenager to try therapy for a few sessions and see how it feels. Explain that they can always stop if they don't feel comfortable or if it's not helpful.
  • Be patient: It may take time for your teenager to feel comfortable with the idea of therapy. Be patient and continue to encourage them to seek help when they are ready.

Remember that therapy is a personal decision, and it's important to respect your teenager's autonomy and feelings.

Will therapy help my teenager cope with anxiety and mood?

Yes, therapy can help teenagers cope with anxiety and mood issues. Therapy can provide:

  • a safe and supportive environment to explore thoughts and feelings
  • improved understanding of anxiety and mood symptoms
  • development of coping strategies for managing symptoms
  • improved communication and problem-solving skills
  • increased self-awareness and self-esteem
  • improved relationships with family and friends
  • a positive outlet for expression and processing experiences

How does seeking and engaging in therapy as a teenager help them to future- proof?

Seeking and engaging in therapy as a teenager can help them further develop important skills that can increase their resilience and well-being. Here are some ways that therapy can help teenagers become more resilient:

  • Develop coping skills: Therapy can help teenagers develop coping skills to manage stress, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. By learning these skills, they are better equipped to handle challenges and adversity in the future.
  • Build self-awareness: Therapy can help teenagers become more self-aware, which can increase their ability to regulate their emotions and make healthy choices.
  • Improve communication skills: Therapy can help teenagers improve their communication skills, which can enhance their relationships and help them navigate social situations more effectively.
  • Increase self-esteem: Therapy can help teenagers develop a more positive self-image, which can lead to increased confidence and a greater sense of self-worth.
  • Enhance problem-solving abilities: Therapy can help teenagers develop problem-solving skills, which can increase their ability to tackle challenges and overcome obstacles.
  • Foster a sense of purpose: Therapy can help teenagers explore their values, interests, and goals, which can increase their sense of purpose and direction in life.

Overall, therapy can provide teenagers with the tools they need to navigate challenges and thrive in life. By developing these skills early on, teenagers can future-proof themselves for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Guildford GU5 & GU2
Guildford GU5 & GU2

Donna Morgan is an experienced therapist specialising in supporting teens with stress and anxiety. With evidence-based practices, she tailors her approach to each client's unique needs, empowering them to make progress. Her collaborative style creates a safe, non-judgmental space for clients, resulting in countless teens improving their mental heal

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