Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

Anxiety in Teens – How to Help a Teenager Deal With Anxiety

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Anxiety in Teens - How to Help a Teenager Deal With Anxiety

Anxiety can be tough for anyone to deal with, but add in the whirlwind of changes that come with adolescence, and anxiety can feel like an intrusive mind hog that spends way too much time squeezing, surprising and overwhelming anyone it lands on.

If anxiety is making a menace of itself, the good news is that there are ways to take it back to small enough. First though, it’s important to understand the telltale signs of anxiety and where they come from. When you understand this, anxiety will start to lose the power that comes from its mystery and its unpredictability. 

Teens With Anxiety. A Few Things You Need to Know

Anxiety has absolutely nothing to do with strength, character or courage.

People with anxiety will be some of the strongest, most likable, bravest people any of us will know. Anxiety and courage always exist together. Courage doesn’t mean you never get scared – if you’re not scared, there’s no need to be brave. What courage means is that you’re pushing right up against your edges. It doesn’t matter where the edges are. They will be different for everyone. The point is that courage is all about feeling them and making a push to move through them – and people with anxiety do it all the time.

Sometimes it drops in for absolutely no reason at all. 

Anxiety happens because your brain thinks there might be danger, even when there is no danger at all. Brains are smart, but they can all read things a little bit wrong sometimes. 

Anxiety is soooo common. Almost as common as having feet. But not quite.

On average, about 1 in 5 young people have anxiety. Without a doubt, someone you know or care about will also struggle with anxiety from time to time. Stats don’t lie. They don’t gossip and they don’t start scandals either, which is why they’re so reliable. They’re good like that. 

Everyone experiences anxiety on some level.

Anxiety exists on a spectrum – some people get it a lot and some people get it a lot less, but we all experience anxiety on some level at some time in our lives – exams, job interviews, performances. Sometimes it can happen for no reason at all.

Anxiety is a feeling, not a personality.

Anxiety doesn’t define you. It’s a feeling – it will come, but it will always go, and it’s as human as having a heartbeat.

Your brain that is strong, healthy and doing exactly what brains are meant to do.

Your brain is magnificent. It’s just a little overprotective. It loves you like a favourite thing and it wants to keep you safe. And alive. Brains love keeping people alive. They adore it actually.

Anxiety can look a little something like this …

Here are some of the common signs of anxiety. If you have some of these, it doesn’t mean that anxiety is a problem for you. This list is a way to make sense of things that feel as though they’re getting in your way, but if you experience some of them and you’re travelling along beautifully, then there’s no problem at all. Something is only a problem if it’s causing you a problem. 

Thoughts …
  • Negative thoughts – what-ifs, thoughts about being judged or embarrassed, small thoughts that grow into big worries.
  • Excessive worry about physical symptoms (that a cut might become infected, that a headache might mean brain cancer).

An anxious brain is a strong brain, and anxious thoughts can be persuasive little beasts that stick to the inside of your skull like they belong there. Write this down and stick it to your mirror, so you see it every morning when you’re getting a faceful of your gorgeous head: ‘Thoughts are thoughts. They are NOT predictions. Let them come. And then let them go.’

Feelings …
  • Fearful, worried, overwhelmed, out of control.

  • Dread, as though something bad is going to happen.

  • Panic that seems to come from nowhere.
  • Feeling separate to your physical self or your surroundings. (This is called depersonalisation and it can be driven by anxiety. Manage this one by managing your anxiety. Keep reading for how to do this.)
Physically …
  • Racing heart.
  • Tightening in the chest
  • Butterflies.
  • Tense muscles.
  • Shaking hands.
  • Feeling as though you’re going to vomit.
  • Dizzy or light-headed.
  • Feeling as though you want to burst into tears.
  • Feeling angry.

These are all because of the surge of neurochemicals that happen when the body is in fight or flight mode. They can feel frightening, but they are all a very normal part of the way your brain and body protect you from possible danger (more about this later).

Behaviours …
  • Skin picking (dermatillomania).
  • Pulling out hair (trichotillomania).
  • Nail biting.
  • Avoidance of people or situations, even if they are things that would probably be fun. (This isn’t necessarily about wanting to avoid the people involved and more about wanting to avoid the anxiety that comes with certain situations such as parties or get-togethers or anything unfamiliar.)
  • Feel compelled to perform certain habits or rituals that don’t seem to make sense (e.g. having to stack things in even numbers, having to touch the door handle a certain number of times before you leave, compulsive hand-washing, checking locks etc).

People with anxiety tend to find all sorts of ways to make their anxiety feel smaller for a little while. These self-soothing behaviours will often escalate with the intensity of the anxiety, but will ease once anxiety is under control. If you can manage your anxiety, this will help to fade these symptoms. (Sit tight – we’ll talk about how to do that.)

You might have a bit of …
  • Tummy trouble – (constipation, diarrhoea, irritable bowel).

In the gut are hundreds of millions of neurons. This is affectionately known as ‘the brain in our gut’. These neurons are really important for mental health because they send information from the belly to the brain. When the environment in the gut is out of balance (not enough good bacteria, too many bad ones), the messages sent back to the brain can stir anxiety.

And those zzz’s …
  • Difficulty sleeping – either trouble falling asleep, or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep. 

When you’re still, quiet and trying to relax, negative thoughts or worries will see it as an invitation. They’ll put on their fancy pants and get the party started in your head. Pushy little sleep-thieving pirates that they are.

Practical, powerful ways to help manage anxiety. 

Understand why it feels the way it does. 

Understanding why anxiety feels the way it does will be one of your greatest tools in managing it. Think of it like this. Imagine being in a dark room that is full of ‘stuff’. When you walk around in the dark, you’re going to bump into things. You’re going to scrape, bruise and maybe drop a few choice words. Turn on the light though, and those things are still there, but now you can navigate your way around them. No more bumps. No more scrapes. And no more having to hold your tongue in front of people who can confiscate your phone. Here’s what you need to know …

Anxiety happens because a part of your brain (the amygdala) thinks there might be something it needs to protect you from. When this happens, it surges your body with a mix of neurochemicals (including oxygen, hormones and adrenaline), designed to make you stronger, faster, more alert and more powerful so you can fight for your life or run for it. This is the fight or flight response. It’s normal and healthy and it’s in everyone. In people with anxiety, it’s just a little quicker to activate.

The amygdala acts on impulse. It’s a do-er, not a thinker – all action and not a lot of thought. It just wants to keep you safe, because safe is a lovely thing to be and because that’s been its job since the beginning of humans. The amygdala can’t always tell the difference between something that might hurt you (like a baseball coming at your head) and something that won’t (like walking into a party) – and it doesn’t care. All it wants to do is keep you safe. 

When there’s nothing to flee or nothing to fight, there’s nothing to burn the neurochemical fuel that is surging through you. The fuel builds up and that’s why anxiety feels the way it does. Here’s how that works:

»  Your breathing changes from normal, slow breaths to short, shallow breaths. This is because your brain tells your body to conserve oxygen on breathing, and send as much as possible to the muscles so they can get ready to run or fight.

You might feel puffed or a bit breathless. You might also feel your cheeks burn red (from the blood rushing to your face) and your face become warm.

»  If you don’t fight or flee, the oxygen builds up in your body and the carbon dioxide drops.

You might feel dizzy or a bit confused.

»  Your heart races to get the oxygen around your body.

Your heart can feel like it’s beating out of your chest and you might feel sick.

»  Fuel gets sent to your arms (for fight) and to your legs (for flight).

Your hands, arms and legs might feel tense or shaky.

»  Your body starts cooling itself down to stop it from overheating if it has to fight or flee.

You might feel a bit clammy or sweaty.

»  Anything happening in your body that isn’t absolutely essential in the moment for your survival will shut down to conserve energy. Your digestive system is one of these. It shuts down until the ‘danger’ is dealt with, so the fuel it was using to digest your food can be used by your body for fight or flight.

You might feel butterflies in your belly. You might also feel sick, as though you’re about to vomit, and your mouth might feel dry.

»  The amygdala also controls your emotions so when it’s in fight or flight, it’s switched on to high volume. This means your emotions can be too.

You might burst into tears or get angry.

Everything you feel when you have anxiety is to do with your body getting ready to fight or flee, when there is actually no need for either. It’s okay – there are things you can do about this. Let’s talk about that …

Dealing with Anxiety – The How-To

Here are some ways to manage anxiety by strengthening the structure and function of your brain in ways that protect it against anxiety. Remember though, the brain is like any other muscle in your body – it will get stronger with practice. I wish I could tell you that it would get stronger with pizza and tacos but that would be a dirty big lie and very unhelpful. Delicious maybe, but unhelpful. What isn’t a lie is that the following strategies have been proven by tons of very high-brow research to be very powerful in helping to reduce anxiety. 

  1. Mindfulness. But first to show you why.

A mountain of studies have shown that mindfulness can be a little bit magic in strengthening the brain against anxiety. In a massive analysis of a number of different mindfulness/anxiety studies, mindfulness was found to be ‘associated with robust and substantial reductions in symptoms of anxiety.’ 

Mindfulness changes the brain the way exercise changes our body – but without the sweating and panting. Two of the ways mindfulness changes the brain are: 

  • by strengthening the connections between the amygdala (the key player in anxiety) and the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that can calm big emotions (and anxiety counts as a big emotion). The stronger the connections, the more the pre-frontal cortex is able to weigh in during anxiety and calm things down.
  • by teaching the brain to stay in the present. Anxiety is driven by a brain that has been cast into the future. Thoughts start out as ‘what ifs’ and turn into persuasive little beasts that won’t let go. Mindfulness helps to keep control over your brain so you can stop it from worrying about things it doesn’t need to. 

Okay then. What else can mindfulness do?

Plenty. Mindfulness can improve concentration, academic performance, the ability to focus, and it can help with stress and depression. It also increases gray matter, which is the part of the brain that contains the neurons. Neurons are brain cells, so we want plenty of them and plenty of gray matter for them to hang out in.

So mindfulness hey? What is it exactly

Mindfulness is about staying in the present and ‘watching’ your thoughts and feelings without hanging on to them for too long. It’s this ‘hanging on too long’ that gives them the juice they need to become something bigger. Minds quite like to wander, especially anxious ones, so staying in the moment can take some practice. Here’s the how:

  • Get comfy and close your eyes.
  • Notice your breathing. How does the air feel as you draw it inside you? Notice the sensation of the air, or your belly rising and falling. Notice your heart beating. If your mind starts to wander, come back to this.
  • Now, what can you hear? What can you feel outside of you and inside your body? If your mind starts to wander, focus on your breathing again. 

Is there an app for that?

There are some brilliant apps that can guide you through mindfulness. Here are three (with links) for you to have a look at: 

Smiling mind – a free app has tailored programs for different ages. 

Stop, Breathe, Think – start by choosing words to describe how you’re feeling right now, and the app will suggest the best meditations based on where you’re at.

Insight Meditation Timer – another free app with guided meditations from over 700 teachers. It also has a very excellent feature that shows a map of how many other people are meditating in the world (using the app) at the same time as you. How to make the world feel a little bit smaller and a little more connected. Nice.  

Exercise. 

The effects of exercise on mental health are proven and powerful. The research on the positive effects of exercise on anxiety could probably cover a small planet, or, you know, a very big building. The point is that there’s tons of it.

Here’s how it works. Some neurons (brain cells) are born with the personality of puppies – very excitable and quick to fire up. We need these. They help us to think quickly, act quickly and remember. In the right amount and at the right time, these neurons are cell-sized bits of brain magic. Sometimes though, they can get a bit carried away with themselves. When too many of these excitable neurons get too active, anxiety can happen. 

To stop these neurons getting over-excited and causing trouble, the brain has a neurochemical, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid is the name it likes to go by at scientific get-togethers and when it wants to make an impression). Neurochemicals are the suave little messengers in the brain that carry important info from one cell to another. GABA is the brain’s calm down chemical – kind of like a sweet lullaby for the parts of the brain that are in very serious lullaby need. When the levels of GABA in the brain are low, there’s nothing to calm the excitable neurons. Exercise is a really effective way to get the GABA in the brain to the right levels. 

Once these neurochemicals are back to healthy levels, the symptoms of anxiety tend to disappear into the sunset, or into a box with a very tight fitting lid – we don’t know for certain but wherever they go, it’s somewhere far away from you which is the important thing. 

Any activity that gets your heart going counts as exercise. This will be different for everyone. It doesn’t have to mean pounding the pavement with your running feet on to the point of that you’re gasping for sweet life and demanding an oxygen tank. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but it’s just that there aren’t always oxygen tanks handy when you need them. A brisk 20-minute walk or 8-10 minutes of going up and down the stairs a couple of times a day will also do it. Whatever works for you. Try for something you can do at least five times a week. 

If vigorous exercise and you are still in the getting to know you trying-to-like-you phase of your relationship, non-aerobic exercise like yoga can also ease anxiety.

Breathe. But practice, practice, practice. And then practice a little bit more.

Anxiety can feel like such a gangster at times, it can be hard to believe that something as simple and as normal as breathing can out-muscle it – but it can. Here’s why. Strong, deep breathing initiates the relaxation response. The relaxation response was discovered by a Harvard cardiologist to be an automatic response that can neutralise the surge of neurochemicals that cause the awful physical feelings of anxiety. Because it’s an automatic response, you don’t need to believe it works, it just will – but you do have to initiate it.

Breathing is the switch that will activate the relaxation response and start to put the symptoms of anxiety back to small enough. Once you start slow deep breathing, your body will take over and do the rest. Breathe in through your nose for 3, hold for 1 and then out through your mouth for 3. (If you’re the type who quite fancies a visual, imagine holding a cup of hot cocoa and smelling the warm, heady aroma for three, hold your breath for one, then blow it cool for one.) Make sure the breathing is going right into your belly, not just into your chest. 

In the thick of anxiety, the brain is too busy with other things to remember to do strong deep breathing. To make strong deep breathing easier for your brain to access, practice it a couple of times a day when you’re calm. 

Food. You’ve gotta look after your belly

We used to think that anxiety or depression caused tummy trouble, but increasingly researchers are thinking that it actually works the other way – an unhappy belly can make an unhappy brain. The good news about this is that it doesn’t take too much effort to put it right, but eating well is super-important.

We know there are trillions of microbes that live in the intestinal tract. These send signals to the brain that can change mood and behaviour. If you eat too much processed food or too much sugar (or not enough good food) it can knock out the balance of good bacteria in your gut. This can upset the balance of everything and heavily influence your mood by sending funky messages back to your brain. Eating unprocessed, healthy food, and food that contains good bacteria (such as miso or yoghurt) can help to balance things out inside your gut and put things back on track. 

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating something unhealthily delicious now and then, but make sure that you’re not overdoing it. The healthier your gut, the healthier your mental health. Gut bacteria are the rock stars of the mental health world. It’s really important to keep yours happy, because, you know – cranky rock stars can be painful and annoying and cause more than a decent amount of trouble. 

And finally …

Make sure you love yourself a little louder. At adolescence, you’re at a point in your life where the world is opening up to you. It’s a world that needs your wisdom, your courage and your interesting and very wonderful take on things. Anxiety can have a way of shifting the focus too often to the negative, but the things about ourselves that we would like to change often have very wonderful strengths built into them. Of course you would always rather not have anxiety, but there are so many strengths in you. Spend plenty of time noticing them. 

Anxiety is something that happens, not something you are. What you are is smart, with truckloads of emotional intelligence, and a very wonderful and uniqe way of looking at things, as well as being the person people can count on, the one who thinks of things that other people haven’t, creative (even if you aren’t doing anything creative, it’s in you), sensitive, strong, and brave. You would be most people’s favourite type of humans. 

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138 Comments

logan

i like this article i dont have stress but i feel like if anything ever happens i know what to do to help myself

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Marissa

This is an excellent article and a great resource for parents. When I was a teen 20 years ago I remember the struggles with anxiety and depression and the adults in my life unfortunately did not have accesss to information and resources. I think as an adult it is so important to not write it off as defiance and use patience and compassion.

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Helen

I have recently found your page via fb and would like to say how wonderful your website is. My son suffers from anxiety and this is the first time after many years of reading articles and recently attending an anxiety evening that you have made it so clear to know just what was going on with my son! Are you sure you don’t know us, because it felt like I was reading about our lives!I have recommended your website. Thank you so much…I even have my son reading some articles and he is actually talking about it with us, which is a major break thru. xx

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Sharon

At what point is medication necessary? My 12 going on 13 year old has been feeling anxious since he was about 9 years old. He sees a therapist weekly, I talk with him a lot, and we recently started to listen to guided meditations. I also have suffered from severe anxiety. His therapist does not think he needs a medication. I am definitely more into homeopathic, herbal, and nutritional support, but I realized through my own debilitating experience last year, that sometimes medication is necessary. I obviously do not want my son to suffer with anxiety and depression nearly everyday.

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Karen Young

Sometimes medication is necessary, but it should always be a last resort particularly for children and teens. If your son’s therapist is of the view that he doesn’t need medication, I would respect that. Medication isn’t a permanent fix, so it’s important to find other ways to strengthen your son against anxiety, whether or not medication is prescribed.

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Kelly

Hi,
this article is great. I have a son who has just turned 13. He came to me the other night and asked me if he could go and see his Child Psychologist. He said he didn’t want to worry me but that his head is all messed up and he wanted to talk to Peter. He has been biting the skin on his fingers for several months. He ended up telling me that he has constant thoughts of killing people, random people or perhaps robbing the. He is really scared. He said it’s like his mind is willing him to do it. His Child Psychologist saw him the next day and said its anxiety relating to anger and a lot of sadness where is dad and sister are concerned. He hasn’t seen his dad for 2 years now and his 16 year old sister has gone off to boarding school. I’m so proud of him for coming to me and asking for help. I will show him this article for sure. Last night we listed to some great mediation through and app called Calm. He drifted off to sleep. As a parent you feel so helpless.

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Karen Young

I completely understand that feeling of helplessness when your children are struggling. It sounds as though you have a wonderfully strong relationship with him. It’s great that he was able to come to you to ask for help – it’s so brave and shows the strength in him. I hope the article is able to make some sense of things for him.

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Saahil

I am 15 yrs old and I am having bad anxiety issues and symptoms like tightness in chest, lump like feeling in throat and also I am getting scared to even sleep due to breathlessness.
What should I do and how long will this scary thing called “anxiety” last??
I am very worried.

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Karen Young

Saahil follow the strategies in the article. Anxiety can be very frightening, but it is manageable. It’s a matter of finding the strategies that work best for you. If you are struggling, try to find someone you can speak with – perhaps a school counsellor or your family doctor. Choose a strategy or a combination of strategies that you think feel right for you, and start making small tweaks in your life. Be patient and kind to yourself, and know that you have everything you need inside you to get through this.

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Evan

I’m 15 years old and iv been struggling with intrusive thoughts and getting super panicky and depressed but this article made me calm down a lot and I hope my symptoms start to fade thank you very much

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Karen Young

Evan I’m so pleased the information has helped you to feel calmer. It shows how strong your mind is – as much as it can panic you, it can calm you. I love that you are so open to the information and that you have been able to make it work for you. That’s not easy – but you did it. The challenge now is to keep doing it – which you can.

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Taylor

Hi I’m Taylor and I’m 13 and I have had really bad anxiety lately and I’ve had a really hard time going to school and I get really worked up and I just don’t know what is causing it, it just came out of no where.

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Karen Young

Taylor it sounds like this is a frightening and confusing experience for you. I want you to know that it is not uncommon for this to happen at your age. Anxiety is very common and is a sign of a strong, healthy brain doing what strong, healthy brains are meant to do – protect you and keep you safe. The problem is that sometimes our brains can think there is a threat, even when there is nothing threatening at all. This is completely okay and very manageable. Here is an article that will hopefully explain things clearly https://www.google.com.au/search?q=aniety+in+children+hey+sigmu+d&oq=aniety+in+children+hey+sigmu+d&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.3223j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8. It is written for younger children, but as you will see from the comments, there are many adults and teens who have found it helpful and comforting. It will explain how you can feel more in control of your anxiety. Mindfulness can really help to strengthen your brain against anxiety. There is a lot of research showing that it is a great thing to do to strengthen your brain in all sorts of areas, not just anxiety. Here is an article that explains how that works, as well as some ways to practice mindfulness https://www.heysigmund.com/overcoming-anxiety-mindfulness/. Try for 10-20 minutes a day, even if you do it is 2 separate sessions. I know how confusing it can be when you feel like this out of the blue, but you’re going to be okay. Know that you will get through this. Try the strategies in this article, and also have a look through the others. Know that you have a really strong, healthy brain, it’s just a matter now for you to experiment with ways to be the ‘boss’ of your brain, so you can find calm during anxiety. It’s great that you are reaching out for help – that’s such a brave thing to do – you’re amazing – don’t forget it. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for support – we all need support in different forms from different people sometimes. Speak to a teacher or counsellor at your school, your parents, a family friend – anyone who cares about you. It’s very likely that they may have felt the way you feel. There are so many people who will understand exactly what you are going through and will be able to help, in the same way that one day, because of your experience, you’ll also be a wonderfully understanding support for someone else one day.

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Dafne

I’m a 13 year old girl but I am not so sure if I have anxiety or not. I feel like I’m drowning in my thoughts and when people ask me if I’m okay I feel like I HAVE to say yes. I would love to see a child physiologist but I am too afraid to tail my parents so I keep it to myself. There’s sometimes at night where I try to sleep but I can’t because I get these chills or shivers when I’m drifting off. Then I also have a bad habit of pulling my hair. I feel like I do have anxiety and I would really like to get rid of it or something so this article is really helpful to me now.

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Karen Young

Dafne I’m so pleased you have reached out for support with this. There are so many people who experience the symptoms you are describing. The good news is that anxiety is very manageable, but it’s not unusual to need a little more support to deal with it. We all need help with things from time to time. If you aren’t able to speak with your parents, is there a teacher or counsellor at your school, or another adult you trust who can help you get the support you need? You have everything you need inside you to deal with this, but speaking about what you’re feeling and experiencing can really help you. Try the strategies in the article, and if you can, try to speak with an adult you trust who can help you. Teachers and school counsellors would deal with this all the time so they will really be able to help you. Finally, know that you are strong, brave and amazing.

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Roxy

Great article. Am desperate to help my 14 year old who is wracked with anxiety on a daily basis. Its like a physical pain that makes him cry. I will show him this article and ask him to try mindfulness today. Thanks for this insight. Two doctors in past week had no useful suggestions.

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Debbie

This article is the first that o have felt able to share with my fourteen year old daughter who has anxiety. The tone is just right so many other information sites are too clinical and would add to her anxiety. She has started counselling and working on mindfulness techniques but reading this has helped me as a parent to really understand it and has made her feel that she is not alone in dealing with this problem.

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Karen Young

Debbie I’m so pleased you found this article. If all teens knew how many other teens were experiencing anxiety, they’d never feel alone again. It’s great that your daughter is doing mindfulness and is speaking with a counsellor. I hope it helps her to find calm and comfort.

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Dimitar

Hello, I am 19 and I’m suffering from anxiety. I must say it’s very frightening and I’m trying to overcome it, but it’s very tough. However, this article got me some very positive mindset and a special feeling I haven’t felt for so long. For the past few years anxiety has stopped me in achieving so many things and it’s very frustrating. I feel like I’m not the same person anymore.

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Kaylin

I relate too to this article, I’m 14 and I have negative thoughts and what people think of me, I’ve told my parents but they thought I was asking for attention and never believed me, which I’m not. I get chills, start shaking and feel like I’m going to throw up and the world starts spinning. I can’t really talk to anyone about it, how can I really prevent from having anxiety?

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Karen Young

Kaylin it can be really difficult for people to understand anxiety, especially if they haven’t experienced it before. I can hear from your comment how much this is impacting you. Your experience of chills ad shaking and nausea sound like very common things that happen with anxiety. There would be many people who would understand what you are going through because they are going through it themselves. Is there someone else you can speak to? A teacher? A family friend? A school counsellor? Talking about it can really help – it can help you realise how normal you are and that you aren’t alone. Try the strategies in the article and find what works for you. It’s great that you have reached out and that you are able to describe so clearly what you are experiencing – that takes strength and courage and clarity. You can get through this.

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WILL

hi; I am a father who is very concerned with son anxiety. My son is 14 and I have suspected that he has anxiety but I have not done anything about it and he has not ask for help either and I guess we both thought that it will go away on its own. I was recently called from school and told me that they have caught my son smoking marihuana… My question to you is: Do teens turn to marihuana because of their anxiety among other reasons? I would appreciate your counseling.
Thank You

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Karen Young

Teens turn to marijuana for all sorts of reasons. It can help them to feel less anxious, in the same way alcohol does, but there may be other reasons too – curiosity, peer pressure. The teen brain is geared to try novel things and to take risks. This is a really healthy part of their development. It’s an age where we want them to be brave and learn the skills and have the experiences that will help them towards adulthood. Sometimes though, the risks they take are dangerous ones. They also have a tendency to focus on the positives of a decision rather than the negatives. They’ll be aware of the risks, but will place more weight on what they have to gain. All of these things can combine to lead to experimentation with marijuana – anxiety, the need to try something new, less focus on the potential negatives of a decision. Here is an article that will hopefully give you some ideas for how to respond https://www.heysigmund.com/teens-drugs-parents-need-know-conversation-response/.

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T'Pel

I’m a high school senior and have been dealing with severe anxiety since at least age 5. I feel like no one really understands though what I’m going through because in addition to social and general anxiety, my anxiety is most often triggered by overstimulation like being in a loud room or watching an animated PowerPoint or strong smells or anything like that. So in addition to always feeling anxious, I also always feel alone because people think I’m crazy for saying that certain things trigger my anxiety. I’m about to go off to college this coming year, and I’m really scared because after 12 years I still haven’t been able to get a handle on it and I don’t want to carry this to college with me. I want to enjoy the next four years. I have my good days and my bad, but when it’s a good day, I have horrible nightmares and when it’s a bad day I still have nightmares. And I try to do the deep breathing and other techniques that my counselor taught me but nothing seems to help for very long. I just don’t know what to do. Any advice you have would be much appreciated.

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Karen Young

What you are describing makes a lot of sense and there are many people who would be able to relate. You are NOT crazy! Here is an article that might help make sense of your experience https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-or-highly-sensitive/. I can hear how confusing this is for you, but if the article makes sense to you (and it might not) speak with your counsellor about your highly sensitive qualities. By understanding why you experience the world the way you do, and the wonderful strengths you have that come with that, the intrusion and confusion it is causing for you will hopefully start to ease.

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jane

my granddaughter who is 16, is suffering with anxiety. she stays in her room when she is not at school and has done since she was 11. her mother, my daughter, does not understand her pain, and will argue with her and tell her to pull herself together. she cries alot and has stomache pains very often so she stays home from school. my daughter is very impatient of her. i on the other hand, will sit and listen, suggest things to do, take her out, and let her stay over at mine so she has some peace. she has confided in me, that she wishes she was not here on the earth, sometimes wishes she was dead. i am very worried about her. her older sister does not understand her either, but her older brother is more sympathetic to her. she will not join college next year and will not get a p/t job because she is scared to meet people. most of her attitude nowadays ‘ i dont care about anything’ ‘ i am useless’ ‘ i am bullied by mum ‘ you mention diet, she has been a veggie for the past two years, due to ethic of animal cruelty could this poss be an issue? many thanks, i have read your article and to me it makes sense, i just have to get her to see it too. what do i do if she wont read it then practice it?

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Karen Young

Your granddaughter is lucky to have you. As an adolescent she is at a developmental stage of her life where she is trying to understand the world and where she fits in to it. It’s important that she has the space to do this and that she is supported when it feels like too much of a struggle. Thankfully, it sounds as though you offer her this.

To encourage her to read the article, first try speaking with her about the symptoms that are consistent with anxiety and ask her whether she experiences them sometimes. If she does, let her know that so many other teens (and adults) have similar experiences (as the comments in this article will show) and that it’s a very normal human response, though sometimes it can happen too much. The key is to normalise it as much as you can. Then try showing her the article. If she doesn’t want to read it that’s okay, but if you can, try talking to her about what anxiety is ans why it happens (which is in the article). That way, the lifestyle factors that can strengthen her against anxiety (exercise, meditation, diet) will make more sense to her.

In relation to being a vegetarian, this in itself won’t necessarily compromise gut health. It’s more about a range of factors that lead to an imbalance in the gut. This might be stress, diet (too much of some things and not enough of others). What’s important is finding the balance of factors that will work for her.

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SIDDH KAPOOR

Hello, i m siddh & also a type 1 diabetic..often a day i feel like i m not enough for my parents, freinds ,teachers & also i feel like my friends are fed up of me & will one day leave me..all day i feel useless & all i can think of is why fo i feel so useless also i dont gain wait so my physical appearance has been one of a malnourished child since years people make fum of me & there’s no other way i feel good in my day…since an year or two i’ve been falling apart physically & emotionally & socially..pls help me im really distressed

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Matea

I’m eighteen years old and I’ve never experienced extreme anxiety until senior year. I have always had worries and paranoia about people judging me or presenting in class, but nothing deathramental to academics. I’ve always just been a “deep thinker”, worrying about the future. I smoke weed a lot to clear my mind I guess, but now I noticed it often triggers my anxiety. A few months ago I got suspended from school for having weed in my backpack (accidentally). Now I’m constantly feeling like I’m expected to behave badly or I’m up to something mischievous. I feel out of control, this is my senior year and I’m supposed to be having fun but I’m so stuck in my head I’m not even living. The weed doesn’t help, I’m convinced my brain isn’t stron enough to work the problem out on its own. But I also don’t want to rely on medication to help me do such a simple task as live. Today I told the office that I puked because I needed to leave school before my anxiety attack got worse. My grades are dropping. And I’m getting in trouble for something I can’t control. I don’t know what to do, but at least I understand why I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack or faint.

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Jean Tracy, MSS

Your advice on how to be mindful and the apps you linked us to are marvelous, Karen. I appreciate how you do your research to bring us the very best. You are thorough!

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Noni

Karen you are amazing. So empathetic, kind and compassionate to these young whilst figuring themselves out. I love how you have explained anxiety is an understanding way and give some very practical ways of dealing with it. I am a mom of 3 teeanaers and am grateful to have found your site. Have a wonderful day! xx

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Idalia Miller

Hello I have a 13 years old that on Chrsitmas day woke up with a loss of one of her ears. We went several doctors and was treated like an ear infection, but after seeing the ENT he told us in the most abrupt way that there was nothing they can do she was shock and us parents too she hasn’t been able to go to school in like 2 weeks and start anxiety meds cause she was shaking not able to sleep at all . It breaks my hearth that this happened to her she is a straight A student and in band and now she has to adjust to this. She feels like she’s the only one. And she has like 4 friends only. Thank you!

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Karen Young

I can only imagine what a frightening experience this would have been for your daughter. It sounds as though your daughter has so much going for her, and that she is capable of great things. Losing her hearing in one ear won’t change this, but it may take a little time for her to adjust to her new normal. Keep validating her experience and letting her know how much you believe in her.

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Elizabeth

Hello, I am so happy that this is the first thing I saw when I searched for help. This article gives me hope. My daughter is 15. She is well liked by all of her peers and a beautiful girl inside and out. She has had anxiety since she could talk. I have spoken to her pediatrician many times and he assures me she will grow out of it. She hasn’t grown out of it, and it is getting worse. She stress eats and she has picked the ends of her hair so much, it has become short, brittle and unhealthy. I had her thyroid checked and it was in the normal range. I started her on a multivitamin, but I have not seen a change. She is a cheerleader, but doesn’t like to be in front of anyone. She wants to be early to everything so she isn’t being looked at by the people who are already there. She told me she feels nauseated every day and wants to cry. She said she feels like she needs to touch things a certain number of times. She also said anything to do with numbers, like a total or getting gas, needs to end on a certain number. She said she is not depressed. She said school work doesn’t stress her out and neither do boys. She has so many friends and spends the night with people with out any problems. No one knows she feels this way. I am so worried and sad she feels this way. She said she doesn’t know what to do.

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Karen Young

Anxiety can get worse during adolescence before it gets better, but it can be managed to be less intrusive for your daughter. There are a few things that will be really important for your daughter moving forward to strengthen her against anxiety. These are mindfulness https://www.heysigmund.com/overcoming-anxiety-mindfulness/, regular exercise https://www.heysigmund.com/activity-restores-vital-neurochemical-protects-anxietyepression/, and at least 8 hours sleep a night. During sleep, the brain sorts through its emotional ‘stuff’, so it’s really important that your daughter tries for 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Most teens don’t get enough sleep, but for anyone with anxiety, it’s really important that they get enough. Gut health is also really important for mental health, so if she doesn’t already, a healthy diet with plenty of unprocessed food and and limited fructose https://www.heysigmund.com/adolescent-development-diet/. Also remind her that there are so many people who struggle with anxiety, so she isn’t alone. She will get through this.

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Kyla

I’m 13 and am gonna be 14 in 2 months and I’m really scared. I think I suffer from anxiety. Today i took up my courage and told my mum what anxiety is and then i told her that i think i have it but she just said that I don’t have it and if i do fix it. She said i have to be more social and it really hurt that she didn’t really act the way i wanted or thought she would. I wish my mum was as understanding as you and you seem like a really nice person so i wanted to tell you this. I always grit my teeth and i feel like I’m gonna vomit when i have to talk to people or if too many people are looking at me and i always get too many thoughts and i think too much before saying something or doing something and i keep punching the wall or something when i get angry till they’re bruised. I cry when i get angry and I can’t breathe when i get have to talk to someone im not too close with and my face feels hot and then I can’t smile and I can’t make eye contact for too long. And it takes long for me to get to sleep and then i wake up really early and after that i either get up or i fall back into a restless or half sleep or i just lie there in bed. I think that i also might have stress and just a tine bit of depression. But I don’t think of killing myself that much, I’ve only thought that once when i felt that all the pain could just disapear but you know. I really like this article like a lot and i read every single word of it. It made me feel calm while i was reading it and i wished there was more. It felt as if you were talking to me because it wasn’t as formal as other articles and now i know everything that goes on inside of me. I like science so i enjoyed reading this. Thank you ever so mich for writing thas article. I will follow every step you have told me to do and i will inform you if my anxiety improves.

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Karen Young

Kyla I love that you are so clear about what is happening for you. The symptoms you are describing sound like anxiety, but I want you to know that there are ways to manage this so it stops feeling so awful. There are many people who would understand what you are experiencing because they are experiencing something similar – you are not alone! I want you to also know there are so many incredible strengths and qualities in you – I can tell by reading your comment that you are strong, brave, emotionally intelligent, open-hearted, intelligent, articulate, and honest about how you are feeling. These might seem like normal things for you but trust me, they are wonderful. Don’t let anxiety ever make you think otherwise.

It’s so important that if you ever feel like killing yourself that you find someone to talk to. It might be a teacher, someone in your family, or a phone counsellor. Every country has phone counsellors who are free to call for kids or teens. They are great to talk to and they’re used to talking to kids and teens. Reaching out to talk to someone is a sign of amazing strength. I’m not sure where you are, but somewhere that does has a free phone line for kids and teens in the UK for example is Childline https://www.childline.org.uk/get-support/1-2-1-counsellor-chat/. If you are in another country email me at karen@heysigmund.com and I’ll send you the details. There are a lot of adults who want to be there for teens like you because we know what a tough time this can be – we’ve been where you are. Something to remember is that anxiety will always pass, and so will the thoughts of wanting to kill yourself. Darling girl, you are capable of great things – I promise you – and the world needs you. Everything good in the world is because of people like you.

The things you are describing might feel confusing to you, but they make so much sense when you think of them in terms of anxiety. The most important thing I want you to know is that you can manage this. You really can. If you can, try to do mindfulness regularly. When you have trouble getting to sleep try counting your breaths. Slow deep breath in (count 1), slow deep breath out (count 1), in (count 2), out (count 2) and keep going. This is a type of mindfulness and as you would have read in the article, it can strengthen your brain against anxiety. If you can, try for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. I love that you love science, so here is an article that explains a little more about why mindfulness is so great for anxiety https://www.heysigmund.com/overcoming-anxiety-mindfulness/.

Something else to try – it’s a way to calm yourself when you’re feeling anxious … From the article you will understand that every symptom of anxiety is because your brain has surged you with chemicals (good ones – kind of like a special body fuel) to make you faster, stronger and more powerful so you can fight or flee any danger. The problem is that often there is no danger – it’s just your brain being overprotective. When this happens there is nothing to burn this fuel that is surging through you. The way to turn this around is with strong, deep breathing. This triggers something called the relaxation response which sends a message to your brain that you’re safe, so it switches off the surging of chemicals. When this happens, you’ll start to feel calmer. The thing is though, you have to practice strong deep breathing when you’re calm because during anxiety you’re brain is too busy to do strong deep breathing if it isn’t used to it. Here’s a way to do that … when you are feeling calm (maybe when you’re having trouble falling asleep) use your pointer finger and pretend you’re drawing a figure 8 with it somewhere on your skin. It might be on your hand or your arm – wherever you like. Now, as you’re drawing the top of the 8, breathe in for 3 seconds. When you get to the middle, hold for 1. Then as you’re drawing the bottom of the 8 breathe out for 3. Then you’ll be at the middle again where you’ll hold for 1 – and keep doing this for 3 or 4 times or until you feel calmer. It can also be a form of mindfulness. The great thing about this is that you can then use it when you are feeling anxious to help yourself feel calmer. Nobody has to know what you’re doing, and the 8 can be as small as you want – just make sure you take 3 seconds to ‘draw’ the top and the bottom bellies of the 8.

When you use this during anxiety, the touch will help to calm you, it will give you something else to focus on aside from your anxious thoughts, it will remind your brain how to feel calm again, and it will reverse the surging of anxiety chemicals.

You can get through this. Anxiety feels awful but it can be managed. It’s just a matter of finding what works best for you. I would love to hear how your anxiety is going. Be kind to yourself in the meantime. You are brave and strong and wonderful and you can get through this.

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Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.











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