Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

Understanding and Supporting Your Teenagers – the video

Teenage anxiety resources – at a glance

Last night I did an online event for parents and it was striking how many questions were about anxiety. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about in great detail over the last year, not least because I’ve been writing a book on it. No Worries – How to Deal With Teenage Anxiety will be published this summer. Although I do also tackle it in various of my other books – particularly Positively Teenage and The Teenage Guide to Stress – it’s such a big topic and it does need its own book. Besides, I have new ideas and have formulated different and improved ways of sharing them.

You don’t need to wait till the summer! I’ve gathered some existing resources here in one place and will also share with you today my two top tips, one to deal with stress (the body’s response to perceived threat) and one to deal with anxiety (the mind’s response to perceived threat.)

Edited to add: Someone asked about any digital resources on resilience. I have just found this from the Samaritans! Not checked it out but the Samaritans are so trusted – and I’ve done some work with them before – that I’d be very confident in it.

Resources on Anxiety

  1. A handout of anxiety tips: AnxietyTips
  2. My Parent Guide on Anxiety for Happy Self: Happy Self Guide to Anxiety
  3. Relaxation audio – to learn and practise relaxed breathing:
  4. A post about how reading for pleasure can reduce anxiety: If your child or teenager enjoys reading, encourage it as it’s a fabulous way to relax and switch off.
  5. This post is from 2020 but is still very valid:

My two topmost tiptop top tips

People often ask what’s the difference between stress and anxiety. In terms of biology, there’s no difference: they are both the brain’s response to a perceived threat. But I think it’s also useful to separate (although they can’t be completely separated) the body’s responses (which we can call stress) from the mind’s responses (which we can call anxiety). The reason they can’t be completely separated is that our body and mind are not completely separable. Our mind is a manifestation of part of our body: our brain, which is obviously part of our body.

Top tip for bodily stress responses

“Do the opposite”

When your brain detects a threat, it causes certain reactions in your body. These are designed to deal with the immediate threat but once you’ve established what the threat is (or isn’t) you can relax those reactions. Doing so is simple, fast and incredibly effective. Here are some examples:

  • Your breathing has become fast and shallow – slow it down and make it deeper
  • Your breathing is high up in your chest and shoulders – take it down to your belly
  • Your stomach has tightened – loosen it and soften it, letting it go out rather than tighten in
  • Your jaw has clenched – loosen and lower it
  • Your teeth or lips are clamped together – soften the muscles and relax them
  • Your shoulder and next muscles have tightened – loosen them
  • Your heart is racing – focus on slowing it down
  • You want to run from the room – focus on staying still, feet on the ground
  • Your voice has become higher – lower it

Sometimes there’ll be something you can’t do the opposite of. For example, if you feel sick, there’s no “opposite” you can control; but there will be something you can do differently. And then the feeling sick will go away.

Top tip for the anxious mind

Anxiety is about negative thinking. Sometimes it’s entirely reasonable to have a negative thought. Having negative thoughts is not a bad thing. But it’s not a good thing when you have negative thoughts at the wrong time – for example when you’re trying to sleep, relax, work or enjoy yourself – or too often or too powerfully or repeatedly or intrusively or in any context that’s not useful for you.

The trouble is, telling yourself not to think the negative thought is very unlikely to work. It’s like telling yourself not to think of a bright pink elephant. You can’t help thinking of a bright pink elephant.

One thing you can do is put a positive thought in its place. Fair enough and often useful. But you still need to deal with the negative thought, because otherwise it will keep returning. So, here’s how to do it:

Add the words “just now”.

  • I feel sad/ashamed/furious/desperate/hopeless just now
  • I don’t believe in myself just now
  • Life feels awful/hopeless/terrifying just now
  • I hate my life/face/body/parents just now
  • I can’t concentrate just now
  • What’s happening to me is scary just now

By doing this, you remind yourself that feelings change; that how you feel about this is just how you feel about this NOW; it will not be how you feel about it later. Later might be later today, or tomorrow, or next week or whenever. But how you feel will change.

One more very important point – please tell your teenagers

Anxiety and stress are not bad things. They are not illnesses. They can be completely appropriate reactions to the world around us. You will at various points in your life “suffer” from anxiety and stress – “suffer” in the sense that those conditions are not pleasant but not in the sense of suffering a diagnosable illness. I would venture to say that very many people who describe themselves as suffering from anxiety or stress are just experiencing the unpleasantness of those temporary and necessary conditions. They are not ill.

But anxiety and stress can lead to illnesses. And even before that they can lower enjoyment and performance. Also, sometimes our body or mind will react inappropriately or unhealthily to the world around us. So we all need to learn and practise the techniques that keep anxiety and stress manageable. We need to recognise our signs and step in with good lifestyle interventions. And when those lifestyle interventions don’t work, then we might need some professional help. But usually it’s just a matter of looking out for ourselves and understanding and managing our reactions.

Our job as adults is to help young people learn how to do that and to model those behaviours ourselves.

Keep an eye on my blog for more news of No Worries – the book I wrote during the year when I had more worries than any other. And none of them Covid-related!

And don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a signed copy of the NEW edition of Blame My Brain. Got to be in it to win it…

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