Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

Understanding and Supporting Your Teenagers – few spaces left and I’m not doing it again!

Questions about anxiety #3 – Top tip for a teenager suffering anxiety

This is the third in a series where I answer your questions on the topic of anxiety and how we can best help the young people we care about. Having said that, there’s very little difference between how we can reduce and control anxiety in all ages. So, whoever you are, read on – you can help yourself, a young person or a friend. Or just be informed!

No Worries is published on Aug 3rd and there’s a giveaway with a deadline of TOMORROW July 14th.

For the previous questions:

  1. What is specific to teenage and how is it different from adult anxiety?
  2. Is anxiety new or is it different these days?

Today’s question comes from Liz and I’ve picked it because I can answer it relatively quickly and I haven’t got much time. (Time management and dealing with overwhelmed time-table is something I deal with in No Worries, as it happens!)

Liz asked:

“What would be your top tip for a teenager with anxiety and the adults supporting them?”

I’ll come to my actual top tip in a moment but first I’m going to sneak in some sub-tips…

Sub-tip 1: Don’t dismiss or diminish the person’s anxiety by saying anything like “don’t be silly” or even “don’t worry”. Much better to show that you hear what they’re saying but now you’re going to show them how they can do something about it. You could also give them a minute to express exactly what they’re worrying about – get it out, lance the boil. Bottling it up and putting a lid on it only works for a while.

Sub-tip 2: As well as the top tip I’m about to give, you need a selection of breathing, grounding and mind control tricks for them to use as necessary. Put it this way: supposing someone was very anxious about spiders. You could tell them as many times as you like that spiders are “nothing to be worried about” (dismissing their fear) and then also take their mind off spiders by distracting them with all sorts of exciting and uplifting things, but it’s not addressing their anxiety about spiders because as soon as you stop the distraction they are back onto stressing about spiders. All that’s happened is you’ve avoided the issue for a while and avoidance is usually a very bad way of dealing with anxiety, as I explain in No Worries.

The person needs tools to reduce the response to the thought of or sudden appearance of a spider. Those skills – the breathing and grounding exercises that reduce panic and reaction – are an essential part of dealing with anxiety when it is actually happening. You will learn lots of them in No Worries and you’ll find plenty on this blog, too, such as here for belly-breathing and here for panic attacks and here for a breathing audio.

But they are not my TOP TIP, essential as they are!

My TOP TIP is all about:

Criticism raises stress hormone, cortisol

Tipping the balance

Every “bad thing” that happens drags your mood down a little bit. Every good thing lifts your mood up. “Bad things” can be big or small, huge or tiny. They can be things other people see or things that are just in your head. Here are some examples:

  • Things people say to you
  • Things people say to others in your hearing
  • The thought that you can’t or can do a particular thing
  • Winning or not winning a prize
  • Doing something well or not so well
  • The weather – ever noticed how some grey days in a row drag you down?
  • The feeling at the end of a day that you did or didn’t manage what you wanted to do
  • Being selected or not selected
  • Getting a hug – or not
  • Losing a friend
  • Making a new friend
  • Evidence of someone being better than you at something that really matters – or evidence that you’re really good at this thing
  • Physical illnesses – minor colds drag us down
  • A worry, big or small – or the worry being solved
  • Losing or breaking something
  • Any bad – or good – thought about yourself, your family, your life
  • An argument
  • Your mum and dad having an argument
  • Realising that you’ve done the wrong homework
  • Anything that makes you feel inadequate – even the unfounded thought that you are
  • Sad or upsetting stories about other people, even people you’ve never met

Sometimes I realise that although nothing bad has happened for a while, nothing good has happened for a while. And I feel out of sorts, down, grumpy, anxious and even sometimes panicky. I can even start to wonder what is the point of trying so hard when nothing good comes of it. You might not think of that as anxiety but for me it is. When will there be good news? Will there ever be good news?

But there’s an answer in all this. If bad things drag us down and good things lift us up, we have to inject good things into our lives. And as adults – or friends – we can do a lot to help the person we care about find some good things. Because many are in their and our control.

Me smelling apple blossom

Here are some examples of things that might help for a young person in your family:

  • Bake a cake together – or make the family dinner with a new recipe chosen by the young person
  • Plan a family treat
  • Play a game – indoors or outdoors
  • Write card or buy a small gift
  • Pick some flowers
  • Go for a walk – maybe with five things you’ve each got to find
  • Give a hug
  • Go for a coffee or ice cream
  • Suggest a sleepover with a couple of friends
  • Plan a picnic, beach trip, woodland walk, treasure hunt
  • Put on some joyous music – and dance!
  • Favourite food for dinner tonight – maybe each family member chooses one or two nights a week and the only rule is it can’t be something someone hates
  • Each family member writes a message to each other with something nice on it
  • Grow a plant or sow some seeds
  • Enjoy a favourite smell for a few minutes
  • Borrow books from the library
  • Create a family and friends fun afternoon with obstacle courses and a BBQ
  • Ask each family member for their ideas and make a wish list of what you’d all like to do over the summer
  • Decide to say something nice to each family member every day

You will have many more ideas

Extra point 1: Do this explicitly. In other words, don’t just do it but talk about how it makes you and them feel. Capture the moments of uplift and acknowledge them. “I’m glad I did that – it made me feel better for a while.”

Extra point 2: Show them that they can make these choices themselves. When we’re feeling wrapped up in anxiety we might need to be reminded that there are these other options. But once reminded, these things are in our power, even if we are only 12 or 14 or 17 years old. You can call it self-care but I just call it owning my life.

This is not going to cure anxiety but it’s the best way of avoiding the dragging side-effects of it.

So, that’s my top tip: tip the balance. What’s yours?

Have you thought of buying my Gift for a Teenager? No Worries is now available as the chosen book. Hooray!

If you want to ask a question, you can do it here. And enter the giveaway there by 5pm tomorrow!



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