It took me a while before I actually went to the hospital, and I almost died
How to deal with stress and anxiety in a teenager
Are you worried about a teenager with anxiety?
I’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety recently. I’ve had episodes of anxiety throughout my life, and I’ve tried to pin it on one or other lifestage. But in reality I think I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. I have no idea where it began for me, but I’ve always chewed my nails, from a young age. I have very early memories of my mum being cross with me for it, so I know I was only 6 or 7 years old. I have no idea what age I started, just that it was always a thing. And it still is today, at 54. It’s why I get my nails done, to try and stop myself.
What causes anxiety in teens?
I do remember severe anxiety during both sets of my big school exams. Anxiety so bad I didn’t sleep and made myself very ill. So why do teens have anxiety? The pressure of academic expectation on teens is immense now – much more than it was in my day. But even all that time ago I remember the stress intensely. So I wonder – does teenage anxiety come from within just as much as it is a symptom of external pressures?
Here are just a few of the reasons
I also subscribe to alerts about teen mental health, and teenage anxiety pops into my newsfeed almost daily. I recently watched this TedX talk about anxiety in teenagers, and it felt normal. LIke it’s somehow something we should expect, and allow in our children. I’m not okay with that, and neither is my guest on this episode of my podcast Teenage Kicks.
Listen to the podcast here
How common is teenage anxiety?
I really think that anxiety is a normal thing. All of us who’ve ever poured a glass of wine at the end of a long day, or hunted for distraction in the fridge from work/kids/money issues are trying to medicate or distract from depression or anxiety.
But by doing that I think we’re looking for a physical solution to an emotional need – because it’s faster! And that’s okay as a one-off. It’s when it becomes a go-to fix that we need to take stock. And it’s something we need to teach our children from a very early age.
What can you do about the physical symptoms of anxiety?
In this episode of the Teenage Kicks podcast Helen Wills talks to Lorena Salazar, who suffered from gastritis from the age of 14, and eventually was admitted to hospital with severe symptoms caused by her anxiety. She came close to dying, and after multiple tests her doctors told her she was stressed.
Lorena is now a wellness coach, and supports other women to manage their stress levels to avoid health implications, but I wanted to talk to her on the podcast about how parents can support their teens suffering with anxiety. You can listen to the podcast here, or in your usual podcast app. Or you can scroll down to hear the episode in full.
How to help a teenager with anxiety and panic attacks
This podcast episode with Victoria Metal, who suffered panic attacks in her late teens, is a great place to start if your child is having these very frightening experiences. But the minute you notice the signs of anxiety in your teenager it’s important to listen first of all. I’ve found that most children know what it is they need if they’re allowed the space to talk about how they feel.
Scroll down for useful signposts if you think you need external support with your child’s anxiety.
Who is Lorena Salazar?
Lorena Salazar is a wellness coach from Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is on a mission to help 1 million women with anxiety reclaim their power, feel confident and live joyful lives.
When Lorena was 14 she was diagnosed with gastritis, caused by stress. Eventually she was told she had a gastric ulcer, and by the time she was in college her anxiety was so bad it had affected her immune system, and infection had taken hold. Lorena almost died.
Lorena says worry is normal, but when it becomes long-term it can start to wear down a child’s defences. She talks about how her parents’ separation and a move to a new school started with small worries, and progressed to physical symptoms of anxiety.
Lots of teens suffer heightened anxiety around friendship issues, especially when they try to fit in with a popular group of peers. Lorena gives great self-confidence tips for teens on living according to your own needs rather than living up to the expectations of others.
Listen to the podcast:
Lorena talks about
- how parents might struggle to help teens who don’t think their parents really get it
- how keeping consistent with offers of support pays off eventually
- how teens need to feel ready to seek help before it will work for them.
You can find the episode in your usual podcast app, or if you prefer, you can listen online below, or through the podcast page.
Eventually Lorena was able to see that there was a positive way out of her anxiety, and used therapy to recover and manage her feelings.
There’s also good advice for adults on how to avoid the competitive culture we live in that values productivity over wellness.
In April 2021 Lorena is relaunching her free wellness accountability group for moms/mums. She says it’s perfect for those who want to stay on track with their wellness goals and benefit from checking in with a group of like minded people.
How to help a teenager with depression and anxiety
How to help your teenager with social anxiety
Parents and caregivers will inevitably find it difficult to know how to help social anxiety in a teenager, and it’s easy to let worry consume you. It begins with the very first day at nursery, as we anxiously wait to hear about little friends, and start to cultivate our children’s social lives. And with older teenagers I can tell you that it never really ends. I’m sure I’ll be feeling aggrieved about perceived slights to my children even when they’re 38!
The trick as a parent is to keep it in context. It takes time for children to gain social confidence, and most of us struggle from time to time, so if your teenager is just having trouble with small talk and new situations it may be as simple as reassuring them, and giving them some conversation starters.
Let your child know that some level of anxiety, especially around a big event or test, is normal. It’s also common for teens to worry more than other age groups about how they’re perceived by their friends and teachers. In many cases this will settle as your child gains experience and maturity. However, if you think intervention is needed, there’s a lot you can do.
If you’ve found yourself wondering Does my teenager have anxiety? here’s what you need to be aware of:
Know the signs of social anxiety in your teenager
- Extreme worry about being judged by peers
- Embarrassment over normal mistakes and mishaps
- Worry about being in the company of new people
- Irritability before a social event
- Takes criticism extremely badly
- Avoiding going out with friends
- Discomfort at being in public places
- Worries about school tests and exams
- Deteriorating performance at school
There are also some more obvious, physical signs of anxiety that you might not automatically equate with stress or depression. It’s well known that a racing pulse, panic attacks, and seeming restless are signs of anxiety, but did you know that more generalised aches and pains, headaches, stomach upsets, and even pins and needles can be signs of anxiety in your teenager?
Often these symptoms are seen as physical, requiring a physical solution, and your teenager may not be able to acknowledge that they are a sign of something more connected with mental health. In this case you might need to spend time talking to experts about the best course of action.
If you do need more on how to overcome social anxiety as a teenager there are plenty of organisations that can help.
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Natural remedies for teenage anxiety
There are also some lifestyle adjustments you can use to support your child, and to help get on top of anxiety symptoms before they become too problematic. Try some of these:
- Aromatherapy expert Laura Dannan recommends essential oils for teenage anxiety or depression. She says this blend of lemon and lime, with frankincense, thyme and rosemary is uplifting and a confidence boost when teens are struggling with exam stress or a general lack of motivation.
- Breathing techniques are useful in the moment to calm a racing heart and high blood pressure.
- Mindfulness and gratitude practice is known to have an incremental impact on improving mood and confidence. Remind your teen to focus on what they can control rather than what they can’t.
- CBT practices like reframing automatic thought processes can help your teen feel calmer in social situations. Prompt them to look at their emotions in a different way, or to try and see things as their friends might.
Subscribe to the Teenage Kicks podcast
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast and reading here! Subscribe now to the Teenage Kicks podcast to hear about the new series when it begins. I’ll be talking to some fabulous guests about difficult things that happened to them as teenagers – including losing a parent, being hospitalised with mental health problems, and battling an eating disorder – and how they overcame things to move on with their lives.
I’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions for future topics on the Teenage Kicks podcast. Just email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @iamhelenwills. I appreciate every message, and love to hear from my listeners.
For information on your data privacy please visit Podcast.co. Please note that I am not a medical expert, and nothing in this blog or in the podcast should be taken as medical advice. If you’re worried about a young person please seek support from a medical professional.
Join me in the Teenage Kicks Facebook group!
If you’re a parent of teens it can be difficult to know where to go for advice, to vent, or just to talk. So I’ve made the Teenage Kicks Facebook group, for all parents of teenagers to chat in a safe space. You can request to join by clicking the button below. It’s a private group and everyone in there will be a parent of teenagers.
Join the Teenage Kicks Facebook group
If you’d like to read a transcription of episode 30 with Lorena you can find it here.