Most people feel anxious at times. This is normal. Your teenager might feel stressed or anxious when they have an important test coming up at school, when they break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, or if they worry about fitting in. These feelings are usually temporary and your teenager will be able to move forward.
In many ways, anxiety or stress can be helpful – it can motivate your teenager to study for an exam or think through a decision before acting. Just think about yourself being a bit anxious before a presentation at work and this motivating you to practice and put in your best effort. So a level of anxiety is very normal and doesn’t have to hinder you from enjoying life and feeling good about yourself. Anxiety in teenagers becomes concerning when their feelings are very intense, it becomes a regular occurrence, lasts for weeks or months and their anxiety affects their functioning at home or school. For example, they may not want to go to school, they may withdraw from friends or are generally not enjoying life as they used to.
Some of the key symptoms of anxiety in teenagers include:
- frequent feelings of being on edge, restless and agitated.
- withdrawing from social situations
- difficulty sleeping
- difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- muscle tension or body signs such as heart racing, feeling hot etc when a known anxiety trigger occurs
- has thoughts or images that they can’t get out of their head
- feel like they can’t stop worrying
Keep in mind that teenagers aren’t always the best at communicating their feelings. If you feel that your teenager is experiencing more anxiety than you think is typical, it is important that they feel supported and not forced to talk about what is going on for them. You can try telling them that anxiety is normal and that you have also experienced worries when you were their age as well – normalise it! Lots of teenagers their age will also be struggling with strong feelings. If they feel that they aren’t being judged, what they are feeling is a normal emotion, that they are listened to, then they may feel more comfortable opening up to you about what is going on for them. Your teenager needs to know that you support them and that they can get through this.
Often taking the next step of getting professional support can be daunting. Your GP is a great first step – pick a GP who your teenager will feel comfortable talking to. Depending on what is happening, your GP may refer your teenager to a psychologist for counselling. If your child isn’t ready to talk to anyone yet and is not open to getting support, phone lines like Kids Help Line can be helpful. It gives your teengers the option of speaking to someone in confidence and can be a good first step to getting support.
Written by Kids At Max – Psychologist