The teenage years can be a tumultuous time for many young people. Dealing with growing bodies, the transition to middle or high school, and increased academic and social demands can make teens feel anxious about who they are and their ability to handle new challenges. For most of us, anxiety is a familiar emotion that will eventually go away once the stressful event passes. However, for some, the experience of anxiety can be so intense and pervasive that it keeps them from achieving their goals. Whether a teen is gripped by anxiety or experiences the nerves only once in a while, anxious moments can become great opportunities for parents to show support and teach valuable coping skills. The best way for parents to help teens manage anxiety may only take you 35 minutes, and its many benefits include promoting a healthy lifestyle for your teen, creating an environment that communicates engagement and support, and increasing the chance that your teen will be listening when you have those crucial conversations about stress management and mental health. In fact, it probably only involves doing more of what you already enjoy as a family, having a meal together around the dinner table!
Eating Well Reduces Anxiety Symptoms
In the United States, 75% of households with children under 18 report dining together four or more nights per week, and the average dinner lasts 35 minutes. When the whole family eat together, teens are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables instead of fast food. In addition, the more often teens eat with their families, the less likely they are to smoke or drink alcohol. A report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) found that teens who have dinner with family fewer than three nights a week are twice as likely to try out tobacco and marijuana, one and a half times more likely to drink alcohol, and twice as likely to try drugs in the future. Although everyone benefits from eating well and staying away from drugs, good eating habits are crucial for teens struggling with anxiety.
Although the symptoms of anxiety are not caused by diet alone, poor hydration, low blood sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and smoking can certainly exacerbate them. For instance, consuming too much processed sugar can cause a powerful sugar rush and the subsequent crash. Such highs and lows can lead to you feeling irritable, nervous, and drained, similar to how you might feel about a stressful exam or tomorrow’s presentation. Using nicotine and alcohol to relieve some of that stress is a strategy that backfires, since withdrawal from these substances causes the body to experience anxiety even more intensely than before. One of the best way parents can help teens avoid roller coaster blood sugar levels is by eating a good meal with them. By having a nutritious dinner with plenty of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats together, your teen will find his or her anxiety slowly improves while the whole family gets healthier.
Conversations Around the Dinner Table Make Teens Mentally Strong
Eating together is not just about the food on the table, but the positive atmosphere of the meal nourishing a teen’s mental health. Many parents place this time as a priority for staying connected with their children, ranking it above every other activity, including family vacation and playing with their kids. Teens also feel more connected to parents who eat with them regularly.
Since both teens and adults love having dinner together, it is no surprise that teens who eat often with their families experience better mental health and exhibit more positive behaviors. When parents and teens gather around the table to talk and share stories, they strengthen social connections that buffer the effects of risk factors in adolescence, leading to fewer risky behaviors, higher self-esteem, a higher sense of social competence, and lower rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. The interpersonal nature of the family dinner provides emotional nourishment, making teens mentally strong.
A Space to Really Talk
The dinner table may be a great place to have those important conversations with your teen about managing anxiety. When asked when they were most likely to talk with their parents in a survey, the top answer for American teens was dinnertime.
Although it may initially be hard to talk about anxiety with your teen, encouraging teens to speak about their mental illness is a crucial first step toward recovery. To help you make the most of the conversation, keep the following tips in mind:
Listen actively. It is important to listen to your teen with understanding and withhold judgment. By rephrasing what your teen says to show understanding, helping your teen identify thoughts and feelings, and restating the key points of what she just told you, you communicate to her that you understand her world and will be there to support her.
Be vulnerable. Whether it is recounting your own experiences dealing with anxiety as a teen or talking about how you handle anxiety at work, let your teen know that he is not alone. Instead, you understand all that he goes through, because you have to deal with these feelings too.
Help your teen come up with strategies to face her fear. Does yoga help her relax the night before a presentation? How can she challenge the negative thoughts that are keeping her from starting a conversation with a classmate? What may be some benefits to the otherwise nerve-racking experience of starting a new school? The coping strategies you come up with together will be the powerful mental tools she uses to face her next fear.
Having dinner as a family is the easiest way to create a ritual that communicates parental engagement and strengthen family bonds. A healthy meal, a table filled with loved ones sharing stories, and a place to talk about what really matters is the magic of the family table. By eating together every day, you will provide the nourishment and support your teen needs to bounce back from disappointment and overcome fears.
Author Bio: Judith Lung is a rehabilitation counselor, writer, and web developer from Los Angeles. She is passionate about using counseling and technology to promote wellness and create opportunities for people with disabilities. When she is not working, Judith enjoys reading and taking long walks with her dog.
Photo Credit: Pexels.com
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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