We’ve known for a long time that teens often have anxiety and worry as they transition from childhood into young adulthood. And as we’re now aware that the human brain takes much longer to become fully mature, generally by the early to mid-20s, it’s good to remind ourselves that we’re dealing with people who are ‘still becoming’ and learning how to use all of their tools, gifts, and resources.
And we know peer pressure, especially in the age of social media, can be a source of great worry and even fear. Compounding matters, the COVID-19 pandemic hit us all with a disruption so pervasive that its effects will be felt for years. The most profound impacts were the disruption and disconnection to relationships and lifestyle. That’s especially painful for developing teens.
The anxiety produced by these sudden and prolonged disconnections is understandable, given teens’ reliance on relationships for almost everything in their lives. Tweens and teens still depend upon the physical and emotional support of their families for survival and protection. No less important is the presence of secure environments around them. We could call them extended learning environments, both real and virtual, that offer teens the modeling, mentoring, and ability to compare, for better or worse. Whether it’s social media or traditional social engagement, such as schools, sports, and interest groups, it’s the relational learning that is so impactful. And that’s at the heart of building and maintaining relationships fundamental to growing up, maturing, and becoming functioning members of society.
So the question is: Given this stage of their lives and the impact of disconnection caused by the pandemic, what can we do to help, advise, and support their re-connection and sense of balance?
There is no one way or ‘right way,’ but here are a few considerations for finding your own way forward helping teens with their anxiety:
- Acknowledge that feeling ‘anxious’ is common; invite conversations that can give you both more insights versus advice or judgment. Offering simple, truthful ideas they can relate to is a good start. For example: Everyone feels anxious when things are suddenly different or chronically uncertain. The pandemic gave us all ‘different;’ it’s been a struggle for everyone. And the basics are the same for everyone – keeping ourselves safe and balanced and doing our best to navigate connection with the essential people in our lives. Let’s look at what the priorities are and go from there.
- Take a look at your expectations of them and yourself, too. Offer them the same candor and opportunity – are their expectations realistic, given whatever is happening at the moment? Help them talk about the often confusing, stressful feelings that chronic uncertainty has caused. Inviting conversation about the many conflicted feelings and challenges can be a great relief when given a voice with ample respect for the speaker.
- Remember that teens crave novelty as well as stability. That means maintaining important, foundational family structures and expectations. At the same time, genuinely working with them to co-craft new, more tailored ways of doing things that may not be as important to you could satisfy their need for individuality and more novelty.
- Teens typically know little about their human design and can confuse what they’re feeling at any given moment with the idea that there’s something wrong with them. This becomes heightened during a sudden stressor or unexpected event. Even small disruptions that seem trivial to us might be one too many for them. Suggesting that what one feels or thinks is not always true and deserves some investigation might be helpful. Offer some basic information on our human design, especially our nervous, limbic, and vagal systems. Knowing what is happening in our bodies that causes us to feel disrupted or anxious is truly useful information.
- Providing teens with easy-to-learn and remember strategies for grounding and self-regulation can be a game-changer. It puts them back in control, with easier access to their more resourceful states.
- Reassure them about their capabilities; chances are good they know more than they think they do. Once down-regulated or grounded, they’re far more likely to engage in their own problem-solving versus looking outside of themselves for direction or advice.
- Encouraging and reinforcing ‘the Wins’ is both smart and helpful. When we observe teens doing something productive to address their dilemmas, we can support that with simple acknowledgment: ‘I like the way you thought that out,’ or, ‘That sounds like a great choice.’ Not a big deal; a genuine quiet affirmation goes a long way with young people, even if they are suspicious of it at first. (Surely we can remember the times we were ‘wrong’ versus being complimented on our efforts? Our teens probably feel the same way as we did then.)
- Many of us do not learn this ourselves and have not passed it on to our teens, but it’s a valuable lesson at any age: Struggles and conflicting feelings can be much relieved by simply speaking our truth. Even though we may think it scary to speak out, it’s a lot less emotionally expensive than denial, suppression, and secrecy. And yes, thoughtfully choosing to share our struggles with those we trust to have our safety and best interests at heart is key. Even so, we may not know the answers, but simply listening without judgment may be enough. What if all they actually need is a safe place to voice their truth?
- Even though our culture often values appearances and speedy gratification over depth and practice, offer them this paradox: By slowing down long enough to consider what about the dilemma makes them anxious, they may be able to more quickly quell the feeling and solve the problem. Teach them this rapid clarity tool on something small and not too personal to start with.
- Approach their anxiety with a practical stance of neutral, agenda-less support. Something like, ‘Well, let’s try something different and see if it works any better for you,’ is both truthful and easy to offer without attachment.
Let’s try something to assist with anxious feelings and thoughts.
3 Practical Experiments You Can Do, Right Now
Whether you can manage any or several of these above suggestions, let yourself simply be curious and compassionate in your interactions. If this approach isn’t your usual style, your teen might be cautious or suspicious at first. But there’s never a time like the present to begin turning things around, for your sake and your teen’s, too.
You’ll Quickly Notice the Effects:
Here are popular techniques for rapid self-regulating, clarifying, and re-setting tools for you and your teen to experiment with.
What does that mean, exactly?
Below are simple strategies for rapidly bringing down the level of stress or emotional overwhelm acting on the body, nervous system, and cognitive mind. When we’re activated, aggravated, or feeling overwhelmed, it’s difficult to discern where our stressors are actually coming from, what can be done, and how to prioritize our actions.
Common Names for 3 Strategic Interventions:
- 4-Thumps: Rapid Regulator
- 3×3 Heart Breathing: Rapid Clarifier
- Tension Taming Technique: Rapid Release & ReSet
4 THUMPS – to rapidly rebalance
3×3 Heart Breathing – to quickly clarify
- Place hands on top of one another, on upper chest
- Breathe slowly and deeply in through nose, out through lips., 3x
- Ask: What one thing is most present to me, right now?
- Drop answer into the sentence: ‘I’m ok, and __ is what’s most present, right now’
- Switch hands position: bottom hand comes to top
- Repeat same sequence at least 2 more times
- Drop new answers into each sentence
- Repeat until clarity achieved
Tension Taming Technique – rapid release and re-set
These diagrams are from Tapping, a complementary health & well-care family of stress release techniques, commonly self-applied. More resources, including video demonstrations, written instructions, and a downloadable brochure, are available free to the public here: www.R4R.support
For those interested in the research behind Tapping, here are some links you’ll appreciate:
A recent study on Teen Anxiety
A collection of research studies on Tapping/EP:
Short Fact Sheet:
Longer collection listing:
The Science Behind Tapping
A recent book by Dr. Peta Stapleton
Please note: Tapping is not a substitute for your physician or prescribed medication. As with all interventions, exercise sound judgement in using it.
About the Author: Jondi Whitis teaches people how to quickly, easily, and effectively help themselves. A Master Trainer of Trainers in the popular art of Tapping, she’s a former Teaching Artist and Film/TV producer who has helped thousands quickly relieve suffering, identify root causes, release troubling memories and Feel Better, Fast.
Photo by www.rawpixel.com
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post 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 the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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