Anxiety is a part of every individual and family. It only becomes a problem when it takes over and runs the show. As a parent, this might look like checking grades every day and micromanaging school work. As a kid, this might look like hanging out at home for excessive periods of time to be on line or play video games while avoiding real friendships.
Managing your own anxiety while helping your kids work through theirs can feel extremely daunting. Below are 5 things that I think all parents should know about anxiety. I hope you find them helpful.
- “Anxiety” represents the physical symptoms associated with “worry”, which are the negative thoughts that trigger those physical sensations. We can help adolescents by helping them shift their negative thoughts (from: “everyone hates me at school” to: ”most people like me or don’t care”) as well as coping with the physical symptoms (taking slow deep breaths to manage stomach ache and shallow breathing). Ultimately, they need to learn that they can handle and get through the uncomfortable feelings instead of avoiding them.
- Anxiety sensitivity is a malleable trait. Adolescence is the last and best opportunity to significantly lower the sensitivity one has to anxiety. The good news is that adolescence (transition to adulthood) starts at around 12 and ends during the mid 20’s so there’s plenty of time : )
- Anxiety feeds on control and certainty. Overcoming anxiety involves tolerating uncertainty and gray. You can help by increasing your child’s problem solving and self-reflection skills.
- Anxiety is an important and essential system. Due to a combination of genetics, environment and massive changes happening in their brain, adolescents typically have a much harder time coping and navigating it than children or adults.
- Anxiety is contagious. As a parent, when your child gets anxious, notice when you start to feel more anxious in response. The more anxious we are, the more likely we are to be controlling, inflexible or enabling. This in turn, fosters more anxiety in our kids.
In summary, we all experience anxiety to some degree and it doesn’t need to be a problem. Our goal as parents is to help ourselves and our kids learn to work with worry and anxiety instead of supporting a fantasy world where worry, anxiety and uncertainty don’t exist.