Anxiety is something that everyone experiences. Healthy amounts of anxiety helps us prepare for unexpected situations and keeps us aware of the dangers around us. However, unhealthy amounts of anxiety can be debilitating. It can get in the way of living your life and prevent you from doing the things that make you happy.

Symptoms of anxiety

When we think of an anxious person, we think of someone who is afraid or worried. However, teens with anxiety can also be distracted, irritable and avoidant. They may struggle with fatigue, headaches or stomachaches and have trouble sleeping. Although this might sound like a stereotypical teenager, it’s important to look out for sudden changes or worsening symptoms. When fears and worries become so overwhelming that they interfere with school, home, or activities, a teen may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that can be treated by a mental health professional.

Risk factors

Many factors may play a role in why some people develop high amount of anxiety, including biology and temperament. However, we do know that teens are more likely to develop anxiety when they experience trauma or stress, when they are maltreated, when they are bullied or rejected by other children, or when their own parents have anxiety. While we know these risk factors can have a negative impact on children, we also know there are protective factors that help their mental wellbeing.

Protective factors

Leading a healthy lifestyle is especially important for children with anxiety. It can help in managing symptoms and protect their overall wellbeing. These protective factors include:

  • Eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, nuts and seeds
  • Engaging in physical activity for 60 minutes or more each day
  • Getting enough sleep each night. 9-12 hours for 10-12 year olds. 8-10 hours for 12-18 year olds
  • Practicing mindfulness or relaxation techniques like deep breathing
  • Having predictable and consistent routines
  • Positive social support

Managing anxiety

There are a variety of ways to manage anxiety. Different strategies work for different people so it’s best to have a toolbox of strategies and to keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Please don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work the first time you try it. It takes time to practice a skill and develop a new habit.

Emotional self-regulation, or the ability to modify our thoughts and emotions, is an important part of being able to calm down and think more realistically. Having a growth mindset and positive self-regard helps teens feel more capable and less anxious. Often our unhelpful thinking styles can cause unnecessary anxiety. We might be thinking in all or nothing terms or that we know what others are thinking without asking them, or be convinced of what might happen in the future. The truth is that we don’t actually know these things, so being open minded is important.

Healthy coping skills help us manage negative thoughts and feelings. Going for a walk, making your favourite snack, listening to music are all examples of healthy coping strategies. Remember that coping skills help you face challenging thoughts and feelings, not avoid them. It’s ok to distract or take a break from your thoughts when you’re feeling anxious, but avoiding your problems will only make them worse.

Talking to someone about your feelings can be an effective way to manage anxiety. If you don’t already have a support system in place, try finding someone who is good at listening and willing to talk when you need. This could be a friend, family member, teacher, coach, or counsellor. Everyone experiences anxiety but it is important to reach out for help if you or someone you know is struggling with unhealthy amounts of anxiety.