What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the ever present feeling that something dreadful is going to happen, coupled with the fear that you won’t be able to cope. At its core is “What if…?” an open ended, non resolvable question that lives full time and RENT FREE in our minds. “It” never takes a shape or a name and as such can shift into whatever new perceived threat we can imagine. Anxiety makes us not present, it keeps us small, safe from all the imagined threats to our comfort.
But wait… I thought this was a problem solving blog..?
Read on… let’s dive in and get a game plan to help your teen and you feel better when anxiety rears its ugly head. Speaking of your head…
Your Brain Is Not Your Friend (Yet)
If your teen (or you for that matter- anxiety doesn’t discriminate) feels anxious, they usually have a busy mind whirring, taking in all the possible risks or failures that they are convinced will befall them. That trip they’ve been dying to go on? They’ll imagine they’ll get sick beforehand. Or worse have the runs on the plane. So they worry themselves sick. Literally.
So… It’s Not All In My Head?
Yes & No. Anxiety is real and can lead to physical discomfort. However, it does not have to rule and ruin your life. Most anxious thoughts can be resolved.
Your Brain Just Wants to Keep You Alive- (Not Happy)
Your brain is a risk assessment machine. It looks for possible risks and seeks to avoid them.
AT ALL COSTS.
Even if that makes you miserable.
Stay safe, stay small, don’t ride a bike that’s dangerous, don't ask that girl out… she might say no….
Your inside voice, the one inside your head just goes on and on, only seeks evidence of impending failure. You see, your brain isn’t the love engine.
But let’s not get distracted here…
Your brain wants to keep you safe and avoid risk. Risk perception lives in the limbic system, the amygdala , where your brain switches on your fight or flight instincts. Physically you feel the threat (ANXIETY- this is a nifty print out to explain all the mechanisms at work) Your brain doesn't know, or care, if that threat is real. It just wants you on high alert. So, your body switches on all the alarms, flooding your body with adrenalin to prepare you for combat- cue sweaty palms, stomach churning, rapid breathing…..
If I don’t look at it, it’ll go away… right?
Don’t IGNORE IT or DISTRACT IT…
Ignoring your teen’s anxious feelings is actually the worst thing you can do. In fact, the more you ignore the feeling, the bigger the issue become.- like the elephant 🐘 in the room. We cannot gain confidence in our ability to overcome anxiety without physically experiencing it. We must get the evidence of having gone through the scary feelings, sometimes several times, in order to gain the armour of courage. Through the miracles of neuroplasticity we can rewire our brain out of automatic reaction, to a calm measured one. According to Dr Julie Smith in her book Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? - Amazon.ca “Our attempts to control fear and eliminate it become the real problem…” We often try to distract ourselves with food, drugs, alcohol or mindless scrolling; these behaviours only provide a temporary salve , and inflict long term damage.
Anxious Thoughts… this too shall pass
Fortunately the teenage brain is incredibly adaptable Dan Siegel - "The Adolescent Brain" - YouTube. We can help rewire new behaviours which will in turn fire and wire new neural pathways to find solutions that serve our kids and parents better.
Here’s Your Teen Toolkit
1 Box Breathing
Too busy to meditate and, besides, meditation is weird? Or you just feel waaaay too frazzled?
Ok- do you have 16 seconds?
Then use the 4-4-4-4 box breathing method used by Navy Seals Calm Down Instantly: Navy SEALs Breathing Technique Explained This technique works out the mind’s muscle to make it stronger in the face of challenge. You can do it anywhere and it doesn’t need Wifi! Try it for ONE WEEK and get back to me….you’ll be amazed. Cat scans of brains before and after meditative practices reveal structural changes in the brain.
2 Let Go, Get Curious, Get Specific
Let go of your need to control or fix. In fact, as a parent of teens who’ve struggled with anxious thoughts, this has been my biggest lightbulb moment. Instead of me trying to FIX my kids, I took my foot off the gas and offered quiet and loving support. This looked like less words and more like hugs. Why try to find a rational solution to an irrational issue? What you and your teen need is soothing. This made me feel less anxious- not that I felt less emotion- if anything my feelings were more intense- but it was full of love, not worry.
Let go of shame. What you’re feeling is OK. You are not broken. You are not alone. What’s wrong with me, mum? Maybe your teen is behaving quite normally in our bonkers times…
Then acknowledge the feeling… get specific
Here’s an exercise- write it down- pen and paper- again no Wifi needed..
I notice that I am feeling ______________
It’s okay that I am feeling _____________
I know that I can cope with this and this too shall pass.
***If you would like more meditation I highly recommend Sharon Salzberg’s loving kindness one…
3- Move Your Body, Move Your Mind
The quickest way to move from an anxious state is to physically move. Exercise, walk the dog- borrow a neighbour’s- go to a workout class with friends or play a game of tennis… It doesn’t matter what you do, it just matters that you move. This literally gets you out of your head and into your body, allowing you to distance yourself from the feelings.
4- It’s NOT Your Job to Worry
Our teens are bombarded with a steady diet of doom on their phones. A constant drum beat of bad news, or the scrolling feed of comparison-itis. Comparison is the thief of joy and now it’s all nicely packaged on Instagram. Put the phone away. Reconnect with your inner joy. Find what lights you up and keep doing it. Joy is your job.
5- Back to Basics ABC’s
Are you getting enough sleep? Again- put the phone away and buy an alarm clock. Or a rooster. Wake up to something other than the doom scroll. fabÜ R&R RELAX can help you get the good night’s sleep you deserve.
What are you eating? Is it mostly crap? Chances are, you’ll mostly feel like crap if you’re only eating Taytos. Nothing against the Holy Cheese and Onion, but feed your body the fuel it deserves. 80/20 rule here applies. No-one wants to live like a monk. Unless, er, you are one reading this now… in which case… are you anxious?
At the end of the day, anxiety happens to us all.
However, with the right tools in place and the practice of them, you and your teenager can navigate the storms ahead.
Worry is never worth it. 99% of what we imagine never comes true.
Trust yourself. Build your courage. Live life loudly. We need your voice. You need and deserve JOY.