"My youth worries all the time."
Is What I’m Seeing Normal?
Feeling worried or anxious is something that everyone experiences at different times in their lives. Think about the last time you were stressed out because of work or the last time you knew someone was going to tell you bad news. There are many situations and things in life that can cause these feelings of anxiety or worry. Anxiety is a common response to stress and helps people cope in difficult situations.
Should I Be Worried?
Everyone goes through feelings of anxiety at some point in their life, no matter who they are. Sometime feelings of anxiety in youth may look very different than anxiety in adults. It’s very common for youth to act out when feeling worried or anxious. However, if their emotions and out of character behaviors become overwhelming and interfere with their everyday life, you may want to explore with them some options and strategies in order to get to the root of their issues and find solutions. It’s important to be there as a support person for your youth, and to try to set aside your own worries and fears about what they are going through. As the adult, it’s essential to listen with empathy and without judgment, in order to help your youth get through their difficulties.
Signs of anxiety in your youth may include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Having difficulty being away from you (being “clingy”)
- Stomach aches or headaches
- Changes in their appetite
- Problems falling asleep or not being able to sleep at all
- Body pains (eg: numbness, spasms, sore muscles)
- Feeling afraid in general, or an intense fear of specific things or situations (e. g. spiders, enclosed spaces)
- Feeling irritable or having a short “fuse”
- Experiencing repetitive thoughts, rituals or actions (e. g. hand washing, checking)
- Worrying about things a lot
- Low self-esteem
- Having trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Spending less time with family and friends
- Experiencing panic attacks
- Avoiding anxiety-provoking situations (e. g. exams, parties)
How Can You Help
There are different strategies you can try to minimize the intensity of your youth’s anxiety. These may include:
1.) Providing a healthy and balanced diet (reduce the availability of caffeine, energy, etc in the house)
2.) Taking up hobbies you’re interested in that you could possibly do together or encouraging them to get involved in an activity that interests them (e. g. yoga, journaling, painting, drawing, writing, playing an instrument, etc)
3.) Learning relaxation exercises like deep breathing, muscle relaxation and meditation; you can model them for your youth and they can also help you eliminate your own stress!
4.) Getting in touch with your spiritual side (e. g. church/temple/mosque, etc)
5.) Asking the youth what they feel they need and giving them a chance to voice what they think would help them
6.) Listening intently to understand and not jumping to give advice; youth often just want to be heard and not judged-- they may ask you later for your guidance once they feel that you have really listened to and understood their worries
7.) Helping them to focus on the positives in his/her life (e. g. What went well today?)
8.) Encouraging them to learn about anxiety as a mental health issue
9.) Encouraging them to seek professional help if necessary
It’s very important for everyone, whether young or old, to maintain positive mental health. The suggestions above are a great start, but there are times when youth may need more than these strategies. Speaking to your family doctor may be helpful in cases where your youth seems unable to cope with his or her worries and it is interfering with his or her daily life (e. g. affecting his or her performance at school and behavior at home or with peers). Your doctor may be able to diagnose the problem, or refer to a psychiatrist who specializes in adolescent mental health. A psychiatrist can determine if your youth is experiencing an anxiety disorder and if so, may recommend medication and/or counseling and more specifically, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is one of the more common and evidence-based treatments used to help youth dealing with anxiety. This form of treatment explores the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behavior, demonstrating how a person thinks about a situation can influence their feelings and actions. CBT also gives them an opportunity to learn about anxiety, normalize and challenge their thoughts and feelings, and understand that there are many youth who experience the same thing they’re going through.
If you are still concerned with your youth’s overwhelming emotions or ongoing anxiety, always remember that you are not alone and there are resources in your community that you can access to help you and the youth work through these issues.