5 Supportive Strategies Every Parent Of An Anxious Teen Should Know

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5 Strategies For Helping Teens With Anxiety
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Anxiety in teens can worry parents about how they can best help, or if they're even capable of helping. 

Your worry shows you care — a lot. You're doing your best to be the parent your teen needs you to be, no matter how ineffective you may feel.

Understanding and helping your teen face their normal — and perhaps not-so-normal — anxiety can feel challenging at best.

RELATED: 9 Reasons Why Anxiety Disorders In Teens Is On The Rise

Is professional mental health help the best answer to supporting teens with anxiety? 

Getting your teen to try therapy may become your ultimate goal in helping your teen more effectively address their anxiety.

But in the meantime, here are 5 strategies for helping anxious teens cope.

1. Start with the basics.

In this case, the basics include exercise, sleep, nutrition, and hydration. Each of these physical needs has been repeatedly linked to cognitive control, as well as emotional regulation.

They are especially important in helping your teen become more aware of their emotional signals.

Exercise provides a mental and emotional boost — so long as it is voluntarily done. It also helps your anxious teen practice being uncomfortable or even tolerate pain.

This practice of tolerating discomfort in the physical can spill over into the emotional world, building mental resilience.

Your teen should be getting between eight to 10 hours of sleep every night. They need this much sleep because of all the changes their body and brain are going through.

Sleep helps heal and repair the body, absorb new situations, consolidate memories, and clean the brain.

Eating a diet high in nutrient-dense foods can help provide your teen’s brain the fuel it needs to keep his body running efficiently and smoothly.

It's well-documented that a diet rich in sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and preservatives can wreak havoc on anyone’s blood sugar, arousal circuits, and metabolism.

If your anxious teen eats like this, they could be having a harder time regulating their body and emotions.

However, eating healthy is a whole lot easier said than done, especially when your teen is making their own choices on what to eat.

Providing easily accessible healthy choices and keeping them in places your teen will easily see can be a powerful way to nudge their food choices. When your child is naturally exposed to healthy food options, they are more likely to choose them.

2. Connect with your teen to understand their specific challenges.

Staying connected with and listening to your teen about their worries is critical. Your interaction with them is the only way for you to know how they are doing, and for them to know how much you care about them and their challenges.

Your connection allows your anxious teen to trust in letting you help.

Letting them talk out their worries with you also provides practice for naming and talking about their feelings, which will become a powerful tool in processing anxiety, now and throughout their life.

3. Model how to cope with worry.

Kids are very adept at picking up on nonverbal responses, especially those of their parents.

So, your anxious teen knows when you’re feeling anxious, worried, or stressed.

Modeling healthy ways of coping with anxiety, worry, and stress not only helps you better cope, but allows your teen to observe valuable skills they might choose to try out themselves.

RELATED: 17 Signs Your Teen Is Suffering From Anxiety (& How You Can Help)

4. Teach what anxiety is.

Anxiety can be a super-power, according to celebrity Emma Stone and at least one anxious child.

Let your anxious teen know that anxious people are caring, intelligent, and great problem solvers.

In addition to teaching your child about the positive characteristics of anxious people, share with them what anxiety is, from both a cognitive standpoint and a physiological one.

5. Teach coping mechanisms.

A variety of coping mechanisms can also be taught to your teen, including accepting their anxious feelings instead of fighting against them, which only makes things more uncomfortable.

Remind your teen that anxiety is trying to communicate with them and that understanding their ears can put their problem-solving super-power to work.

Belly breathing is one of the simplest ways to calm anxiety and is something that can be easily taught, along with employing a power pose that can increase feelings of confidence and power prior to high-stakes social situations.

Music, especially slower tunes, can be a powerful way to calm down, along with scrolling comedy or nature-oriented media.

Above all else, reinforce the idea that they are in control of their anxiety, not the other way around. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, noticing and naming the experience can be a powerful way to take control.

From a position of power, your teen will be better able to hear the message anxiety is trying to give them and take appropriate action to mitigate their anxious feelings.

Parenting an anxious teen can be nerve-wracking. You want the best for them and sometimes knowing what to do can be confusing.

Therapy can be a powerful tool in helping your child build coping skills, but there are also things you can do at home to help.

Learning to navigate anxiety requires courage, support, and practice. With your help, your teen can build the skills they need to understand and cope with their feelings, and importantly know they are not alone.

Note: If your teen is facing an emergency mental-health situation, seek help immediately. Examples include threats of suicide, severe withdrawal, violent behavior, and sudden, extreme changes in weight.

RELATED: 9 Mental Health Apps That Can Help Kids & Teens With Anxiety & Depression

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Dr. Alicia Clark is a licensed clinical psychologist. For more help with managing stress and anxiety, check out her anxiety blog, download her free ebook, or sign up for her newsletter.​

This article was originally published at aliciaclarkpsyd.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.