Coping with an anxious teenager

In Guest Blog by Elena Langtry

Janey Downshire and Naella Grew are both qualified counsellors specialising in teenage development. They set up Teenagers Translated nearly a decade ago, a business aimed at helping parents and adolescents through the turbulent teenage years. Their new book, based on their unique range of presentations and workshops, translates current research in neuroscience, psychology and neurobiology into practical strategies for parents.

The material aims to deepen an understanding of the links between emotions, physiology and teen behavior and helps parents foster good mental health, resilience and wellbeing in their teens and pre-teens. As professional mothers of 7 young adult children between them, Janey and Naella are well aware of the challenges parents face today, and this book reveals their most effective strategies which have been used to help thousands of families.


Naella and I met 12 years ago whilst studying psychology and the role of emotions on a 3 years Counseling Diploma.  We also spent time reflecting on our teen/pre-teen children – we had 7 to understand/manage – and this was how Teenagers Translated began. Over the years we’ve met thousands of parents, but the palpable difference today is the volume and severity of issues which parents are hungry for answers to.  We’re talking panic attacks, depression, unregulated stress, social anxiety, ADHD, chronic fatigue, self-harming behaviours, eating disorders, substance or technology addiction/bingeing, relationship/gender confusion and suicide, most categorized as Mental Disorders, and not only confined to teenagers; children younger than 10 or older than mid 20s are suffering too.

The main culprit at play here is Anxiety, acting as both emotional catalyst and the driving biological force behind mental dis-order.  We find that it helps to visualize our own children’s mental health as water, which should naturally ebb and flow, but when a tsunami or a drought occurs, we might need emergency services.  When things are back to “normal” we both aim to encourage our child to reflect on how they might prevent future tsunamis because this is how they will be able to take responsibility for their emotional/mental health.  In addition, becoming more aware of early warning signs and knowing personal triggers will help anyone be more able to regulate their anxiety.

Anxiety is a big topic in our new book, so here are some of our suggestions for coping with an anxious teen:

Understand the changing brain

The brain is the engine that drives mental health so knowing a few basic facts about it’s structure and how it functions is a vital tool for parents.  It undergoes a massive overhaul from around age 10 to the mid 20s, adapting and moulding to experiences like growing up, separating from family, building new connections, establishing an identity and becoming independent.  The adolescent social brain learns from experiencing important others, so if parents role model calm, logical, measured responses, these will be mirrored back because it’s the parent/child Attachment relationship which has a powerful psychological influence on the ability for a child to self-regulate in crisis.

Triggers

I wake-up in hospital to learn I had suffered a severe panic attack brought on by stress, anxiety and overworking. It can be really hard to explain to someone what it’s like. Take a minute to imagine something that really scares you. Chances are you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s like that.

For me mental exhaustion was the trigger. The very physical loss of breath, consciousness and cognition, was the consequence.

I had always considered myself healthy. Keeping fit and eating all the right things. But, until this point, I had completely side-lined my mental health. Physically I was a well-defended castle, but mentally, I had set-up camp on a flood plain and the storm clouds were looming. Safe to say, I didn’t see it coming.

Learn the art of self-regulation

Feelings of anxiety/panic fuel poor mental habits, like worrying which, like muscles, get stronger with prolonged use. Parents can influence their child’ anxiety (about sleepovers, new school, homework, fallouts, exclusion, failure) by regulating their own anxiety and practicing (and role modeling) practical ways of de-stressing/coping themselves (eg. exercise, music, reading).  Parental worry expresses a vote of no confidence in the child’s ability to manage independently, but having overt, proactive and pragmatic discussions, focusing the child’s mind on how to deal with their difficulties, goes a long way towards promoting inner confidence and resilience.

Know your child

If your intuition tells you something is up, have a think about likely triggers.  Stress chemicals (adrenaline, cortisol) are produced by the mind/body in response to something that the primitive brain reads as a threat eg. changes/loss at home, school, incidents involving close family, exam pressure or illness.  We should not underestimate their impact, as teenagers are more hypersensitive and less resilient than adults.   Technology-use can be a culprit causing anxiety, loneliness, uncertainty, inadequacy, addiction, confusion, fear or sexual dysfunction etc.

It is important not to be relegated to the subs bench, so keep lines of communication openthrough havinga balanced relationship with a positive, parent-y influence.

Use the most effective tool in your tool kit

The secure, safe parent/child relationship is the most potent tool for stimulating positive change.  Availability and consistency are vital, whilst time deprived, overly stressed parents’ appear uninterested, disengaged or uncaring causing vulnerable teens to experience rising tides of anxiety and dither over direction.   At the other end of the spectrum, parents must avoid being over attentive and helpful and robbing a child from the potential of boosting their own self-esteem, by sorting it for them.  If we want to avoid anxious snowflake children who melt when in the heat, parents must not dis-able them.  Having no hands-on experience of dealing with day-to-day pressures leaves a child in a perpetual state of anxiety, which may be felt too acutely, too often or at the slightest provocation, never learning resilience skills necessary to bounce back from the inevitable challenges which face them on their journey.

 

Teenagers Translated is founded and run by Janey Downshire (Grad. Dip. Couns; Cert Emotional Literacy; MBACP) and Naella Grew (BA; MA; Grad. Dip. Couns; MBACP). Both trained counselors with over 10 yrs of experience promoting positive teenage mental health and emotional wellbeing for parents, school staff and students. For further information, please visit www.teenagerstranslated.co.uk or email Janey@teenagerstranslated.co.uk.  Books for sale at Talks or available from Amazon and Waterstones.

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“My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness”



“My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness”