I once heard a wonderful meditation teacher named Cheri Huber say,
“Anxiety is simply part of the human condition.”
I remember feeling some relief when she said that. I had always thought that I was the only one walking around feeling anxious. Maybe we do each other a disservice trying to hide our anxiety from one another.
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist. I’m just someone who runs a summer camp for teenagers. And for the past 18 years, I’ve seen my fair share young people struggling with different anxieties.
When describing their child to me over the phone, many parents will often say they are “sensitive, intelligent, funny, creative, and talented,” and then I know a “but” is coming. The “but” is usually that they struggle with “social anxiety,” and have trouble making close friends.
The anxieties all teens face
As you know, teenagers are going through so many changes. Along with the pressures of school and fitting in, most are living with questions, doubts, and confusing feelings that can lead to plenty of insecurity. Inside, most teens are spinning with all of these intense and often conflicting feelings. Maybe that’s why they may act like it’s the end of the world if their jeans aren’t dry in the morning.
My guess is boys feel all the same intense feelings as girls. But teenage girls are generally taught it’s okay to express their feelings, so boys become better at covering them up. Fritz Perls, the creator of Gestalt Therapy felt anxiety is really nothing more than excitement held inwards. To him it was just not that big a deal, although he recognized for many of us it becomes a stopping point.
So, how can we help our teenagers lessen the anxiety that can be so uncomfortable to live with?
Help your child talk about all of their confusing thoughts and feelings.
They may not be able to talk with you about all of these feelings. Let’s face it, could you talk you your parents when you were a teenager? I think a good therapist can really help teenagers understand that their “secret” thoughts, emotions and desires are pretty standard. It helps to hear that the kids sitting next to them in school are feeling all the same stuff.
I’ve found that when people try to give advice to someone who is feeling anxious, it often falls on deaf ears. Sometimes it can be more helpful to really just listen. Try to understand the feelings underneath their anxiety, and empathize deeply without trying to “fix”.
Carry some of your child’s anxiety for them.
I’m not suggesting that you take their anxiety on and become anxious yourself. Instead, give them the outlet to release some of it to you and “hold it” on their behalf. Adolescent psychologist Lisa Damour believes that most parents often do this unconsciously. This can be tough on parents, but if you can recognize you are holding their anxiety for them, it will probably make things a little easier for both of you.
The more we can normalize anxiety for our teens, the better.
Try to make sure your child understands that anxiety is part of being human. It’s just like sadness, joy, and every other emotion. So many people feel anxiety, it’s just that some have learned either how to cover it up pretty convincingly, or how to manage it over time.
Use boundaries to show them you care.
I read somewhere that a parent who does not give their teenage child very clear boundaries is saying to them, “I don’t know how to love you.” So, please give your teen very clear boundaries and know that it helps them to feel loved, and hence less insecure and anxious.
Let their excitement out.
If Fritz is right about anxiety being excitement held inward, how can you help your child get some of that excitement out? At camp, we love to have energetic, wild dances. We have activities where we just go in the woods and scream. It’s tough on the voice, but good for the mood. We do anything to get us into our bodies and out of our heads for a while. We also offer plenty of yoga, meditation, and discussion groups to help talk through and understand some of the issues they may be dealing with.
The more we can help our teenagers understand and express the scary and sometimes shameful feelings they live with, the more room they will have within themselves to hold all the powerful emotions that come with being a teen.
Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp
A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity.