Anxiety is a natural human reaction that involves the mind and the body. Anxiety can happen at any time and for any reason. Growing up and experiencing new things can feel overwhelming at times for many children and teens, but there are ways to find peace and manage anxious thoughts. The best ways to deal with anxiety involve taking care of one’s physical and mental health.

In This Article

What You Should Know About Anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree when they go through life. Anxiety can be described as a sense of uneasiness, nervousness, worry, fear, or dread of what’s about to happen or what might happen. While fear is the emotion we feel in the presence of threat, anxiety is a sense of anticipated danger, trouble, or threat. People who struggle with anxiety can experience various symptoms. Some symptoms are mild, but others can have more severe symptoms which interfere with everyday life. If your child or teen is struggling with anxiety, they are not alone.

Anxiety Is Common

It is very likely that you will experience anxiety at some point or know a friend or family member who struggles with anxiety. Approximately 40 million people struggle with anxiety in the U.S. and about 8% of children and teens experience anxiety. 

Anyone Can Experience Anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives. Anxiety occurs on a spectrum, and some people experience anxiety more often than others. Experiencing anxiety does not mean that a person is weak or lacks courage. Anxiety can affect anyone, and it has nothing to do with a person’s character or strength. Exams, grades, relationship conflicts, doctor’s appointments and other concerns can trigger anxiety. When the symptoms of anxiety become difficult to manage and start to interfere with everyday life, it is time to seek help.

Anxiety has a Function

Anxiety happens when the brain assumes there is a threat or perceives a dangerous situation. Anxiety makes a person alert, focused, and ready to head off potential problems, a little anxiety can help us do our best in situations that involve performance. It can help us become more prepared as we face a situation and the adrenaline and other chemicals that are released help prepare the body to make a quick getaway from danger. However, the brain doesn’t always analyze situations correctly, so anxiety can occur even when the brain perceives a threat but there is no real danger. 

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety can cause people to have negative thoughts. In children and teens, these thoughts may consist of worries about grades, being accepted at school or speaking in front of others. A teen struggling with anxiety might worry over “what if?” questions and fear worst-case scenarios. They might also have feelings of panic that occur suddenly or experience depersonalization, the sensation of being separate or disconnected from one’s surroundings or physical self. 

Physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by rush of adrenaline and other chemicals that prepare the body to respond to the perceived threat. They can be mild or extreme. Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety include the following:

  • Feelings of “butterflies” in the stomach
  • Shaky hands
  • Chest tightness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed

Other signs of anxiety include behaviors such as nail-biting, hair-pulling, picking at skin, avoiding certain situations or events or performing certain habits or rituals like compulsive hand-washing.

14 Ways to Manage and Deal With Anxiety

Taking care of mental and physical health makes it possible to find a sense of calm and manage anxiety. At Hillside, we work with children and adolescents to help them learn healthy skills to cope with and manage anxiety. You can help your loved one manage their mental health with the following anxiety tips for teens and children.

1. Eat Healthy Meals

Anxiety may cause people to skip meals because they don’t feel hungry or overeat junk food because it temporarily makes them feel good. However, maintaining a healthy diet is essential to managing anxiety. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein can help manage healthy long-term energy levels. 

Food has a significant impact on the brain, so eating well-balanced meals can positively impact moods. Encourage your child or teen to eat healthy food. You can even help make it fun for them by planning times to cook new recipes together or try new foods as a family.

2. Limit Caffeine

Caffeine can increase anxiety and cause panic attacks in some cases. Encourage your child or teen to avoid drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee and soda. You can replace these beverages with healthier options like tea. Some types of tea, such as chamomile and peppermint tea, can even help reduce anxiety.

3. Get Adequate Sleep

Too much or too little sleep can exacerbate anxiety, and when a child or teen is experiencing anxiety they may need a little extra rest. Make sure your child or teen is getting about 8 hours of sleep each night. Limit electronic use one to two hours before bed to help their brain relax and prepare for sleep.

4. Exercise Regularly

Exercise sends oxygen to the cells in the body and brain to help them function properly. Physical activity can significantly manage anxiety and ease the symptoms that come with it because it releases endorphins in the brain that trigger positive feelings. Exercise can distract children and teens from anxious feelings. 

Encourage your child or teen to exercise by walking, running, dancing, playing sports or practicing other physical activities. Any activity that increases their heart rate can reduce anxiety symptoms, so help them think of a physical activity that they enjoy.

5. Check Your Thinking

Excessive anxiety is mainly caused by negative or distorted thoughts. It occurs when we dwell on worst-case scenarios. For some, a way to ease anxiety is to acknowledge what we think may go wrong and redirect that thought to focus instead on what is going right. In dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), there is a skill called “Check the Facts,” which helps a person examine if their perception is accurate to the facts of the situation.

If your child or teen is struggling with negative thoughts, encourage them to think about good things, even if they are small. Ask them to tell you one positive thing that happened during their day, and help them appreciate the small and big moments of happiness they experience. Help them think through their interpretations, thoughts, and assumptions they may have about the situation.

6. Practice Mindfulness

Anxiety causes people to worry about things that could happen, but mindfulness is a practice that can train the brain to focus on the present and avoid dwelling on things that may or may not happen. Mindfulness can help your child or teen learn how to manage anxious thoughts. To help your child or teen practice mindfulness, encourage them to get into a comfortable position and close their eyes. Next, they should focus on their breathing and the way the air feels as it enters their lungs. 

They can also focus on their chest rising and falling, the rhythm of their heartbeat, things they can hear and what they feel inside and outside of their body. If negative thoughts start to creep back in, encourage them to steer their focus back to their breathing and their present sensations. 

Mindfulness is the foundation of DBT, a type of cognitive therapy that helps to reduce emotional extremes such as anxiety. Mindful practices can help adolescents become more aware of their emotions and learn ways to manage anxiety effectively.

7. Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing can initiate relaxation in the mind and body. It sends oxygen to the brain and creates a feeling of calmness by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The 4-7-8 breathing technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil is a conscious breathing exercise that can put the mind and body in a relaxed state. To practice this exercise, your child or teen should sit in a comfortable position, preferably with their back straight. They can then place their tongue against the back of their top teeth. 

They will breathe in through their nose for four seconds, hold their breath for 7 seconds and exhale through their mouth for 8 seconds, pushing the air out around their tongue to make a whooshing sound. If the last step is difficult, they can purse their lips as they exhale. They can then repeat this cycle for four breaths and increase as they become more comfortable with the practice.

8. Connect With Other People

Spending time with family or friends can have a significant impact on mental health. Peer support can help children and teens feel supported, loved and happy. Encourage your child or teen to do fun things with friends or family members. When children and teens feel connected to others it reminds them that they are understood and not alone.

9. Spend Time in Nature

Being in nature invokes feelings of peacefulness and relaxation. Encourage your child or teen to connect with nature through hiking, walking, running or trail biking. You can even plan a picnic at a state park or a fun fishing trip. Just being in nature is enough to help ease the symptoms of anxiety.

At Hillside, we offer horticulture therapy sessions to help children and teens explore mindfulness in nature. Horticulture therapy focuses on the plant life cycle and allows children and adolescents to explore garden landscapes while building their self-esteem and learning about healing and reflection.

10. Reduce Time on Social Media

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are popular distractions for people throughout the day. However, time spent on these platforms can increase anxiety because they allow us to dwell on negative events and news. 

In addition to negativity, the abundance of positive information on social media can also be damaging to mental health. When we see people posting all the good things in their life, it can give the false appearance of perfection and cause us to fall into a negative spiral of comparison. 

Encourage your child or teen to avoid social media, or set limits for when they can use social media sites. Scrolling for fun is fine now and then, but it’s healthy to take time away from social media and focus on the present.

11. Practice Yoga

Yoga is a gentle and relaxing form of exercise. It involves stretching the muscles and focusing on breathing, so it’s a great way to practice activity, mindfulness and deep breathing at the same time. Your child or teen can practice yoga in the comfort of their own home, or they can join a yoga class to learn stretches from an instructor and meet new people.

12. Listen to Music

Music can reduce anxiety in various ways. Playing instruments, writing songs and singing are ways children and teens can express and work through their emotions. In addition, listening to music can reduce anxiety because of its repetition and rhythm, which interact with our brain and can induce feelings of calmness and decrease impulsivity. 

13. Avoid Procrastination

Anxiety disorders can cause procrastination, especially if your child or teen is avoiding what is causing their anxiety. However, procrastination often worsens anxiety because it prolongs whatever is making them feel anxious and causes them to dwell on it. If your child or teen is anxious about something specific like an upcoming exam or a homework assignment, encourage them to start working on it, even if they start with small steps. Accomplishing small goals can ease symptoms of anxiety and increase confidence.

14. Practice the Grounding Technique

The grounding technique is a five-step exercise that can distract the brain from anxious thoughts and help people feel more grounded in the present. Instruct your child or teen to take some deep breaths and acknowledge the following things that surround them:

  • Five things they can see
  • Four things they can touch
  • Three things they can hear
  • Two things they can smell
  • One thing they can taste

Seek Treatment for Anxiety

Anxiety is common, and it can affect anyone. It can be especially overwhelming for children and teens as they grow and experience changes in life, so it’s important to seek treatment for anxiety when it starts to interfere with their everyday life. Engaging in healthy physical and emotional practices can have a tremendous effect on mental health and significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Contact Hillside to learn more about our anxiety treatments for children and teens. We offer a wide array of individualized mental health treatment services to provide hope for children and families through outpatient, residential and home-based treatment options. If your child or teen is struggling with anxiety, remind them they are not alone and healing is possible. 

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