Anxiety is a feeling everyone experiences at some point. In some situations, anxiety can be helpful; it keeps us alert, protects us from danger and helps us notice problems around us. But for some kids and teens, that sense of anxiety grows too strong or too frequent and can get in the way of their day-to-day activities, and these tips on how to manage anxiety can help.
One in four adolescents have mild to moderate anxiety, making it the most common mental health disorder among young people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Anxiety can feel different to each person and may or may not seem to be triggered by a specific event or setting.
Whatever the symptom, anxiety can really interrupt your day-to-day life. Knowing what the symptoms are and learning some coping skills can help anxiety feel much more manageable.
Common symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Feeling overly worried, nervous or afraid
- Sleep problems
- Muscle tension
- Avoiding certain situations
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Becoming easily tired
Five tips to manage anxiety:
1. Find ways to relax
When you feel anxious, your muscles tense up, your heart rate increases, and your breathing gets shallower. Take deep breaths for a while to try to get your body back to a resting state.
Try this: Pretend your belly is a balloon. Breathe in to make it bigger, then breathe out and watch it shrink. Count slowly to four when you breathe in and then to four when you breathe out.
2. Face your fears
It might sound scary, but facing your fears is proven to help. It’s called exposure, and it involves taking small steps to getting yourself used to things that make you anxious.
Try this: Get the help of a parent or adult you trust and start with something small. They can help guide you through exposure to it until you start to become less anxious. Using the deep breathing exercise above will also help.
3. Take charge of your thinking
The tricky thing about anxiety is that it’s easy to think negative thoughts when you’re anxious. Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself, and avoid thinking negatively, jumping to conclusions or assuming the worst.
Try this: Ask yourself, “What would I tell my friend if they were in this situation?” or try thinking of times you’ve been able to handle a tough problem.
4. Get enough sleep
Anxiety can cause a frustrating cycle. When we’re anxious, it can be hard to sleep. But not getting enough sleep can make us feel more anxious. Try to eliminate the things that keep you awake and focus instead on setting aside some relaxing time before bed.
Try this: Dedicate the hour before bed to quiet time. Stay away from your phone, TV and computer—the bright lights trick your brain into staying awake longer. Try listening to calm music or meditating instead.
5. Get support
You never have to go through anxiety alone. Having people to turn to for support makes a big difference. A therapist, such as a psychologist, social worker or counselor, can help you understand and manage your feelings. This might be through talk therapy (also called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT), medication or a combination of both.
Always remember to call 911 if you are in a crisis or are feeling like you want to hurt yourself or others. Helplines are available by calling 1-800-273-TALK or texting “CONNECT” to 741741.