Tame Your Own Anxiety to Be a Good Role Model for Your Teen
Today, little everyday life stressors can seem amplified against the backdrop of the raging pandemic, a divided country, social upheaval, and economic uncertainties. While it’s been difficult for adults, our teens have also had their fair share of struggles, losses, and missed events – like sleepovers, sports and other extracurricular activities, and even graduations. In short, our world has been turned upside down.
Therefore, we need to strengthen our resiliency muscles – and those of our teens – to learn from setbacks and bounce back. One way to help teens develop these skills is to model healthy ways of coping.
Modeling how to effectively manage fear, stress, grief, and anxiety doesn’t mean pretending everything is OK. When you show your teen how to handle life when things are challenging or aren’t going as planned, you help to instill the lifelong skill of resiliency in them. As adults, we all know how often this valuable skill will come in handy.
There are many healthy ways to tame anxiety and reduce the stressors of life. Here are some suggestions you can practice and help model for your teen, or perhaps encourage them to try out themselves:
Breathing: “Four-square” breathing is a great way to calm yourself. Inhale to a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, exhale to a count of 4, and hold the breath for a count of 4. Repeat 4 times.
Exercise: Physical activity of any kind is a great stress reliever. Just 10 minutes of walking can really shift your mood. It’s even better if you can do it with a family member or friend.
Meditation: Meditation is really just allowing your brain some time to relax. You can download a meditation app to your phone, such as Insight Timer, Headspace, or Calm. YouTube is a great source of meditations as well. If you find that your mind is racing when trying to meditate, check out a guided meditation where the speaker’s voice and words direct your focus.
Positive affirmations: Our words matter, especially the words we use to describe ourselves and our ability to handle whatever life throws our way. A personal favorite is, “I am the architect of my life.” To find your favorite, browse this affirmation list. Share your affirmation(s) with your teen and help them come up with their own affirmation about handling stress. Ask them to try to repeat it to themselves daily, and see how it makes them feel.
Listen to music: Music can set the mood and be truly uplifting and inspiring, especially when times are tough. Making a “go-to” playlist of favorite tunes that lift your spirits – personalized to you and your teen – can be a great way to handle an otherwise gloomy moment.
Practice gratitude: A proven way to build resiliency and manage stress is to focus on what you have, instead of what you are missing in your life. Some families share something or someone they are grateful for every day at a shared meal. Others keep a gratitude journal and jot down three things they’re grateful for every day. Encourage your teen to keep a journal, too, and share their entries from time to time.
Do something for others: We continue to see acts of kindness, especially in this age of COVID-19, whether it’s a collective effort like a food drive or at an individual level like a student sending a kind letter to someone hurting. Engage in acts of kindness, whether big or small, as a way to model stress management for your teen. Ask them to join in or share with you their ideas on things they can do for others.
Manage your stressors: While these techniques can be helpful, examining the root cause of your stress is equally important. For example, having a conversation with your boss about how to manage an extremely heavy and overwhelming workload might be more useful than simply relying on ways to manage your stress.
Share with your teen what you’re doing to tame your anxiety, manage your stressors and why so they better understand what you’re feeling and how you’re handling it. For example, saying, “I really feel stressed by the news, so I’m going to have a social media detox for the next three days,” or “I had a tough day, so I’m going to soak in the bathtub for the next hour,” lets your teen know not only how you’re feeling, but your healthy way of addressing it.
There are also a few behaviors that aren’t so healthy. For example, pouring yourself a drink and saying, “What a rough day!” signals that drinking is a way to destress even though it’s not a healthy way of doing so. Other not-so-good ways to cope? Binging on sweets, bottling up emotions while pretending everything is normal, or snapping at loved ones.
As a final thought, be sure to call attention to and compliment your teen for their own positive coping strategies and don’t be discouraged if they don’t ‘take’ to it right away. Just like your own positive coping strategies, it takes practice. Keep at it.
Pat Aussem is the Associate Vice President of Consumer Clinical Content Development at Partnership to End Addiction. In this role she develops services and resources relevant to the families they serve, simplifying complex information from multiple sources into understandable and actionable materials for lay audiences. She is a frequent spokesperson for the organization on topics including vaping, marijuana, opioids, medications to assist treatment and co-occurring disorders among others.
In addition to an MBA in Finance, Pat has her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and is licensed in New York as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and in New Jersey as a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Master Addiction Counselor certification. Pat has a small private practice in New Jersey serving families struggling with substance use and other mental health disorders and is on the board of Community in Crisis, a local non-profit focused on ending the opioid epidemic.
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