As a parent, getting help for your anxious teenager is a top priority. To help him or her live a happy, healthy life, you first have to open the lines of communication with your teen, discuss the need for professional help, and find a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional you both like.
You can learn more about this process in our Guide to Therapy for Parents of Teens.
The next step for you is to make sure you’re supporting your teen on a daily basis. Read on to learn how you can help your teen improve the outcomes of therapy by building a support team and encouraging healthy physical habits.
Find a Support Person
Your teen’s support person is the cheerleader who encourages him or her from the sidelines, especially when he or she is struggling or feeling frightened or intimidated. Your teen might choose you, as his/her parent, to be the support person, but might also consider another family member, trusted friend, teacher, school counselor, or religious advisor. To help your teen select the right support person, start a discussion around the below questions:
Is my potential support person…
- Available to me in person, by email, or by phone when I need support?
- Willing to listen to what I have to say rather than assuming my concerns are trivial?
- Familiar with my particular situation and willing and able to keep this information private, so long as I am safe?
- Able to treat me with dignity and respect, and see that my anxious mind is only one part of me, not the whole me?
If your teen decides he or she would like someone other than you to be his/her support person, the next step is to set up a time to talk (ideally face-to-face) with that person and outline how they want to discuss his anxiety problem. The goal is for your teen to communicate that he or she is experiencing anxiety, and it has become a problem in his or her everyday life. He/she should explain that he/she is getting help from a professional, but would like a support person to also commit to helping him/her manage anxiety, primarily by being there when your teen needs someone to talk to.
Calm Body Tools
Learning to relax and calm his or her body will help your teen calm their anxious mind. Using techniques we call Calm Body Tools, your teen can learn to handle rapid and anxious breathing, relax muscles, and quiet the mind—ultimately slowing down the Worry Wheel.
Deep breathing is a particularly effective tool for calming your teen’s anxious mind at school, since it’s not likely to draw attention from peers.
Calm Body Tool #1: Abdominal Breathing
Your teen should find a quiet spot to sit in a comfortable chair or lie down, then follow these steps:
- Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth (unless your teen can’t do this for medical reasons). It’s okay to do all the breathing through the mouth, if need be.
- Breathe in slowly for a count of three and imagine the word “calm.”
- Pause and hold the breath for a count of three.
- Breathe out slowly for a count of three and imagine the word “mind.”
- Pause and hold for another count of three.
- Repeat this breathing pattern for a total of 10 to 15 minutes.
Note that this deep-breathing exercise can be done for a shorter period of time if your teen is, for example, at school and needs to calm down before a test. Deep breathing is a particularly effective tool for calming your teen’s anxious mind at school, since it’s not likely to draw attention from peers.
Calm Body Tool #2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Just as professional athletes and musicians make sure to release tension before a game or performance, teens should practice relaxing their muscles to decrease anxiety. Here is a routine to try:
- Begin with the face. Squeeze the eyes tightly, scrunch the nose, stretch the mouth into a wide smile, and bite down to tense the mouth and jaw. Hold for 15 seconds, then release and relax for 15 seconds. Keep the rest of the body relaxed, moving through one muscle group at a time for 15 second intervals.
- Make fists with the hands and cross the arms at the wrist. Hold the arms up in front of the body, pushing them against each other (almost like arm-wrestling). Hold for 15 seconds; release and relax for 15 seconds.
- Stretch the arms behind the back and try to touch the elbows together. Hold; release and relax.
- Suck in the stomach, flex the abdomen, and clench the buttock muscles together. Hold; release and relax.
- Stretch the legs straight out in front of the body, point the toes toward the face, and scrunch them tightly. Hold; release and relax.
- Notice the difference between tense muscles and relaxed muscles. Repeat the muscle groups to relax more.
Calm Body Tool #3: Visualization
Helping your teen with visualization techniques can allow him or her to calm an anxious mind and body and enhance focus and attention. Here are some steps to practice visualization:
- Lie down in a quiet place, closing the eyes and resting comfortably face-up.
- Think of a calm place to visit—real or imaginary!—and use the senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch to explore the scene.
- Pay attention to the feeling in the body: Are the muscles relaxing? Are the heart rate and breathing slowing down? Is the mind getting quieter as it focuses on the visual images?
- Spend 5-10 minutes noticing how peaceful it feels and enjoying the sense of calm.
By helping your teen find a support person and develop calm body tools, you can contribute to the overall process of improving his or her mental health. There are a number of additional resources available, including the APA’s Psychologist Locator and our guide to determining when and how to get professional help.
Adapted from My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic, by Michael A. Tompkins, PhD and Katherine Martinez, PsyD
Related Books from Magination Press
My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic
Can you spare 30 minutes to feel less anxious?
Go ahead. Think about how your life would be different if you were less anxious. What would change? Would you try out for the basketball team? Ask someone out on a date? Would you sleep better and feel less tense? Would you feel calmer and happier?
My Anxious Mind outlines a simple and proven plan to help you understand and deal with your anxiety and panic. It is chock full of simple-to-use tools and strategies that easily fit into any teen’s busy routine. (ages 12-18)
How to Feel Good: 20 Things Teens Can Do
Being a teenager can be tough. It can be really hard sometimes to feel good about yourself and your abilities. New relationships and experiences are happening all around you, and that can make you insecure, overwhelmed, or stressed out.
How to Feel Good will help you slow down and pay attention to how you feel and what you think about yourself.
This book presents 20 simple, mind-healthy skills to guide you toward self-awareness and to teach you to stay calm and self-confident. You will also find additional strategies, self-reflection questions, and easy-to-do tools to help end frustration and develop patience so that you can achieve your goals.
Are you ready? Do 1 or learn all 20 skills and take charge of you. You are just a step away from feeling more confident, secure, and GREAT! (ages 13-18)