This is what I remember about growing up anxious.
I remember sitting in my third-grade classroom at Columbia Township elementary school. My stomach churned, I felt shaky, scared, and teary. I tried to explain in a very third grade way to my parents before school, and my teacher later in the day, that I was "sick". It was the only way I had to describe the feeling I experienced so often from the time I was even younger than a third-grader. Since I wasn't actually ill, I had to stay at school, so I made my way back down to the sick room to lay down and try to sleep. I wanted to go home. It didn't help that I didn't like school and I can't help but wonder now if I didn't like school or if I was just a big ball of anxiety so often that I couldn't like school. Later that same third-grade year a yellow sticky note fell out of a pile of my work that simply said, "always sick" on it. And yes, I was. I was always anxious, and for anyone who has experienced that feeling, sick is very definitely a perfect way to describe it.
Fast forward to junior high, still at the same little school, still anxious but now anxious with pre-teen hormones and the havoc they cause on little bodies and minds. I can tell you exactly where I was sitting in the library that no longer stands when I read an article about Ryan White. I remember where the book was on the shelf that told a story about a child with leukemia and how I loved the story and was terrified at the same time, and I remember the exact beginning of the up-leveling of my underlying anxiety to a more adolescent level. As I moved on to high school and college, and then into adulthood, the anxiety continued and grew until a level of depression set in and I wasn't sure how much more I could stand. It was relentless, it was debilitating, and it was constant.
This rather depressing introduction is going to have a happy ending so bear with me. For some of you, this may be a familiar story that brings up feelings that you have experienced yourselves. For others, I'll call you the lucky ones, I hope this story doesn't resonate with you in the least because that means that you are not a part of the 18% of the population that struggles with anxiety; a number that is growing rapidly among, specifically, young girls and women. On the other hand, if you are wrestling anxiety or you suspect your teenager is struggling, you are in exactly the right place I get it. I've lived it. I STILL live with it, albeit less often, which is also good news for all of us. Let's talk about what it's like to live with anxiety as a teenager, what resources are there to help, and what techniques you can start using right now to decrease anxiety and help your teenager (or yourself) start taking back their life.
This rather depressing introduction is going to have a happy ending so bear with me. For some of you, this may be a familiar story that brings up feelings that you have experienced yourselves. For others, I'll call you the lucky ones, I hope this story doesn't resonate with you in the least because that means that you are not a part of the 18% of the population that struggles with anxiety; a number that is growing rapidly among, specifically, young girls and women. On the other hand, if you are wrestling anxiety or you suspect your teenager is struggling, you are in exactly the right place I get it. I've lived it. I STILL live with it on occasion, albeit less often, which is also good news for all of us. Today, let's talk about what it's like to live with anxiety as a teenager, what resources are there to help, and what techniques you can start using right now to decrease anxiety and help your teenager (or yourself) start taking back their life.
To be clear, anxiety isn't always a chronic condition and dealing with situations that make you nervous or afraid is part of life. Whether the thought of holding a snake or public speaking makes your heart pound, situational anxiety is normal and it's actually good. Your brain kicks all of those physical processes into high gear to keep you safe. In my coaching, I talk all the time about the little caveman in your head. He's got a great big heart but he isn't very smart sometimes. When your mind perceives danger, your system gets a hefty dose of adrenaline that 10,000 years ago would probably have saved you from the saber-toothed tiger that was about to eat you for lunch. It's when our mind starts perceiving danger in the stories we tell ourselves or from wonky serotonin receptors when we have problems that the same little caveman gives us enough juice to fight a now-extinct predator. Thanks a lot, little caveman.
As a formerly anxious teenager, when I see my students, my own children, or my clients struggling with anxiety issues, it tears at my heart. That feeling of being alone, scared of nothing and everything all at once but not really knowing why you're afraid, and the sense of being out of control and misunderstood all piles on top of your physical symptoms. Symptoms like tunnel-vision, heart palpitations, not being able to swallow, weakness, heightened sensory issues, and exhaustion without being able to sleep. All of that is overwhelming, embarrassing, and terrifying at the same time. Worse, for me, it all compounded on itself making me more afraid, more unsure, and more self-conscious. The cycle can and will stop you in your tracks so you can't learn, much less have carefree fun anymore: anxiety hovers just under the surface when you reach the level I used to live with. If you're not anxious, the fear that you will be soon is nearly as bad.
And what about now? I feel so incredibly blessed to have experienced every single one of these symptoms so that when I see my daughter or son start to melt or when I notice my student trying to breathe through anxiety and hide her rising panic, I can relate and hopefully help them stop... breathe... calm down enough to think... reset... and restart. Let me tell you, this takes practice and guidance!
So, how can you help your son or daughter or even yourself if you don't know where to start? First things first, take yourself and them seriously. They are scared and they don't know why and my not even know what they are scared of. Anxiety presents itself in so many different forms and can be triggered by a situation or from a chemical imbalance. I highly recommend encouraging your teenager to talk to a counselor or a doctor to find out where the anxiety is coming from. While I was a student at Purdue University, I spent a lot of hours in their Psychology department learning Cognitive Behavioral Therapy skills, some of which I use with my coaching clients and with my own kids often. (And yes, I still use them myself on anxious days) Talking with a coach or a counselor can, over time, help relieve anxiety symptoms and offer skills that can help settle the irrational thoughts along with the physical sensations that are hyper-prevalent at times and roll at a slow boil in the background other times. As a coach, I work with my clients to lower their stress levels using breathing and mindfulness, check their diet because food and drink are huge contributors to anxiety attacks for me, and help them sleep better so they can think rationally when they are awake.
I am happy to say that as a 44-year-old anxiety warrior, I am finally able to work through 95% of the situations that would have brought me to my knees with for 30+ years. The process was grueling and certainly not easy but, looking back, it was there to teach me and lead me to you. Without my anxiety, I wouldn't be able to help my children or my students when they struggle, I wouldn't be able to relate to my clients who want change so badly but are scared to take the first step, and I certainly wouldn't be able to write this article encouraging you to hang on tight and find the right resource to help you through because you CAN get through this suck hole you're in. I promise.
If you are looking for someone to help you make big changes in your life regarding anxiety, I would be thrilled to talk with you and see if maybe I am that person for you. You can schedule your free 45-minute Breakthrough session here. We will sit down and talk about what you want for yourself and I promise you'll walk away with at least one great insight into the next step for you whether it is with me or not. You can also call or text me at 260-222-8323 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a time for us to chat.
However you choose to deal with the anxiety that affects your teenager or yourself, don't wait. Don't put off feeling better out of fear of failure or for any other reason. You deserve to feel better and heal and, trust me, you really can do it. I've got your back. <3