I don’t need to link to research reports to tell you that teen anxiety is up. You know this already. We all know this already. It was up before the pandemic and it has increased because of the pandemic.
There are plenty of places to point fingers for this increase of anxiety in our teens: smartphones, social media, divided culture, systemic racism, climate change, inflation, FOMO, divorce, having to figure out gender identity, student debt, terrorism, the 24-hour news cycle, the economy, what the pandemic did to education, toxins in your gut, too many choices, too little sleep, Red Bull.
I made that last one up to make a point (I have not read any Red Bull research). We can blame these factors of why so many are suffering from anxiety or we can help our teens cope wiser. Blame is not a coping mechanism. Blaming feels like we are doing something useful but we are not.
You feeling helpless is a coping mechanism you can’t fall back on either. Even as you do feel helpless. Your teen is not growing up in the same youth culture you did. And I understand why you are so scared.
Maybe you also suffer from anxiety. Maybe this gives you some compassion for what your teen is struggling through. (And his/her friends! They need you too!)
Or maybe you are having a hard time understanding why your beloved does become so overwhelmed and crippled by anxiety. And are frustrated because your words and God’s word doesn’t seem to help at all.
I’ve got four things for you that I am leaning on more and more as I work with teens.
One is this saint’s blog, Grace Abounding in OCD. It is written by 22-year old Aubrynn. This gifted writer puts words to the crazy thoughts that anxiety brings on, especially when it comes to faith questions. Start by reading this:
The 2nd is the 5-4-3-2-1 practice. This is based on our five senses and how they can ground us, especially when the feelings of anxiety overwhelm.
As a pastor I already consciously try to apply the five senses to my teaching already. I try to apply the five senses to my own quiet times of meditation. I know I learn more when my five senses are involved.
So when the world is spinning, the mind is racing too fast, you or your teen can’t discern what is true and what is a lie in that very moment, find grounding with this practice. The “trick” is to focus on your present, your surroundings and your environment, to ground you in the present instead of the anxiety of “what if.” Here’s how:
Sight: Look around for five things that you’re able to see. Name them.
Sound: Identify four things you can hear. Name them.
Touch: Touch three things that you’re able to feel. Touch them.
Smell: Identify two things that you can smell. Name them.
Taste: Notice one thing that you taste. Taste it.
This is not my wisdom but a practice I’ve picked up from several books and podcasts as I continue to learn about teens. I’m just passing on what I’m using to help you.
On Instagram and Facebook I follow Black Liturgies by author Cole Arthur Riley. She writes these breath prayers that center you on truth. Like just these two that I’m posting here.
I had a hard time choosing these two. There are so many good ones. Follow her, send/print/put in lunches these breath prayers to your teen so he/she has them when the world starts spinning.
The fourth thing is I am very okay with recommending a visit to the doctor to talk about it in that setting. I want the teens to know that this is a normal next step when anxiety has become so crippling. I want hope for them and sometimes that comes from a doctor and therapy. I am so grateful for doctors and therapists who excel at this for teens.
I will probably have more helps in the future because I see this a a problem that is not going away soon. And there are so many people seeking to create true help.
So, parent, be encouraged. There are good people helping resource you as you day in and day out help your teen.