This week on Homeschool Highschool Podcast we talk about: Teens and Anxiety. This post is running concurrently on the Ultimate Homeschool Podcast Network.
Teens and Anxiety
With the world going through a long pandemic, teens are experiencing more anxiety than in the past (the same goes with their parents). Today Vicki discusses how to deal with anxiety for homeschool high schoolers.
Anxiety is part of the human condition; there is no such thing as a stress-free life. Most of the time, anxiety can be manageable. However, if life is stressful for long periods of time, stress hormones can build up in the body and cause:
- Panic attacks (heart pounding, can’t catch your breath)
- Digestive issues
These issues are quite easily dealt with using cognitive-behavioral therapy (btw- Vicki practices CBT with her counseling clients). It is worth getting these uncomfortable issues treated and then teens have a lifetime to be able to use their skills!
If anxiety has not built up to the level of experiencing panic attacks or physical symptoms, here are some simple tips that can help:
Parents: if you have anxiety, when you deal with your anxiety it will help the entire household
Parents, whether they like it or not, set the emotional tone for a home. If you set the tone of “yes, I have anxiety but this is how I deal with it”, children and teens grow up to understand that anxiety is a thing but it is a thing that can be managed and helped.
Teach deep breathing
Anxiety is experienced in the body as a dose of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol). It helps your teens to be able to run more quickly when the lions are chasing them. Unfortunately or fortunately, there are no lions these days, so stress hormones tend to stay in the body waiting to be used. That is the restless, muscle-achy feeling of anxiety.
God, in his wisdom, gave an antidote for stress hormones: oxygen. And it’s free! (For teens who have Apple watches, their watch actually tells them to breathe- tell your teens to pay attention to that.)
- To deep breathe:
- Breathe in through your nose (count to at least 5), try to fill your stomach with air, too
- Breathe out like a birthday candle (purse your lips and breathe out slowly- count to at least 7)
- The cool thing about the slow breathe-out is that your teen is activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that says: It’s okay to calm down.
- Once or twice a day do a deep breathing exercise:
- 3 deep breaths
- Tense and relax then breathe through each muscle group
- Here is a freebie download with detailed instructions
If you are hungry, your stomach growls to tell you it needs food. One way your brain cells tell you they are dehydrated is sending anxiety signals. (Brain cells are mostly water, so they cannot do their work, if the water levels are too low.)
Eat healthy foods
The neurotransmitters (the signals that the brain cells make) that help manage mood, energy and anxiety are made from the micronutrients in real food: real proteins, fruits and veggies, probiotics. This is one reason we ask our kids to take their Health class in high school. It helps them own their own self-care. Look at 7SistersHomeschool’s High School Health for the Whole Person.
Teens need to move their bodies more than any time in life. The pandemic has crimped their style for many teens, which is contributing to anxiety. BUT it is SO important to anxiety management and academic success. Moving the body, increases oxygen and also dopamine (for better mood and concentration) and proteins necessary for concentration. (Food for thought: It might be easier to focus on difficult courses if teens exercise first.)
If your teens are too pandemic-stuck to come up with their own exercise ideas, perhaps some family walks or hikes on the weekends might help kickstart the process.
Proverbs 17:22 reminds us that a “merry heart doeth good like a medicine”. (God is always right, you know.) It turns out that when we laugh, our brains release endorphins and oxytocin. These are mood enhancing and healing hormones.
God is a creator and he make us to be creative, also. In fact, using the creative part of the brain activates calming parts of the brain. Creativity can look like:
- Art projects
- Creative writing
- Playing musical instruments
- Creating music on Garageband
The most important thing that teens need to know about creativity is that they do not need to be good at it. The point is creating, not being “best” or “expert”.
Work on thought patterns
Teens often think negatively about themselves: If I can’t be good at this when I start out, I am a failure. (This causes avoidance and shut-down- writing papers the night before due dates!) Teach teens the power of “yet”. I’m not good at this yet, but I’ll keep working and get better. This is called a growth mindset.
- Limit: “What if thinking.” Don’t only plan for disasters. If your teen’s brain says “what if something bad happens”, have them add an empowered way to handle it. “If that happens I can do this.” Then start training the brain away for “what its” (because they usually don’t happen, anyway).
- Catch self-critical thought and statements
- Catch them on things well-done or well-tried and compliment
- Give them a mentor that can model self-care, self-talk, self-confidence
Have new experiences
People need new things. During the pandemic we have all had too much of the same, same, same. This causes anxiety. However, anytime you do something new, when you get home, your brains release oxytocin (healing and bonding hormone).
Remember, if things get too anxious, talk to your family doctor and counselor. Anxiety is such a help-able thing!
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