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What to say, and what NOT to say to someone with Anxiety

A recent New York Times article states that teen anxiety is at a record high and attributes this to: perfectionism, the constant pressure to achieve even more, and teens comparing themselves to their peers. Thanks to smart phones and social media, peer comparisons and the desire to be validated by others can be constant. Social media, academic stress, and emotional stressors can trigger anxious thoughts and behaviors. Teens may find themselves in automatic negative thought patterns or “all or nothing” thinking, and may be consumed with “what if’s” and negative self-talk, such as: “I’m not good enough” or “I’ll just fail.” These thought patterns can cause withdrawal, difficulty regulating emotions, and low self-esteem.

While it is important for teens to develop healthy coping skills in the face of anxiety, it is also important for parents, teachers, and friends to listen and validate these feelings. Have you ever heard your teen say, “You just don’t understand me!” or “You are judging me.” Often during discussion, we may unintentionally contribute to feelings of distress and even more worry by discrediting their feeling or making them believe that they do not have a reason or right to feel this way. When feelings of anxiety are dismissed, it can sometimes cause the anxious thought patterns to worsen. When trying to help your teen with anxiety, validation is key. Try to make them feel heard, accepted, and supported. To provide support and validation, try these tips:

  1. Instead of “Just calm down,” try, “What can I do to help?” Let them know that you support them.

  2. Instead of “It will all be OK,” try, “Don’t give up.” Positive affirmation statements help boost self-esteem.

  3. Instead of “I have worries too,” try, “I can’t begin to know your feelings, but let me know what I can do for you.” Provide support and let them feel heard.

  4. Instead of “Relax, it could be worse,” try, “Just take deep breaths, you will get through this.” Encourage healthy coping skills to address anxious thought patterns and anxious behaviors.

Here is a video with more positive reframing statements we can make in the face of anxiety:

Source: Denizet-Lewis, Benoit. Why are More American Teenagers Suffering from Severe Anxiety? New York Times. 10/11/2017

Written by Alex Sekellick, MEd

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