Editor's note: The Deseret News asked members of the community to share their experiences with anxiety. Read their stories here.
I know you’re hearing about anxiety constantly these days. But in all the talk about why and how and what, I think it’s time that all the adults in America offer teens a sincere apology. We’ve created a frantic culture where you’re told your brains haven’t fully developed but everything you do affects your future. Adults remind you that every test, every election, every sports game and dance performance could make or break your college application; everything posted on social media has lasting consequences. You need to drink lots of water, but teachers won’t give you a hall pass for the bathroom.
I’m so sorry.
I can’t change our frenzied society and I’m not qualified to offer help for debilitating anxiety or depression. But I turned to my favorite teens and parents for ideas on how to reduce everyday stress NOW.
- You are already enough. This competition, this drive to measure up: It’s all a show. From the moment you were born, your parents adored you (go ask them if you don’t believe me). Your value stems from your very existence, not the things you do. Just show up; that’s enough.
- It really doesn’t matter. Yes, you’ve been told your grades count, you need a sport and a language, a cute date, good friends, clear skin, etc. But you can fail math, quit soccer, stay home from every high school dance and still have a happy, successful life. Every problem has a solution; no failure is permanent. If you ask yourself, “Will it matter in five years?” the answer is “NO” most of the time (but you should still do your math homework).
- Teens — talk to your parents! Parents — shut up and listen! Every teen I interviewed said talking to their parents was the one of the best ways to reduce stress. Teens want encouragement and a listening ear from parents, not necessarily solutions for their problems. One teen said, “I DO listen to my parents’ advice, but only when they’ve taken the time to really understand the problem.”
- Take a deep breath. If you’re feeling stressed at school (and who isn’t?) take a deep breath, look around the room and remind yourself that you’re OK. Because you’re really OK. Feel your feet on the ground and the pencil in your hand.
- Say a prayer. Even if you’re not religious, taking a moment to pray or meditate will settle your mind and help you feel less alone. Pray to remember the things you studied for a test, pray to play your best in a soccer game, pray to feel confident at a social event.
- Look at photos of people you love. Just scrolling through faces of people who care about you can ease your stress levels immediately.
- Collect positive quotes. Write them in the inside cover of your notebooks, make a Pinterest board, keep them on your phone. Words have power — use them to your advantage.
- Create a playlist that lifts your mood.
- Find something creative that feeds your soul. When you immerse yourself in creating music, painting, writing, etc., your worries fade away.
- It’s OK to quit. If you’re too busy to do things you enjoy, you may need to quit your job, your instrument, the team, etc. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
- Exercise. Teens named team sports, yoga, dance, shooting hoops as prime stress relievers. Running might work for your friend but not for you. Find something you love and get out there as often as possible.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Noting down three good things (or even one) each day, will change your life. Guaranteed.
- Find someone who needs your help — but don’t let it stress you out. You don’t need to solve world hunger, just say "hello" to someone who looks lonely or take a minute to explain a math problem to your younger sibling. Looking outside yourself will always lift you up.
- Teens — you’re going to have some bad days, weeks, months. Parents — BE CHILL. Every teen will deal with rotten teachers, mean friends, injustice, illness and just plain bad luck. That’s life. It’s easy for parents to overreact to the bumps of life, but like good flight attendants, we need to reassure our kids that turbulence is normal. When we lose our cool, it’s hard for our teens to keep theirs.
- If you appreciate or admire someone, tell them. People need to hear kind words, and you need to say them.
- You can cry. Tears release stressful hormones from your brain and are beneficial to your health.
- One day at a time. If today is hard, just get to the end of today, then get through tomorrow. And then the day after that. You don’t know when it will get easier, just keep taking it one day at a time until it does.
Michelle Lehnardt is the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. "Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry." She is the founder of scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.