Anxiety in Youth

It is common for youth and adolescents to experience generalized anxiety or worry about the events in their daily life, like when starting a new school, or navigating a situation for the first time. 

Anxiety is often characterized by experiencing feelings of worry or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities. Sometimes worrying about events can help keep us safe and sometimes it can motivate us to reach our goals.

What does Anxiety look like ?

Anxiety presents in a variety of ways, and looks different for everyone, but common symptoms may include:

  • experiencing extreme distress that is out of proportion to the impact of the event
  • avoidance of situations, specific activities or places
  • difficulty concentrating and staying on task
  • feeling detached from oneself or the world 
  • inability to set aside a worry, overthinking 
  • irritable, on edge,  trouble sleeping
  • physical symptoms not related to another condition such as head or stomach pains, restlessness, panic attacks, racing heart, feeling dizzy or lightheaded 

Common worries include

Under Age 5 separation from caregivers, sudden loud noises, darkness, getting lost, monsters/bugs 

Children – social situations, illness, natural disasters, school 

Adolescence/ Teens – performance anxiety, war, social situations & status, appearance/identity, concerns about the future

 

Ways to Support Youth with Anxiety

It can be challenging to watch loved ones struggle with anxiety. You might be asking yourself

“How can I help?” “What can I do?”.

Try saying things like

  • “You seem worried” or “I notice that you’re having a hard time right now.”
  • “What you are feeling is natural” (validate that their feelings make sense given the situation or stressor)
  • “I am here for you”
  • “What do you need right now to feel safe?”
  • “Can you tell me about your worry/fear/problem?”

Other helpful tips

  • Listen non judgmentally 
  • Give reassurance and information as needed
  • Encourage self help techniques or appropriate professional tips if needed

You can find additional resources on our website

      • Mental Health and Wellness 101 for families and caregivers 
      • Pandemic Parenting: Helping Kids Manage Anxiety During COVID
      • Using Positive Psychology to Manage Stress in Children 
      • Managing Stress with a Wellness Mindset
      • Coping with a Crisis (available in Spanish)

Things to Avoid

Do not dismiss their concerns when they share them

  • Avoid saying things like “calm down”, “toughen up” or “get over it”

Resist the urge to help your child avoid situations that cause anxiety (unless physical safety is a concern

  • For example, if a child is anxious about going back into social situations, gradually acclimate them to small groups, quick trips out, etc.  By allowing them to stay home and avoid social settings, the fear and anxiety is reinforced.
  • Do not blame, shame or become angry when they express themselves 

Avoid unrealistic expectations of your loved one

  • Meet them where they are at in times of need 
  • Don’t forget that children’s emotional responses and resilience are developed and deepened over time.  (That’s why kindergarten children may cry on the first day of school and a fifth grader can’t wait to get out of the house!)
How To Seek Extra Support

Talk to a professional or community partner

  • Primary care physician (can make referrals)
  • School nurse, social worker or counselor
  • Faith or religious leader (often have broad knowledge of community resources)
  • Pride Centers, after-school programs, scouting programs or other organizations that work with children and youth
  • Parent/caregiver support groups and organizations, closed Facebook groups
  • Local MHA affiliates (many of whom provide direct supports in schools and communities)

Include helpers at your child’s school – school counselor, social worker, psychologist

Seek support in the community – parent support groups and programs

 

Additional Information & Resources

Mental Health America’s 

Child Mind Institute – Back to School Anxiety article

Contact Us

Please contact us at schools@mhanys.org or call 518.434.0439 from 8 am to 5 pm.

To contact a specific staff member, click here.

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