Photo Credit: Lisa Fotios
That’s the abbreviated version of what I find on my phone when my 14-year-old daughter is away from me and becomes filled with anxiety. I may only have walked away from my phone for a few minutes but come back to 30-40 messages from her looking for me. It doesn’t happen everyday, but when it does happen and I’m not immediately available, my daughter’s anxiety can turn into panic.
If she gets to Momma I know she’s in a panic mode.
Teen anxiety is on the rise. We think they should be chill and enjoy this time in their lives but the truth is they live in a world ripe with academic stress, demanding extra-curricular activities, college pressure that begins in middle school, puberty, friend drama, budding sexuality… let’s face it, our kids are bearing the weight of a culture we’ve helped create.
Many are experiencing a level of stress that we didn’t encounter until much later in life.
If I get Mia’s texts within the first few times that she reaches out, our general back and forth consists of what ache or pain she’s having in the moment (stomachache, headache, throat pain, dizziness…she’ll say her wrist hurts, even when she hasn’t had tennis practice in a week and there is no obvious reason she would be feeling pain in that area). I will then ask how long it’s been happening/on a scale of 1-10 how much pain is she in/does she think going to the nurse’s office to meditate might help? After a few back and forth texts she moves on with her day and I don’t hear from her again. Once and awhile she does leave class to go to the nurse but then returns to class when ready.
In part, I think her reaching out to me is a way for her to feel heard and validated.
If I don’t catch it in the first few times she texts me…well, let’s just say I’ve picked her up from school more than once this year.
I try to be there for her, but I can’t always be there for her…and ultimately she needs to learn how to best support herself when she is feeling anxious. It’s in our greatest challenges that we practice the coping skills we’ve learned and when we build resiliency for life’s inevitable ups and downs.
Mia’s anxiety began (at least from my observation) in third grade. Sometimes she goes months without any episodes, other times it’s a daily struggle for her. I’ve tried to pinpoint an event, a circumstance, any kind of reason for this…I used to drive myself nuts trying to figure it out. Though I have some suspicions, I don’t have a concrete answer…when asked why she’s anxious Mia often says, “I don’t know why I feel this way.” And I believe she’s telling the truth; often she truly doesn’t know why she’s anxious.
Realizing it was a waste of my mental energy to focus on the why, because whether I had a reason or not it was likely still going to happen, I released the need to know and decided helping her find ways to cope with it was the best way I could support Mia.
So, I have investigated everything from meditation to yoga, CBD oil and energy healing to hypnosis, I’ve continued to educate myself on the symptoms and history of anxiety and depression in our families of origin, I have listened to and read the reports of leading experts who study this subject in teens. I discuss what I learn along the way with Mia and give her the ability to try things so she can see what helps her. Everyone is different; what works for me when I am anxious won’t necessarily be the best (or right) answer for her.
And some anxiety in life is (a) healthy and (b) unavoidable.
Over time Mia has gotten to a place where she meditates (using the Calm app on her phone) before school every morning. I don’t remind her, it’s built into the morning routine she’s created for herself. And, when she goes to bed at night, she spends time writing in her journal.
Mia takes her journal to her biweekly counseling sessions. I am grateful there is another adult in her life she trusts with her innermost thoughts.
These are the coping skills that are helping my daughter deal with what can sometimes be debilitating anxiety.
But there’s one more thing I believe Mia has going for her when it comes to dealing with this challenge…
The one thing I believe helps my daughter most with her ongoing anxiety is having a grounded mother.
What do I mean by that??
I mean that we are our children’s emotional compasses.
Mia has a mom who is doing her own work so that she is emotionally available and attuned to the moods and needs of her kids. I am not afraid to use my voice when my intuition tells me something doesn’t feel right. And I can tap into my intuition because I’m in tune with it. We all have inner wisdom, especially when it comes to raising our children, it’s a matter of learning how to get quiet and pay attention.
I have learned to trust myself and I model this for Mia.
It took me years to trust my gut and to find my own voice; I don’t want Mia to have to go through the same thing. She is given permission to advocate for herself in all areas of her life, including (and especially) where she needs emotional support.
I take the time to listen to the nuances of Mia’s (and the rest of my kids’) challenges and then educate myself to help them navigate the circumstances they are in. I share what I’ve discovered and offer the opportunity to try different methods in order to help whatever the situation they face.
It also helps that I keep my self-care a top priority…physically (daily exercise and rest), spiritually (I practice meditation), and of course emotionally (making sure what goes in…from social media to books to movies to friendships)…feeds my soul.
This is what it means to guide your unique children through their upbringing.
My personal growth work started in earnest more than a decade ago when I learned my oldest son was suffering from an addiction to alcohol. I have learned and experienced that our children show us through their words and behavior where we need to grow.
If you’ve got a kiddo who is experiencing anxiety, or any other behavior or mental health challenge, it is beneficial to look within yourself to explore where you might be contributing to the issue they are having.
This isn’t about placing blame on the parent, yet because most of us were raised with the dominant parenting approach we often have a very difficult time looking within ourselves to make the connections needed to get our children the help they need.
This is about continuing to acknowledge and processing our own natural human emotions, stress releasing skills, and self-care in order to be available to those we love the most.
There was a time when Mia’s counselor suggested medication. I flat out refused to consider it until any and all other options were exhausted.
At this time I believe Mia feels she’s in a routine that, 99% of the time, works for her to manage the anxiety in her life.
I know she’ll let me know if that changes because she understands we’re in this together!
Your emotional health plays a critical role in how your children regulate their emotions and tackle life’s inevitable ups and downs. If you are struggling in your home and family life, please reach out to myself of another helping professional to begin the journey to a healthier, happier, more functional life.