Updated: Jun 22
More and more young people are struggling with anxiety, but it’s something incredibly hard to understand if you haven’t experienced it yourself. One of the biggest challenges for parents is how can they help their child get through such a challenging thing?
Struggling with anxiety myself as a teenager, I felt very isolated. I didn’t really understand what was happening myself so how could I explain it those around me? So instead of explaining, I would just withdraw. I wouldn’t talk about what was happening at school or what lessons I was missing. The only time my parents found out was when I just couldn’t cope anymore and my Mum took me to see the doctor.
From that moment on, it was a long journey of learning about anxiety as well as the ways to deal with it. Now, after seven years, I can offer the knowledge I have gained on how you can help someone suffering with an anxiety disorder.
1. Be Patient
Anxiety manifests itself in different ways, so it may take a long time for you to understand when your child is feeling anxious. It will also be incredibly difficult for them so give them time to process their feelings. Don’t put pressure on them to get over it, or explain themselves.
2. Offer your supportive presence
A common thing with anxiety is that people find it difficult to do things on their own. So for you, it may not be a big deal to go and order a cup of coffee, but for them, it could be a huge deal. When they are overcoming things, offer them support by just being there. Don’t push them into situations if they don’t feel ready but offer encouragement. Often, things were a lot easier for me knowing that someone was there for me.
3. Ask them if reassuring phrases help
This is a very subjective one but incredibly important. Often, it is a go-to for people to say “you’ll be ok”, “everything will be fine” etc. but for me, it was infuriating to hear that. The difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack is that you don’t think you are going to die, you are just experiencing horrible sensations and a sense of panic. So I knew it was going to be alright, but that didn’t help it go away. However, there are some people that find those phrases a saving grace to keep them calmer.
4. Give them space
One of the hardest things for my parents to accept was that I struggled being within a certain physical distance to them. At that time in my life though, I just needed space to feel alright. Over time, it didn’t become an issue, but at the time it was a big issue to me as I didn’t want to upset my parents or have them think they were doing something wrong.
5. Use a metaphor to understand
One of the hardest things to do is put yourself in someone’s shoes in regards to anxiety. It is different for everybody and I know from experience, when I talk about the physical symptoms, it never sounds as bad as it feels. My Mum used a great metaphor to explain to others what she imagined it was like. Imagine there is a fire (which is the anxiety), and being in that fire is unbearable even for a few seconds. That’s what an anxiety attack could be compared to. You could also being uncomfortably close to that fire is also feeling anxious without the attack.
6. Encourage fun things
If your child is suffering from anxiety, try to bring something fun into their life. Getting out of the house is important and may be challenging enough, so find something that is rewarding to them. For example, going to a shopping centre, or a safari park. It’ll reinforce that going out and do things is positive and doesn’t always have to result in feeling anxious.
7. Celebrate each victory
It’s important to celebrate all victories to encourage your child to keep trying. It will boost motivation and self-confidence. These don’t have to be big celebrations, they can be something small like treating them to something sweet. The point is, not to let it go unnoticed.
8. Talk to them
When there is a chance and they aren’t feeling anxious, have a talk with them about how they are doing, and what they feel could improve. It should be an informal chat where they get a chance to express themselves. They may have thought of something that would help them deal with anxiety, or something they could use advice on. Be prepared that they may not want to talk about it but there will be other opportunities.
9. Don’t be too lenient
The thing with anxiety, is that you can’t see it on people. There are also those who abuse that it is a hidden disability so try to convey the symptoms as though they are suffering with it. It is important to stay true to your morals and not compromise on things like that. For example, they may want to drink alcohol to try and deal with feeling anxious but that should not be tolerated as it is a form of self-medication and is not a healthy habit.
10. Be a Team
One of the most helpful things I found, was when I felt like a team with my parents. When they were with me no matter if I struggled, or had to leave somewhere, they would support me and it made me stronger. I felt able to try and conquer certain situations that I wouldn’t have been brave enough to if I felt like I had to justify myself to them.
Be honest with yourself and with your child. Having an open line of communication will help you both on this long journey. It may not be easy but there are ways to deal with it.It can be frustrating as a parent to feel helpless when your child is suffering but if you guys are in it together, it’ll make you both stronger.