7. Focus On Your Teen’s Efforts.
Dr. Stutz makes a similar point when encouraging parents to praise their teen’s efforts to cope, even when those efforts are not successful.
“Overcoming anxiety and depression can be challenging, and teens will need to try new coping skills that they might not be experts at, yet. It is helpful for parents to acknowledge their adolescent’s effort, even if it didn’t help their symptoms, (e.g., “I’m so proud of you for taking space to try to calm your body,” or “It was cool of you to come for a walk with me even when you really didn’t feel like getting out of bed”).”
Most teens will respond to such parental encouragement with increased persistence and determination.
8. Meditation And Relaxation.
For anxiety one of the best researched interventions involves learning how to shift into a state of relaxation. The reason this is effective in combating anxiety is that it is impossible for the mind to be both relaxed and tense (anxious).
Consequently, if someone can learn to put them self into a relaxed state of mind, they will have gained a powerful tool in combating anxiety.
When teens acquire strong meditation skills, they are able to quickly and easily dampen down anxiety. The initial stages of learning to meditate, however, can be difficult. There is a tendency to constantly ask “Am I becoming relaxed yet?” “Am I doing this correctly?” “Why don’t I feel as though all my worries and concerns are evaporating like the morning mist off the stupid lake I’m supposed to be thinking about? Geeze, the lake is probably filled with alligators. Just my luck. Or sharks! Can lakes have sharks? I’ve heard they don’t but what if they do…”
This train of thought is just a few miles short of being helpful.
So the first tip in learning to meditate is to stop the constant monitoring of your response. That is about as productive as trying to not think of a pink elephant while constantly questioning whether you have stopped thinking of pachyderms.
Persistence wins the day. Most people find that with regular practice progress is made quickly.
If your teen is willing, have him or her take ten minutes a day to meditate. Not in front of the television. Not with their phone next to their side. Not in front of their computer.
Put all distractions aside.
They will find the guided meditation exercises by Barbara Fredrickson to be of great help. But, of course, there are many other meditation sources that can be found. The important thing is to find a guided meditation that your teen enjoys and will consistently use.
After meditating once or twice daily for two weeks most people begin to notice a change in their mood. A shift in the frequency, or intensity, of their anxiety. This is similar to making progress when first going to the gym. It takes a little time to feel the impact of your efforts: the increase in strength and an improved sense of well being.
When your son or daughter begins to feel the difference that meditating has made in their anxiety, it’s time to get greedy. Look for even more progress. Keep the momentum building. Have your teen begin to meditate 20 minutes each day (ten minutes in the morning, and ten in the evening).
If they refuse don’t push. Continue with ten minutes a day. Slower progress is better than no progress as a result of pushing so hard that they stop meditating altogether.
9. Positive Psychology.
Another approach to help your teen focuses on using positive aspects of life to improve mental well being (this comes from the field of Positive Psychology). Instead of focusing directly on the problem, teens are encouraged to shift their focus on those things that are going well in life, or those things that they can do that will make them happier.
The rationale for this strategy can easily be grasped by the following metaphor. If you are growing a flower garden then you wish to minimize the impact of weeds. One way to do this is to spend a good deal of time and effort pulling weeds out by the root. Another way to minimize their impact, however, is to focus on helping the flowering plants to flourish.
When the flowers are abundant and healthy, weeds get crowded out, and those that remain become less of a nuisance. The thriving flowering plants become the focus of the garden.
So too with life. When the positive aspects of daily life are going well, the importance of setbacks, frustrations, and uncertainties begin to fade. The focus shifts to what is thriving in the present, and the promise of the future.
There has been a great deal of research examining whether this approach is effective. What has been found is that using Positive Psychology approaches to anxiety and depression frequently results in clear, albeit often modest, improvements. Because we are looking for every advantage we can get to help your teen, these are well worth trying.
Let’s look at a couple of ways Positive Psychology can be used to help teens break through the doldrums of depression and anxiety.
Encouraging gratitude is one of the most commonly studied means of improving mood and lifting depression. The first way to do this is to begin to keep a gratitude journal.
Have your son, or daughter, write down two or three things for which they are grateful prior to going to sleep. Typical examples include being grateful for family, friends, a beautiful sunset, good health, belonging to some organization (sports team, choir, debate team, church group), receiving a Starbucks gift card, etc.
Very few entries will include life changing events for which your teen is grateful. Most entries will focus on the small moments in life that each of us tend to forget about. This is point – by keeping a journal we begin to better appreciate the numerous small blessings that enrich our lives.
Each morning, afternoon, and evening, the teen should take a minute or two and focus on those items that were entered into the journal.
Repeat the process three times a week (research indicates that three times a week is more effective than doing this every night). As the journal grows it will take a little more time to review the entries. Limit the time of review to five minutes. This brief time spent reviewing past entries is important.
Your teen should block out all distractions and really savor the ways in which his or her life has been enriched by the points of good fortune chronicled in the journal.
Best Possible Self
Anxious and depressed teens tend to have low self-esteem. They become ensnared in a psychological trap where they compare their worst moments in life with the ‘highlight reels’ put forth by peers on social media platforms.
To break out of this trap it can be helpful for an adolescent to imagine what life might be like if their best qualities were to be fully developed. How might life change, and in what ways could it begin to grow and flourish?
Over the past 20 years, psychologists have studied the impact that adopting this perspective has on those who are depressed and anxious. It turns out to be a powerful way to kick start optimism (a potent antidote to depression and anxiety).
If you would like your teen to try this out, have him/her set aside some quite time each day. This should be scheduled on a calendar, just like an appointment. That way it is not forgotten or put off for late in the day when it will invariably be set aside. Make a schedule. Consistency is crucial for success.