3 Ways to Help Your Teen Struggling with Anxiety

Anxiety. It can feel like a dirty word. A label with a “less than” stigma. A sign of weakness. A lack of faith.

We’ve been duped into believing that to struggle with anxiety is to be un-Christian.

Yes, duped. Deceived. Derailed by the enemy of God who wants to keep us isolated, ashamed, hurting, and alone.

We have somehow believed the lie that anxiety, whether mild or debilitating, should be solved by faith alone, and if it doesn’t work, there must be something wrong with us or those we love.

So let’s set the record straight: Anxiousness is normal to our human condition.

Why else would God reveal to us in the Scripture how to cope with our anxious thoughts and the things that make us worry?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6 NIV
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? – Matthew 6:25-34

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7

God always tells us what we will struggle with and how to find a way out.

Anxiety is definitely one of those struggles in which some of us can conquer with prayer and believing God’s Word alone.

But the kind of anxiety some of us might feel from time to time and the kind of debilitating anxiety that requires professional help looks very, very different.

Praying in sincere faith to combat debilitating anxiety may not be all that God intends to bring about His healing and freeing work.

Anxiety isn’t just a spiritual problem.

There are over 40 million adults in the United States suffering from the kind of debilitating anxiety that stems from genetics, personality, and life events, often outside of the individual’s control. (source). That kind of anxiety can manifest or co-present in a variety of forms, including panic disorders, social phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and illness.

The wisest thing to do when ongoing anxiety presents in us or our teens is to seek out mental health professionals and doctors to co-labor with God in His healing work. 

There is no shame in seeking out that kind of help. Would we feel shame over going to the doctor for pain in our chest, a pulled muscle, or skin rash? Do we avoid treatment for cancer or heart disease, believing faith should be sufficient to heal us? I suppose some go that route, but most of us would consider that foolishness. The same is true about seeking care for mental health, not only for ourselves but for our teens.

 

Three Ways to Help Your Teen Struggling with Anxiety #moretobe #missionalmotherhood #anxiety #raising teens

 

Yes, the first step in the face of any suffering, including anxiety, is to seek God in prayer and invite others to join us in that need. That’s biblical, no doubt. But so is the process of allowing the weaker parts within the body of Christ to be served by the stronger parts. God has a place for each of us to serve one another (1 Corinthians 12). Well-trained Christian counselors and mental health professionals have as much of a place to serve in the areas of mental health as do doctors who treat other parts of the body.

It’s actually a bold step of courageous faith in admitting weaknesses and allowing God’s body to function in your care.

I share this, not only as a woman who has greatly benefited from the care of Christian counselors in my healing from PTSD that resulted from the abuse I experienced as a child but also as a mom who is walking out a mental health journey with my teen daughter as she struggles with anxiety . . . and she has given me her permission to share this publicly.

During Leah’s freshman of college, her struggle presented through the onset of food and fitness fixation. We were all blindsided at first, including Leah. It was like she went from this happy energetic young woman to this girl trapped in the strongholds of a beast we didn’t know how to fight.

I’m so grateful we were surrounded by supportive friends and experts in the field of mental health, who gave us the roadmap and the encouragement we needed at the most critical time. Over the next few months, we researched and studied, and God clearly revealed to us the situations that set Leah’s anxiety into motion.

We could pinpoint a particular heart-wrenching experience that set the lies and fears fueling insecurities into what felt like a tornado of emotions resulting in her unhealthy behavior.

The more we learned about anxiety, the more we could see it was there all along.

Because of my work with teenage girls, I navigated the anxiety road with her by “talking her off the ledge,” holding her for long cries, teaching her how to take deep breathes, and at times, pleading her to snap out of it. We just called her “intense.” We learned to live with the unnamed anxiety, but that didn’t make it any more bearable.

It was hard on all of us emotionally, but we didn’t know what to do because we didn’t know what it was.

Once Leah was off at college, I could no longer be her lifeline and the anxiety took over as her bully.

Probably the best advice we got during the crisis time was for me to not sweep in and rescue her.

Instead, this was her chance to learn how to live with her struggle and determine the healthy coping strategies she needed to gain to emerge stronger and more whole on the other side.

To seek help for anxiety isn't a sign of little faith. #moretobe #faith #anxiety

 

We had regular check-ins between her counseling sessions and when she returned home that summer, she marched right into a new counselor’s office. I thank God every single day for His of this gifted, godly, insightful, wise woman. Leah’s counselor spoke the Word over her in a way that made sense in light of anxiety. These were truths I’d been teaching Leah all along!

Her counselor also gave her strategies to bully the anxiety instead of the anxiety bullying her.

What did those strategies look like?

  1. Don’t Listen to the Lies: Be in the Word daily so that you can cling to the truth and discern the lies.
  2. Don’t Run from the Anxiety: Instead of creating other coping habits, identify the belief, look for evidence of it’s truth, and then move through the anxiety to the other side.
  3. Don’t Go It Alone: Surround yourself with prayer warriors who will step up on your behalf when you ask for help.

Within three months, Leah discovered that she didn’t need to fight this beast alone and in the dark or secrecy of shame. For her, the process counseling was the tool God used to bring about healing and freedom. For others, the anxiety can be so debilitating that medicine is necessary for the healing to begin. There were times we thought that might be the necessary route, but thankfully it wasn’t up to us to decide, because we could count on her team of providers and the wisdom of God to determine the next steps.

As a mom, this journey has not exactly been easy! When Leah was in the midst of the darkest part of her struggle, I took it on as my own. I felt like it was my fault. Did my anger in her early years cause this? Maybe. Was it my gene pool? Yep, I struggle a bit with anxiety too! Did I model anxiety for her? Instead of fighting those thoughts in my head, I took them to the Lord and my friends, included the experts.

We might not be able to prevent the struggles our teens have, but we can certainly help them find their path to healing and wholeness.

I may very well have been a part of her problem, but what is more important is that I am part of her solution.

Three Steps to Help Your Teen Struggling with Anxiety

So, if you’re a mama with a teen struggling with anxiety, there is hope for you and your child. You can be their biggest advocate and cheerleader, but in order for that to happen, you need to consider these three important steps.

1. Don’t Be in the Dark

It’s so hard to see our teen’s struggle with anxiety because their life-long behaviors are the “norms.” Plus, we may not have another “normal” to compare their struggle too, especially if we manifest similar situations. So if there is a particular habit or behavior that you see interrupting your child’s life, do some research, talk to their doctor, and consult with a counselor about it.

Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.” (source)

Take the time to also talk to your teen. Find a moment of quiet, stress-free co-existing to ask how they feel and what you can do to support them in this area of struggle. They may not like having their struggle be brought into the light, but by showing them compassion and concern, you’re also communicating love, which will make a huge difference in the long run.

2. Don’t Make it About You

The worst thing we can do to our teens when they are struggling is to turn our guilt into their problem. Their struggle with anxiety isn’t going to be reduced if you become the martyr. Nor will it go away if you tell them about all the things you’ve had to deal with and how they should be thankful for the life they have. “Bootstrapping” won’t solve this problem any more than it would with a cancer diagnosis. So instead of feeling bad, take the steps to get educated as well as supported by a community of friends, family, and professionals. Likely their struggle might trigger issues in your own life that need the care of a Christian counselor, so make the time and investment into your mental health for the sake of your teen’s healing too.

3. Don’t Stand in the Way of Help

Any health crisis is an inconvenience, plain and simple. A mental health one is no different. It will cost time and money. It will re-arranged plans and thwart commitments. It’s all too easy to think “we can handle this on our own” and save the whole mess it will cause. That’s a lie from the pit of hell.

If your teen is struggling with anxiety, your number one responsibility as a parent is to get them help.

  • Start with the pediatrician for a physical to rule out any problems. Ask for their recommendations for a psychologist but also search your area for a Christian counselor who specializes in caring for teens with anxiety.
  • When you find a counselor, you have to specifically ask about their training and experience because not every Christian counselor receives the level of training needed to care for your teen.
  • If finances are an issue, speak to the counselor about this. Sometimes your insurance will cover a portion of out-of-pocket expenses. Sometimes you a counselor will offer a sliding scale.

Consider this treatment an investment into your family legacy, as providing for your teen’s mental health is more important than any vacation, educational pursuit, or the latest java specialty on the menu at Starbuck’s.

No parent wants to see their child suffer! It’s the very opposite of what we’re after from the moment they are placed in our arms. And yet, we live in a fallen world, yearning for eternity. They will suffer as much as we do. They will have to overcome the challenges laid before them. Anxiety may be part of their story for a season in their life or for their lifetime. But that story doesn’t have to be one without redemptive ending.

God is able to infuse their life with His love, mercy, grace, hope, power, and strength.

He can draw your teen into a deeper dependence upon Him as they learn to navigate their struggle with anxiety . . . by faith and through the support of the body He designed to serve them personally. You, mama, are a critical, necessary, beautiful part of that body.


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