Maybe you’ve been staying up late stressing about yesterday’s test. Or it could be that you’re noticing anxiety in a friend — they’ve been sick with worry over getting into college and ignoring your texts every time you want to hang out. Either way, there are many ways to get and give help. (To find out more about what anxiety is, check out our overview here.)
I think I need help with my anxiety. What do I do?
First off, know that anxiety is extremely common, especially in teens like you. (You’re expected to juggle mounds of homework, your part-time job, six different extra-curriculars, and a jam-packed social life — who wouldn’t be stressed out?) So you definitely won’t be the first or last person to ask for help.
But who can I ask?
Any adult you trust — your parents, an aunt or uncle, your school counselor, a teacher, your rabbi. They can help you find a therapist who can offer you CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), a form of therapy that is shown to help with anxiety.
I don’t think I have a disorder, but I would still like to feel less anxious. What can I do to keep my anxiety under control?
Keep Your Body Moving: Even a short burst of exercise can lower levels of stress hormones and produce endorphins, which are your brain’s natural mood-boosting chemicals. (Cool, huh?)
Get More Sleep: Running on fumes makes it harder for your body to regulate emotions — which is why you may find yourself weepy and irritable the day after a late-night study session.
Think Positive Thoughts: When we expect bad things to happen, we automatically feel anxious. Instead of walking into a test thinking, “I’m going to fail” — flip that inner-script. Remind yourself of how hard you studied and how well you did on the last test, then say: OK, I’ve got this.
Get Spiritual: Recite a prayer that has special meaning and comfort for you. Some ideas:
-The “Modeh Ani” prayer said after awakening (Learn more about it here.)
-The “Asher Yatzar” prayer about the wonders of the human body
-The “Hashivanu” prayer (Lamentations 5:21) about connecting with God
-Or write your own prayer or meditation, using words that give you comfort
Try an Anxiety Workbook: If you’re unable to see a therapist, there are ways to work through anxiety-alleviating exercises on your own. You can buy workbooks for specific types of anxiety (like this one for panic attacks) or even download one for free (like this one for social anxiety).
Focus on RIGHT NOW: When you start to feel anxious, it’s easy to get stuck in your own head, worrying about everything that has, will, or might happen. That can make your anxiety spiral out of control But something called mindfulness can keep you anchored and chill you out. Try these tricks:
-Focus on your senses: What are three things you can see, hear, and feel, right here and right now?
-Pay attention to your breath: Count every time you inhale and exhale: 1-2-3, 1-2-3. (This exercise can help too!)
-Find more simple mindfulness techniques here
Just Breathe: When anxiety takes over, your breathing can become quick and shallow, which makes your body feel just as stressed as your mind. Practice calm breathing to relax:
-Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose
-Hold for 1-2 seconds
-Exhale slowly through your mouth.
I know someone suffering from anxiety — how can I help?
Reaching out to check in on your best friend, your brother — anyone close to you who hasn’t been their normal self lately — isn’t overstepping your boundaries. You can start by asking if everything is okay, and if they’re open to more help, use the tips below to guide them through a tough time.
DON’T judge them or get frustrated. Remember, anxiety is extremely common, and it’s not necessarily something they can control.
DO help them feel less alone. Maybe you’ve never struggled with math the way your friend does—but you can still let her know that you’re there for her, even if you don’t know exactly what she’s going through.
DON’T tell on them. Your friends can judge their own body and feelings, so don’t go over their heads to get them support.
DO encourage them to get help. You can offer to walk them over to the school counselor’s office, or brainstorm ways they can approach the topic with Mom or Dad.
DON’T panic when your friend does. Even if you’re secretly losing your cool, try to stay calm.
DO help your friend feel safe. Move them to a quiet place while offering reassurance. Say, “I know it doesn’t feel that way right now, but I promise you’re OK.” (Check out this article for more ways to be prepared during a panic attack.
DON’T feel like you need to have all of the answers. Often, someone with anxiety simply needs a good listener or a way to feel less alone. Tell them, “Hey, I’m always here if you want to talk or text.”
DO your research—then guide them to the right resources. Share the tips above, or encourage them to check out other trusted sources of advice including our resource page.
Our Experts: Dr. Anu Asnaani, Assistant Professor at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; Dr. E. Blake Zakarin, Instructor of Medical Psychology in Psychiatry, Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders.
This post is part of the Here.Now. series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.