How I Work With My Teens And Myself When Suffering From Anxiety And Stressful Situations

There seems to be a lot of anxiety in the air at the moment.  I’ve had quite a few phone calls from my children starting to see GCSE’s and A levels looming, but also friends and acquaintances who are really feeling out of sorts and struggling to control overwhelming feelings of being out of control.  

Sometimes, when we are feeling these intense emotions, it can be hard to know how to continue or where to start with anything (!) and although there are many techniques and strategies one can use, I thought I would share how I work with my children and myself when they are at a point that they feel out of control and have hit a brick wall and don’t know how to move forward. Feeling extreme panic and anxiety really is one of the worst feelings in the world.  

I know some people reading this will think my strategy is rather basic but that is the whole point.  When the panic sets in, it is hard to see the wood from the trees and take the simple steps to come back down to a place of calm. 

So, the first step I always say is to remove yourself from the situation.  Close your laptop or a textbook, remove yourself from a room with someone or something that is causing anxiety.  By continuing studying or being surrounded by something upsetting you isn’t going to be beneficial in any way. 

Go and find a quiet space, a happy space, a calming space, wherever that may be. For me it is my bedroom, having a bath or sitting outside in the garden listening to birds, being surrounded by nature. 

When you have found that space, BREATHE.....and I don’t mean breathe as you do subconsciously daily, I mean mindful deep breaths.  Count to 5 breathing in, hold for a couple of seconds and then gently breath out slowly.  Focus on the counting.  If you focus on the counting it calms the manic thoughts. Closing your eyes can also help as you are reducing stimulation from your surroundings. 

When you feel calmer and less anxious, go back to basics.  Write a list. If you don’t know where to start writing a list, just write one thing down and slowly step by step you add another item and another.  If the list is the reason, you are feeling anxious, because you don’t know where to start, chose one thing on the list. Doesn’t matter what or which just one.  Again, slowly you cross one thing off after another and if you come across something too overwhelming, move to another. 

This is the same with homework, essays, music practice, answering questions.... go right back to the beginning and break it down into small sections (help them if they need it) and slowly step by step work through it. Being dyslexic and not academic, I used to just hit a wall, regularly, and say I couldn’t do it and refuse to budge. The more the teacher pushed me or criticised me the more I resisted. I’ve realised over many years, that A) never push a child/teen because you are not going to achieve anything and, they aren’t trying to be difficult, they genuinely are struggling and pushing them or putting them under pressure isn’t going to help, in fact it will have the reverse effect. And DO NOT SHOW IRRITATION. I can tell you that will be game over. B) I know I can solve pretty much anything when I give myself or my children the space, understanding and time to break it down (whatever it is) and work through it slowly but surely. Nine times out of 10 when I give them the space and allow them to make a choice, they come to it on their own.  When they come to it on their own, they are more likely to follow it through and if they don’t, then (it) isn’t right or it needs to be addressed with the teacher.  

Going back to dealing with a stressful situation step by step, a friend did a great analogy.   When I said I was going to write this blog, she said, it's like when you’ve had people over for supper and you can’t be bothered to clear up late at night.  you come down to the messiest kitchen and you don’t know where to start.  And it doesn’t matter, you just go plate by plate and glass by glass and eventually you get there.  If your husband, wife, partner come in and start putting pressure on you or making comments, you are most likely to walk away, or it will end up in a stressful argument which achieves nothing.  If they praise you and give you space, you will get to the end, even if slowly. 

Excuse the corny analogy, but life isn’t a race, it’s a process. And we all process in different ways. No way is the better way, it is what is the right way for the individual.  

Which, I may add going off on a different tangent (!), is why I feel so strongly that exams and the time restraints aren’t right for all children/teens and adults. For some a course work structure is better and can achieve just as good results for someone who struggles academically under time pressure. I couldn’t do exams, so I did a BTEC instead of A levels, and because it gave me the time to process my course work, rather than be under a timed exam, I came second top of the entire year group. To me that spoke volumes. I wasn’t incapable or thick, like I could be constantly led to believe, I just had processing issues and needed the time and space to work through it. 

So in a calm, give yourself or your teen space, as frustrating as some situations can be, be understanding. Break difficult situations into small pieces and work slowly through it, one step by one step. And if you still can’t do it, its ok, it really is. It may just not be right for you so ask for help or ask for help for your teen/child. There is always a solution.