Author: Todd

Understanding Anxiety in Young People

Anxiety: we all live with it. Anxiety is a normal reaction to the kinds of pressures we encounter every day. Unchecked or out of balance, anxiety can wreak havoc on a young person’s mental health.

But which is it, everyday worries or signs of anxiety? The differences aren’t always easy to read and are different for every child. Here is a brief guide to help you take a first step in deciphering if what your child is experiencing is regular worry or high anxiety.

Everyday Worries
Signs of Anxiety
Worry about test grades, athletic ability, romantic breakup or other important life events. Constant, nagging worry that causes anxiety and interferes with daily activities.
Embarrassment or shyness in uncomfortable or awkward social situations. Avoiding social situations for fear of being judged, embarrassed, humiliated or bullied.
A case of nerves or “butterflies” before a big test, an athletic or stage performance or other significant event. Panic attacks out-of-the-blue and feelings of dread or fear of having another one.
Realistic fear of a dangerous object, activity, place or situation. Irrational fear or avoidance of an object, activity place or situation that poses little or no threat of danger.
Anxiety, sadness or difficulty sleeping immediately after a traumatic event. Recurring nightmares, flashbacks or emotional numbing related to a traumatic event that occurred in the past.

Warning Signs of High Anxiety

  • Sudden feelings of anger
  • Fighting more than usual with family and friends
  • Headaches, stomachaches and other unexplained aches and pains
  • Appetite loss – or gain – or significant change in weight
  • Feeling tired without reason
  • Difficulty sleeping – or sleeping too much
  • Feeling sad, moody or lonely
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly

What Parents Can Do

If your young person is suffering from anxiety, the first thing you should do is to try to understand it. Learn about anxiety disorders and treatment options. Discuss questions and concerns with a health care provider to find the best treatment options for your child. For mental health resources, visit our Resources page.

Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Skills and Strategies for Young People

Focused Breathing Strategies

Breathing is a necessary process that we often do not give any thought to. Focused breathing, however, has been shown to have a significant affect on our ability to relax, reduce anxiety, stabilize our emotions and distract our minds from negative thoughts.

The University of Michigan Athletes Connected program offers some helpful, simple breathing strategies that you may benefit from during a stressful situation.

Relaxation Breathing

You can implement this exercise while standing or sitting, before a competition, in the classroom or at home. The great thing about relaxation breathing is that it’s a tool you can use anywhere and anytime to help manage stress and emotions.

  • Be in a comfortable sitting or standing position (if seated, have your feet planted on the ground)
  • Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your upper chest
  • Close your eyes if you are comfortable with that, but it’s fine to leave them open
  • Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, send the breath down to your stomach and try to move the hand on your stomach out while minimizing the movement in your chest
  • Exhale through your mouth or nose, noticing that the hand on your stomach sinks in as you empty the air out
  • Ideally, your breath is passing down through your chest to go lower into your diaphragm area
  • Repeat

Double Exhale

Another useful breathing strategy is called “Double Exhale.” Follow the steps of the Relaxation Breathing exercise above, but before repeating it, do a second exhale to push out as much air as possible. This will make room for a fuller inhale the next time. You can also think of it as pushing out more of that negative unwanted emotion that may still be in our system.

10-Second Breath

  • Be in a comfortable sitting or standing position (if seated, have your feet planted on the ground)
  • Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your upper chest
  • Close your eyes if you are comfortable with that, but it’s fine to leave them open
  • Take a slow deep breath in through your nose, send the breath down to your stomach and try to move the hand on your stomach out while minimizing the movement in your chest
  • As you inhale, count to four, stretching the inhale over the full count
  • Exhale through your mouth over a full count of six
  • Repeat

Create a Wellness Toolbox

When we get a cut, scrape, bump or sting we take out a first aid kit for a bandage, antiseptic or ice pack. So why not create a wellness toolbox for when we are struggling with stress, anxiety and depression?

A wellness toolbox is a list of things that you may have done in the past, or could do in the future, to help you feel better. They are easy to make to using a binder with paper, a notebook or journal. Inside your toolbox, create a list of ideas and strategies that can help you when you are going through a hard time. These should be things that have worked for you in the past and as well as new strategies you would like to try. You can include things that have been recommended to you by professionals and other supporters too.

Your list should include easy-to-do, accessible options. It should have enough items so that you feel you have a variety of choices.

Some ideas for your toolbox:

  • Talk to a friend
  • Talk to a healthcare professional
  • See your school counselor or social worker
  • Take some deep breaths
  • Eat a healthy meal or snack
  • Stay hydrated/drink plenty of water
  • Set a bedtime to make sure you are getting plenty of sleep
  • Get some extra rest
  • Take a warm bath or shower
  • Exercise
  • Practice yoga, meditation and/or breathing relaxation exercises
  • Use a hot or cold pack
  • Do something you enjoy – such as watching a favorite TV show or reading a good book
  • Listen to music, play an instrument, sing
  • Do something that makes you laugh
  • Wear something that makes you feel good
  • Write in a journal
  • Write a list of your accomplishments
  • Spend ten minutes writing down everything good you can think of about yourself
  • Look through old pictures, scrapbooks and photo albums
  • Surround yourself with people who are positive, affirming and loving
  • Get some small things done
  • Do something nice for someone else
  • Call or text a crisis line

You can add to your toolbox as you come across new ideas and helpful strategies. Do not forget to remove items from your list if you find that they no longer work for you.

You may consider keeping a list of contacts to reach out to when needed. The list can include friends, family, healthcare professionals and crisis lines. For additional mental health resources, visit our Resources page.

Physical Activity and Mental Health

Everyone knows that physical activity is good for your body, but it’s also good for your mind. When you are active, your brain releases feel-good chemicals, called endorphins, throughout your body. Evidence shows that regular physical activity can help improve your mood and help you feel more relaxed.

Some benefits of physical activity:

  • Decreased feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased Energy
  • Boosted confidence
  • Increased self-esteem

Improving your mental health through physical activity does not mean you have to become a body-builder or Olympic athlete. The goal is just to be active.

Physical activity ideas:

  • Go for a brisk walk
  • Dance
  • Practice yoga
  • Ride a bike
  • Go swimming
  • Play a game of soccer, football or basketball with some friends

Spending 30 minutes being physically active is optimal to improve your mental health, but any amount of time can be helpful. You can also gradually increase the amount of time you spend being physically active.

Helpful tips for incorporating physical activity into your life:

  • Start small and increase duration and frequency over time
  • Do something you like and have fun doing
  • Create a physical activity routine
  • Listen to music while you exercise
  • Plan your activity with a friend or group of friends

To learn more about physical activity and other ways to improve your physical and mental health, visit:

Source: Campus Mind Works

Nutrition and Mental Health

Eating a healthy diet plays a big part in taking good care of yourself. Mood swings and other depression symptoms have been linked to unhealthy eating and nutritional deficiencies.

Your brain controls your mood and how you respond to stress. What you eat affects the way your brain and body interact. The better your brain functions, the better your body is able to function.

While there is not a perfect diet that guarantees good mental health, there are tips and guidelines that you can follow to help improve your mood and lessen negative mental health symptoms.

Improving your diet to improve your mental health includes:

  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Eating small frequent meals
  • Eating meals and snacks on a regular schedule
  • Understanding how different foods make you feel
  • Planning meals and snacks in advance
  • Limiting or avoiding unhealthy foods and foods that trigger negative mental health symptoms

It is tough to know what foods to eat and it can be challenging to stick to a strict diet. Keeping a food journal or diary can help with this. You may also consider keeping a mood journal at the same time so you can track how you are feeling in relation to what you are eating. Hopefully you will start to notice some mental wellness improvements as you work on healthier eating habits.

For examples of food journals that can help you develop healthy eating habits and more information on nutrition, fitness and mental health, visit:

Know the Signs of Anxiety

Experiencing anxiety is normal and not always negative. Sometimes when we’re under pressure, anxiety can actually help motivate use. But when it becomes persistent, overwhelming and feels uncontrollable, you may be struggling with an anxiety disorder. With anxiety disorders, symptoms do not easily go away and often worsen over time.

Some common symptoms you may experience with an anxiety disorder:

  • Constantly feeling tense, worried or on edge
  • Anxiety is interfering with school, family and friends
  • Avoiding places and activities to lessen anxiety
  • Always expecting the worst
  • Trouble focusing

Some common physical symptoms include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat or chest pain
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Nausea

The good news is that there are things you can do, many which are very simple, to help relieve anxiety. Check out our Skills and Strategies page to learn some basic techniques to lessen anxiety.

If you are unable to manage your anxiety on your own, you can reach out to a trusted adult for help. Some examples of a trusted adult are a parent, relative, teacher, counselor, doctor or therapist. A trusted adult can help you take the steps to begin to feel in control again.

For additional mental health resources, visit our Resources page.

For more in-depth information about Generalized Anxiety Disorder, visit

Source: HelpGuilde, Anxiety and Depression Association of America and

Know the Signs of Depression

It’s normal to feel sad, lonely or anxious at times. But sometimes people can feel so sad, hopeless or worthless that they struggle to do every day things like get out of bed or go to school. These may be signs that someone needs help for a mental health problem.

Emotional pain can be hard to spot, and even harder to talk about. It’s important to learn the signs of emotional suffering and reach out. Research shows that the majority of people who get help get better.

It can be hard to put into words exactly how depression feels—and not all people experience depression the same way. There are, however, some common problems and symptoms associated with depression:

  • Constantly feeling irritable, sad or angry
  • Nothing seems fun anymore, and you just don’t see the point of trying
  • Feeling bad about yourself—worthless, guilty, or just “wrong” in some way
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Frequently having unexplained headaches or other physical problems
  • Anything and everything makes you cry
  • Gaining or losing weight without consciously trying to
  • Difficulty concentrating and your grades plummeting because of it
  • Feeling helpless and hopeless
  • Thinking about death or suicide – if this is true, talk to someone right away!

Speaking up and asking for help is a sign of strength. You’ll be amazed by the support you get simply by asking. For mental health resources, please review our Resources page.

Spotting Depression in Peers

If you have a friend who seems down or troubled, you may suspect depression. But how do you know it’s not just a passing phase or a bad mood? Look for common warning signs :

  • Your friend doesn’t want to do the things you guys used to love to do.
  • Your friend starts using alcohol or drugs or hanging with a bad crowd.
  • Your friend stops going to classes and after-school activities.
  • Your friend talks about being bad, ugly, stupid or worthless.
  • Your friend starts talking about death or suicide.

Source: HelpGuide

Building Resilience as Your Children Grow

Psychotherapist and author Amy Morin says, “Raising mentally strong kids who are equipped to take on real-world challenges requires parents to give up the unhealthy — yet popular — parenting practices that are robbing kids of mental strength. Watching kids struggle, pushing them to face their fears, and holding them accountable for their mistakes is tough. But those are the types of experiences kids need to reach their greatest potential.”

Amy suggests that parents who train their children’s brains for a life of meaning, happiness and success generally do these 13 things:

  1. They teach their kids to turn failure into strength.
  2. They don’t let guilty feelings lead to unhealthy parenting strategies.
  3. They teach their kids to focus on what they have to offer the world, rather than what they are owed.
  4. They allow their kids to experience the world and life, even if it’s scary and uncomfortable.
  5. They empower their kids to make healthy choices without letting them be the boss.
  6. They have high expectations but don’t expect perfection.
  7. They teach their kids to take responsibility for their choices.
  8. They allow their kids to experience pain in a supportive environment.
  9. They teach their kids to be responsible for their emotions.
  10. They allow their kids to make mistakes.
  11. They teach their kids self-discipline.
  12. They don’t take parenting shortcuts to avoid discomfort.
  13. They never lose sight of their families values and hold their children to them.

Source: Psychology Today