Problematic anxiety is the most common mental health concern teens experience. If your anxiety is holding you back from what you want or need to do, you are 100% not alone. Asking for help can feel tricky, especially at first when you’re not sure how it’s going to go. It is also incredibly brave, and the first step to feeling better. Here are some tips for having an effective conversation with your parents or caregivers.
Tip #1 – Cope Ahead
Coping ahead is particularly helpful if you anticipate feeling worried or nervous about sharing. The goal is to think about how you might think or feel in this situation, come up with a plan in advance for how you can cope, and then imagine yourself using those skills effectively. For example, if you anticipate feeling nervous and thinking your parents might not understand, your cope ahead plan might include things like:
Thinking about or even writing down what you want to share.
Getting specific about ways your anxiety has been holding you back. Using “I statements” like “I feel…” and “I think…”. Here are some examples of “I statements…”
“I’ve been feeling more worried about my future, and it’s making it hard for me to fall asleep.”
“I keep having these thoughts that everyone is secretly judging me, even though I know I have some friends, and it’s making it hard for me to go to school. That’s why I’ve been late so much.”
Reminding yourself that sharing with your parents is a first step to getting more support, and thinking about times when talking has gone well or been helpful.
Thinking about how your parents might respond, and planning ahead. For example if you’re worried your parents will be dismissive, sharing specific examples of how you have been feeling and how this is making your life hard, can help them better understand.
Tip #2 – Timing
Here the goal is to find a middle path between waiting because you want to find the “perfect” time and sharing when your parents are overwhelmed, busy, and not able to listen well. Try to find a time when your caregivers seem calm and receptive. This might be on a walk, when you’re spending time together in the evening, or over a meal.
What’s that? Your parents are often overwhelmed, or busy? That’s so understandable. Here it can be helpful to check in with them and schedule a time to talk. You might say something like:
“It’s been really hard for me to get my schoolwork done because I’ve been feeling more nervous. Is now a good time to talk? …” and if it’s not “Could we talk about this over the weekend? Or another time that works?”
Tip #3 – Ready, set, share…
Get specific using phrases like “I feel…”; “I think…”; “I have been having a hard time…” so that they can better understand your experience.
Be specific about how they can help. When you are direct with your parents about how they can help, rather than indirect, it makes it more likely that you will get your needs met. Parents (fortunately) are not mind-readers. Here are some examples of being indirect vs. direct:
Indirect: “I’m feeling so overwhelmed. I wish I didn’t feel this way.”
Direct: “I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed. I’ve been thinking about talking to a therapist/professional/pediatrician/school counselor. Could you help me make an appointment?”
Be nonjudgmental, and open. When you communicate in a calm and clear way, it helps your parents hear what you’re saying, and work with you. If possible, show that you understand where they might be coming from, and avoid playing the “blame game”. Here are some examples of what this might sound like:
“I know anxiety wasn’t something that was talked about much when you were growing up, and I’ve been feeling a lot more nervous.”
“You’re working so hard to help me with school, this is not your fault, and I’m still feeling nauseous in my classes.”
Reinforce your parents for listening. We all respond to positive feedback, and parents are no exception. Sharing with your parents how it feels when they listen or offer to help, and thanking them makes it easier to keep talking.
If talking feels too hard, consider starting the conversation by writing something down to share.
Tip #4 – Keep at it
Keep at it! Your parent may need some time to process what you’ve shared, and that’s okay. Having the first conversation is usually the hardest part. Once you start talking, you might be pleasantly surprised. Problematic anxiety is quite common; chances are your caregivers can relate, and, at the end of the day, want to help. Sometimes they just don’t know how – there are so many more resources available now than even 10 years ago. Sharing openly can help them better understand and support you.
Tip #5 – Seek Additional Support
Seek support. To help you and your family better understand anxiety and tools that can help, we have included some helpful resources below.
Talking with your pediatrician or school counselor is a great first step. They can also give information to your parents, and help connect you to a licensed provider who specializes in teen mental health.
Check out these websites for more information about anxiety, coping skills, evidence-based treatment options, and to connect with care:
- The Anxiety Cycle
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America
- Association for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies
- International OCD Foundation
For immediate support if you are in crisis:
Call or text 988, or chat 988lifeline.org to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources for you or the people you care about. For LGBTQIA+ Teens: TrevorLifeline, Crisis intervention and suicide prevention phone service for LGBTQ+ youth available 24/7/365, Call 1-866-488-7386.