Tips for Teens on How to Deal with Their Anxiety in a Healthy Way: guest post by Noah Smith

Your adolescent years are some of the most stressful years of your life (they're certainly the most stressful years you’ve lived through yet). Your body is changing, as is your brain. The pressures of school, sports, and social interactions can lead some teens to develop anxiety. While some people turn to drugs and/or alcohol to help themselves cope with their anxiety, it’s important to know that this is not a tenable strategy. In the end, it will just make things worse. Here are some tips for dealing with your anxiety in a healthy way.

 

Think of the big three: diet, exercise, and sleep

 

The three things that have the biggest effect on your mental health are your diet, physical activity level, and sleep. Eating an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise, or getting too little or low-quality sleep can make your anxiety much worse.

 

When it comes to what you put in your body, the advice is similar for almost everyone - eat whole foods, mostly vegetables and fruit, and lean proteins. Try to reduce your intake of caffeine, refined carbs, sugar, and red meat if you can. Exercise is vital because it actually modifies your brain chemistry to product feel-good hormones. Not only that, but being a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to bring down your stress levels.

 

As far as sleep goes, it’s a tricky one. People can become locked in vicious sleep cycles where they can’t sleep because they are anxious and they are anxious because they can’t sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, exercise will help. You should also rework your bedroom time to only be about sleep. Don’t check Facebook or watch TV in bed. Teach your brain that when it hits the pillow, it’s sleep time and only sleep time.

 

Focus on the present

 

Much of teen anxiety is caused by worrying about something that happened in the past or being apprehensive about something that’s going to happen in the future. You can’t change the past and you should worry about the future when you get to it. You’re living in the present, and that’s what truly matters.

 

“Focus on the present moment rather than worrying about what you’re going to say next, or beating yourself up for saying something slightly weird a few minutes ago. Remember that the most important thing to the other person is the interest that you show in them,” says HelpGuide.org.

 

Why it’s important to learn healthy coping mechanisms early on

 

Some people never “cure” themselves of their anxiety - whether it be general anxiety, social anxiety, or a more specific phobia or trigger. What they do, however, is learn how to minimize it to a workable level. Even if you aren’t a heavy drug or alcohol user now, the opportunities and temptations to use substances to help you deal with anxiety will only increase as you age.

 

Alcohol (and some drugs) that have sedating effects appear to temporarily reduce anxiety. While it’s true that having a beer or two will make you feel more socially outgoing at a party, for instance, prolonged substance use tends to have a negative effect on people with anxiety issues.

 

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), anxiety is a mental health disorder that can be caused by prolonged drinking in some instances. Substance-induced anxiety can occur in those who have another anxiety disorder, such as GAD, and adding this additional anxiety issue only exacerbates the effects of the initial disorder,” notes AmericanAddictionCenters.org.

 

If you suffer from anxiety problems as a teen, there’s a chance they will lessen naturally as you age. Some people struggle with anxiety for many years, however. As a teen, you must learn how to cope with it in healthy ways. You may not be able to fully rid yourself of its effects, but you can make sure it’s only a minor, not major, part of your daily life.

 

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Smart Parenting Revolution-new products for summer

It’s an exciting time for us at SmartWired and Smart Parenting Revolution: months (well, years really) of planning, work, and development is finally culminating into a new slate of products we can put out into the world to help parents and their children. We just released the book I AM Smart: a Guide to Recognizing and Developing Your Child’s Natural Strengths by our own Dawna Markova, Ph.D. and Angie McArthur. This is a usable guidebook version of the time-tested book Dawna wrote for Ballantine in 2005, The Smart Parenting Revolution, and is updated for today’s busy parents who need immediate tools and processes they can employ to help their children understand how they best learn and communicate. It’s available on our web store and on Amazon, with a Kindle and iBooks version coming soon.

Next up is our new parenting app Smart Spark: Ignite Your Child’s Learning Potential, due in the iOS app store in early July. We’re “stoked” to get this in the hands of parents, since it’s a fun, engaging experience for them and their children to learn together how they learn, and to share everything they know about what brings out their child’s best with teachers, tutors, coaches, and family members. It will also allow parents to receive outside observations about what helps their child, and store it in a permanent record we call the “Smart Passport.” This is supported by all the research that focusing on what a child does well, rather than trying to “fix” his or her weaknesses, will result not only in excellence and achievement in school and all aspects of life, but a greater sense of engagement, purpose, and happiness.

Finally, Angie has been incredibly busy the past two-plus years writing two books with Dawna for Random House, the first of which, Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently, gets released on August 11th, with corresponding publicity and media. And her Ted talk about Collaborative Intelligence at TedX Traverse City, for which she gave her 18 minutes in mid-May (but really about 200 hours of writing, refining, and practice), will be online soon on their web site. We’ll share it on our site and with our Facebook fans when it’s available.

Finally (really this time), we just participated in a summit hosted by Central Michigan University with 200+ experts in early childhood development concerned with improving all aspects of life for children, including health, brain science/learning, policy, and poverty. It was eye-opening for sure, and hopefully our contribution of asset-focused learning techniques can help the youth and parent populations in general.

We hope summer treats you and your children well, and look forward to hearing how our offerings can help you in your parenting journey!

--David Peck, SmartWired co-founder (and Angie’s husband)

If you give a girl a different toy, she ‘ll tell a different story.

by Angie McArthur

“Today, I am the super heroes Honesty and Bravery,” said my 8-year-old niece Elspeth, age 8. Her younger sister Gracie, age 6, quickly followed and declared “And I am Energy!” Dressed in a pink ski jacket she rolled her shoulders back, puffed out her chest and sang out “I’m gonna ski this black diamond run with my superpowers!” before dropping fearlessly over the steep edge. They each continued to ski with joy, vigor and courage all afternoon.

 

I smiled to myself thinking Barbie would never ski like that. I recalled the words of Dawn Nadeau, who had recently given me these new female super heroes: “If you give a girl a different toy, she’ll tell a different story.” Dawn and her company I am Elemental http://www.iamelemental.com/ have created a new line of action figures just for girls.  Each superhero actually reflects characters that will make girls successful. In their first series, Courage, the action figures are: Bravery, Industry, Persistence, Fear, Enthusiasm, Honesty and Energy.  

 

Thank you Dawn and everyone at I am Elemental for creating a female figure that enables a new story to emerge for young girls. Now as my nieces play and dream up adventurous narratives about these seven characters, they are empowering themselves in ways that Barbie can’t even dream of…even from her dream house.

 

See the action figure story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uyvOfHEq9I

“We’re Moving? Again?” Small Ways to Ease Your Child's Anxiety During Relocation

by Megan McArthur

Meganandkids.jpg

Megan, Ayla and Kai McArthur after a successful relocation


Parents always want what is best for their children and their children’s futures. At times this involves careers that involve frequently moving, or simply being away due to meetings, or in my family’s case, military deployments. The impact of these events on our children can include depression, loss of interest in activities, high anxiety, and problems at school both socially and educationally. Realizing the negative implications and finding solutions that will help ease our children's minds can turn many of those negative aspects into positive ones.

When my husband received his first set of orders that would relocate our family to a different post, my initial reaction was excitement, until I saw the look of anxiety on my daughter's face. We were at dinner and she became very quiet, sullenly pushing food around her plate. I could literally see her mind processing the information into all the negative stories instead of excitement at a new adventure. I had not thought through how all the changes would affect her life. Later after putting her to bed, I found myself on the Internet researching how often we might move throughout my husband's career. How many times would my kids be switching schools? How many times would they have to start over with new friendships and leave behind old ones? Most importantly, how can I help them cope and feel secure within themselves and learn to adapt within their environment?

After some research on the subject, I found that the average American family moves about twelve times during his/her lifetime. Approximately 33% of military families relocate each year. Many times, it is in a civilian populated area where the child might not have the same amount of support and similarities with others that they would being on a military post. Relocations are happening exponentially more than in previous generations.

There is also the question of the emotional stress put on the family by these moves. Emotional exhaustion, financial expenses increasing while trying to adapt in the new location, and the physical work involved in moving may cause parents to show poor and negative behavior as well.  In turn, this will put more stress on the child. It may cause them to become more susceptible to peer pressures, and experience physical and emotional turmoil within themselves.

These were all things that I was loathe to have my own daughter struggle with as we moved from place to place. Researching what others experienced with frequent moves, I found that there are plenty of ways to lessen the stress and make the transitions into a new area and new schools easier for the children. Following are a few of my key ingredients to making the next adventure in our lives a successful one instead of a stressful one.

“Read All About It!”

Looking up our “New location” online and viewing pictures with kids is always a great way to get excited about a move. It allows everyone to see what activities are available in the area and get a glimpse of what to expect. My daughter Ayla loves horses above all else. She spent countless hours looking up all the different ranches in the areas we would be moving to and narrow down her “Top 10” choices. It got her excited about the move and reduced some of the anxiety over leaving good friends behind. Reading upcoming events in the local paper also offered a snapshot into the type of community we were headed to. I was able to immediately locate programs for the kids and sports offered in the area.

“What About School?”

Show the kids their new school's web site! Most schools these days have an online presence that you can review and see what is offered. Both of my kids love doing this–It gives them a chance to see what classes are offered, what clubs to join, and the sports they can try out for. Some even have a virtual walk through displaying the actual classrooms and other students. This allows the kids to have a better idea about what they will be walking into once they start school. It also lists school supplies needed and any additional helpful information. Again, this helps lesson the anxiety and gives them that extra confidence they need their first day of school.

“Will I fit in?”

This is a concern for many kids moving to a new area, especially the older ones. Try to find out if there are any clubs in the area that offer things your child is interested in so that they have a community upon moving there. For myself, it was important to find out if there were any clubs in the area designed for military children. My kids’ school had a program called Club USA. It was led by the school's counselor, taking place once a week during school hours. The kids with active duty military parents would come together and have the opportunity to talk with each other about how they were feeling over issues such as a parent’s deployment, a recent PCS (move) or any other related stressors they were dealing with. The kids would also put together care packages to send to the troops as a group. They would write Christmas cards and create drawings to send out, and they would make awards for themselves celebrating and recognizing all of the strengths they had within themselves during these hard times. It was a great way for the kids to feel like they were playing an active role in honoring and representing their families.  I’ll never forget how proud my son was to wear the star he made that read, “I am a Military Child. I am a Hero.”

“You’re Leaving again?”

Communication is key in these situations. Letting the staff/teacher know when one parent is away helps the teacher to be prepared for any behavioral changes and be able to assist the child emotionally as best they can. My son has a tendency to “act out” the first few days his Dad is gone. He takes the “I’m the man of the house now” saying to a whole new level! At times, it can be very frustrating, and at others, very sweet. His teachers had the same response. Sometimes his behavior would be very disruptive to his fellow students while on other occasions, he would retreat within himself, not wanting to engage in the activities. Writing a note to the teacher or calling or texting to let them know his father was gone for a period of time helped them realize that it was a time that Kai needed that little extra encouragement in positive behavior. They were very patient, understanding and appreciative for the heads up.

In our eight years in the Military, my daughter has attended five different schools, my son has attended three and we have moved four times. Amazingly, this is much less than an average Military family.

With a little research and the right tools, you can turn a stressful depleting move into a somewhat smoother transition for both parent and child. Communicate with your kids. Allow them to tell you their fears about changes and have them engage in creating solutions. For instance, my daughter did not want to leave her friends. Together, we came up with the idea of getting a special book in which she could write down her friends' phone numbers and addresses and even tape in pictures or things that reminded her of them. This helped ease her sadness about having to leave them. Allow your kids to pack their own things. For my son Kai, it was very important that he knew exactly which boxes held which toys. Having him label them and see that they were "safe" eased his mind. No Transformer left behind! These two small gestures gave them a feeling of control in their lives and allowed them to feel more a part of the situation. It allowed my kids to appreciate their experiences and look forward to the adventure our family was about to embark on without any extra baggage and anxiety.