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.
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