Sunday Snippet: Anxiety Is An Option!
We’re back! The WeHaKee Sunday Snippet Returns after a fall hiatus to allow us to step back, breathe and rekindle our energy to bring you more meaningful and hopefully helpful insights into parenting, growth, and development and generally exploring ways to help our daughters and campers approach their potential in healthy and successful ways! Thanks for your patience!
As we begin the new year, we have had some thoughts about the seemingly epidemic of anxiety among girls and young women. It is true that the diagnoses of anxiety-related issues and disorders have risen steadily among teens. And we certainly see this playing out in the camp setting as well. So we are not trying to downplay the seriousness of the increase in stress and anxiousness – it is real and is challenging for our girls as well as for us parents. But perhaps an adjustment in perspective might be helpful as we work to help our girls manage the challenges of stress anxiety in more helpful and healthier ways.
Along with the increase in anxiety-related issues, especially among our teen campers, we have also seen increased pressure from some parents to eliminate any stressful experiences a child may have at camp. And our teacher friends share this is the case in many schools as well. In an effort to help our daughters excel and succeed, we parents often go to great lengths to ‘smooth the road ahead’ to eliminate that which we feel may impede our daughters’ progress. Unfortunately, we are more than likely reducing or eliminating experiences that are key to helping them build the resilience and tenacity to be able to better handle anxiety as they grow. Stress and anxiety are a part of life and learning effective and healthy skills to manage stress and anxiety is the key to positive development!
A recent article sheds some light while offering some suggestions to us parents and youth development professionals for helping our daughters successfully navigate the challenges of stress and anxiety. In How to Help Teenage Girls Reframe Anxiety and Strengthen Resilience (Mind/Shift, February 12, 2019), contributor Deborah Farmer Kris, examines how stress and anxiety are both healthy and normal, but that our recent culture has distorted that notion. She quotes from Dr. Lisa Damour’s soon-to-be-released book, Under Pressure Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls (Random House, 2020) “Somehow a misunderstanding has grown up about stress and anxiety where our culture now sees both as pathological. The upshot of that is that we have adults and young people who are stressed about being stressed and anxious about being anxious.” She goes on to point out that change and stress naturally coexist. As girls enter adolescence, change becomes a constant as they experience such in their bodies, their emotions, their social development and so on. It is no wonder that anxiety also increases remarkably. Add the increase in dramatic, emotional responses quite common in the average teen, what is really just a normal reaction appears nearly pathological. Throw in the pressure cooker that social media can be and you have a seemingly insurmountable situation that is extremely stressful for those who work with teens!
Damour points out that it is key that we learn to respond instead of reacting to the anxieties and stresses our children are displaying. It is very easy to ‘ride the rollercoaster’ when our teens are experiencing what they perceive to be extremely stressful. But staying on the ride with them can be counterproductive. Viewing these episodes as storms can more useful in realizing the episode will pass. And if we parents can weather the storm, our teens will eventually learn to do the same (Spoiler alert – it will probably take multiple observations of doing such for it to begin to show in our children!).
Being empathetic can be very powerful in helping a child weather their emotional tsunami. On this perspective Ms. Kris quotes Dr. Damour once again – ‘That really stinks’ is a very simple phrase that cuts right through it. It says, ‘I hear you and I’m just going to sit here for a moment and acknowledge that what you are up against isn’t that great. Empathy goes very, very far in helping them contain what is upsetting them.” Dr. Damour continues to state how helping our teens and adolescents become brave, in order to help the teen understand that being brave suggests one may still be scared, but is still finding the energy to move forward. “Scared is here to stay. Anxiety is part of life. It’s not our job to vanquish these feelings. It’s our job to develop the resources we need to march forward anyway.”
Please note that we are not suggesting that all anxiety is normal and that having a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder is over the top. These mental health issues are real and need the additional support of medical and behavioral professionals. But a good portion of the anxiety issues that teens and adolescents are facing today are manageable with the appropriate support from parents and other youth development professionals. Our kids are strong and resilient and with our knowledgeable and reasonable response, we can guide them in facing and managing stress in healthy and successful ways!
Thank you for reading and have a great week!