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Understanding Anxiety for Teens and Young Adults

I am often asked for help with specific worries about teens and young adults and the insecurities they feel deeply. I hope this article will go some way towards supporting an understanding of what might be happening for them. I hope to inspire you to use your own understanding and begin by sharing some case studies, here and on my website www.hlsgroup.net - illustrating the ways to support a young adult.

Tuning in or out of resilience

Firstly, don't jump into the storm with them. The emotional behaviour they present may appear very distressing and even cause you concern (that's normal too). What any human needs at the point of distress is to be heard. We all need someone to connect with and to be heard. As adults it is crucial to remain calm, seeing beyond the inner turmoil towards the resilient youth they are. This doe not mean we are disinterested, we don't need to make it worse.

We listen in non judgement and without fixing. Being in a neutral listening space is the best healing space to offer .

You can begin to think practical things afterwards - you may not even need anything other than further deep listening. Deep listening connects heart to heart and doesn't distract us back into our heads.

We are more than a brain.

Understanding the cognitive functions of the teenage and young adult brain provides cognitive knowledge, and if you are interested you can read more in this book : Inventing Ourselves. The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain. Blakemore. Sarah- Jayne. My focus in this blog is to see beyond concept knowing that negative thought patterns are not where we find true answers.

Learning to be grown up can mean making mistakes, or some wrong decisions. That is a very normal human learning behaviour - we were all teenagers once.

There is a great sense of freedom the first time you make your own meal or meet friends without parents tagging along. That independence feels expansive and possible . . . until perhaps something changes.

Friends are downright mean.

You lose your way in a crowd.

Your bag is stolen.

You miss the bus AGAIN.

There's a flurry on social media and its lies about you. You feel threatened and afraid.

Hopefully not all at once.

Case study (name changed). Stormy days for Charlie.

Charlie is best friends with Jamila and Chris, and part of a group of friends who hung out every weekend. Charlie had a lot going on her life. Her Dad was being investigated for fraud and her parents screamed abuse at each other incessantly. It made her ashamed to have anyone round. When she was worried about something, she normally popped to see her Gran, though her Gran was ill right now. Charlie is beginning to cry a lot at night, she feels tired and sad. Friends say she is less fun to be around. Charlie is beginning to miss school and does not want to get out of her room, obsessing over her media threads. Charlie stops eating or sleeping properly - though only she knows this. Her friends are starting to leave her out because she says no so often when they invite her. This all happens over a short few weeks and her anxiety is really impacting her life.

Raising the Roof on Resilience.

1. Asking for help is the first step to recovery

Where can Charlie get help?

There are many online support ideas, although Charlie may not be up to trying to find them. If she manages to speak to someone soon, it will help her to recover :

  • Friends at school. One's that Charlie usually trusts

  • A trusted teacher

  • Her Gran - even though she may be ill, she has been Charlies main support.

  • Her parents.

  • A help line such as Young Minds. To find urgent help text YM to 85258 or call 0800 1111

  • online support https://www.childline.org.uk/get-support/

When experiencing anxiety, you might feel trapped in sadness or grief. Yet you are not.

You are experiencing your own negative thought (living in the feeling of your thinking) and in turn this brings negative feelings and moods. You are reacting to the discomfort too. And sometimes your imagination joins in, bringing memories of past discomfort and learned beliefs from when you grew up. You might feel scared. Lost even.

YOU are NOT your THOUGHT You are much so more than your emotions or experience in the moment.

Thoughts fluctuate, emotions come and go unless we continue to focus on them. The real you is the same as the baby and toddler you were born as. Your resilience and well being is always present.

2. We can all play our part to help each other stay resilient

To know that all emotions begin with your thinking means that you are actually in charge of what you think and feel. Your emotions guide you, letting you know the thoughts you are creating as you feel them.

ALL thought storms begin with one small negative doubt or insecurity

Like the weather, they may be small and quiet and then build up ferociously. If you are in a thought storm , you can't see clearly or think clearly. None of us can (it's called fight flight or freeze). It's as if you are in a blizzard of worry and turmoil. Your body does its very best to sound alarms (sweating, rapid breathing, feeling scared) are natural temporary reactions.


You are not your thought, you are experiencing your own thought just like we experience the weather.

When the weather is bad (anxiety, depression. loneliness, anguish, grief and so on) find a weatherproof friend or adult to help you. KNOW the storm passes and by surrounding yourself safely, listening to music, drinking tea with a friend, you will begin to feel more resilient.

3. Riding the anxious thought storms without being drenched!

- Find a trusted storm trooper to help you

- Know your feelings will become less worrying, You could find something to laugh at to help you focus elsewhere and break the thought pattern.

- Share a cake or drink with a good friend

- tell a grown up who knows you well


YOU are not YOUR THOUGHT, you are EXPERIENCING THEM in the moment.

  • My feelings are caused by my thoughts. New thought always comes along.

  • If you feel you can't talk at home or in school, text YM to 85258 or email the YOUNG MINDS helpline https://www.childline.org.uk/get-support/

  • Thought + Feelings (Emotions) = Actions/ outcomes (crying, angry. grump, sad, depressed). Get help from someone you trust.

Find a storm trooper when the thought experiences become too much. Together you can!

Further reading on Mental Health Education here www.hlsgroup.net

Anni Poole is also author of the self care book on Amazon Simply Being YOU https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07P45NQ8R