We never want to be embarrassed by our children. We wouldn’t admit that publicly, but it’s human nature.  When our kids do something that’s outside the community or family’s expectations, inside we think it makes it look like we did a bad job. When they act out in a restaurant, we’re hoping no one we know is watching.

That’s partly why parents are often slow to reach out for help with kids who may be experiencing anxiety, depression, or extra strong emotions. They’re not always sure what’s real, what’s typical for a teen and what might be for attention. (By the way, all of it’s real and all of it’s deserves attention.)

If you think your child is experiencing anxiety, depression or other challenges, they probably are. There’s no way for professionals to guess what’s at the root of those issues. Pinpointing the cause may take several sessions of therapy, but the behaviors you’re seeing are worth exploring.

Mental health challenges are not a personal flaw or a sign of bad parenting. It’s a biological condition and it’s also our bodies’ natural response to stress. When we encounter a situation that creates stress, our brains instantly sense a threat to our safety and call for hormones that will help us defend ourselves or escape the threat. We breathe faster, our heart rate increases to help our muscles act more quickly, and our focus narrows to the threat. The same mechanism that helped our ancestors escape being eaten by a wild animal guide your child’s response to what they experience day to day.

(Important note: if your child threatens or attempts suicide, or is self-harming, please get professional help immediately.)

Because mental health is a normal part of brain functioning, it isn’t going to go away. Nor will demanding your child stop worrying or trying to convince them they shouldn’t worry help them. You can’t defeat instinct. You can’t snap out of depression. What will help them? Building their understanding of what mental health is and learning how to take control of the mind-body connection.

Have your child work with a professional to get to the source of their anxiety and develop more effective ways to react to stressful situations. They’ll also learn strategies for what to do when they feel their heart quicken or their breathing get short. You may even take use some of those strategies without realizing it. Some of the most effective include:

Deep breathing. When stress starts to stir things up, stop and concentrate on your breathing. Breathe deeply and slowly, holding your breath for a few seconds before exhaling. One effective method involves slowly counting to 4 as you inhale, hold your breath for a count of 4, count to 4 again as you exhale slowly, and then wait for a count of 4 before taking another breath. After doing this 4 times, most people notice a decrease in their heart rate and an increase in their sense of well-being.

Basic exercise. A simple 20-minute walk or jog, some laps in the pool, or a gym workout will increase your breathing and reduce your body’s level of stress hormones. Just as important, exercise brings a boost of a hormone called endorphins, which make us feel happy and relaxed. Even a quick stroll outside can have big effects.

Some company. Being alone can make anxiety or depression feel worse. Reaching out to friends or family members and spending time with people you enjoy can help you feel better.

Do something. Sitting and focusing on stress doesn’t help. Doing something you enjoy can help you make those bad feelings subside — whether that’s listening to your favorite music, doing a jigsaw puzzle, sitting and reading, cleaning house, or any other activity you find relaxing, enjoyable or productive.

Several Care to Change professionals have specialized training in addressing the needs of teens, and connecting your child with the right counselor may be the best way to help them take control so they overcome challenges that come their way. The skills they learn today will increase the likelihood they’ll grow into emotionally healthy adults and the kind of parent you want your grandchildren to have.

Reach out to us, and we can help. Take just one step today by calling 317-790-9396 or emailing help@caretochange.org.


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