Yoga and Mindfulness for children and Teens.
Anxiety can be challenging but parenting a teen with anxiety, that is something else. You just want to wrap them up in cotton wool and keep them safe from the world but that's exactly possible or even that helpful. The first step is realizing if your teen actually does have anxiety, what are the signs?
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is completely normal. It is a response that helps to keep us safe. It can actually be a really helpful thing. It is an adaptive survival response that helps us in dangerous situations. Anxiety is an emotional state of worry, fear or feeling nervous that is felt in the body - symptoms of anxiety include heart beating faster, sweaty hands, lightheadedness, nausea, feeling easily fatigued, stomach cramps or buttery feelings, inability to fall asleep, body shaking, loss of appetite and more.
When does anxiety become a problem?
While anxiety is normal and can actually help us, it becomes a problem for our teen when it starts to interfere with daily life. There are many different types of anxiety including social anxiety, death anxiety, anxiety related to school, separation anxiety and more. Teenagers may need help if they are experiencing any of the following on a regular basis;
They don't need to be experiencing all of these symptoms (or any of them), anxiety can look very different for each individual.
How to help your teen
Have you noticed your teenager doesn't always listen to you? You could give them some golden advice but it doesn't mean they are always going to take it on board. Just avoid telling them 'not to worry'. It is very hard to just switch it off. I would suggest you don't try and do this alone. There are many things that you can do which I will come back to in a moment but just remembering you're not alone, can be really helpful.
Mental health is important and taking care of it is essential. While I run classes that help children and teens manage their anxiety through Yoga, calming practices and creative mindfulness, it is important to note that there are other ways. They can blend together beautifully and some practices will resonate more than others for each individual.
I would highly recommend therapy for a teen who is really struggling. Therapists have had years of training and so much experience in this area. I would highly recommend Somers Psychotherapy. Not only do they have appointments in person but also online.
I will be running a workshop for anxiety and sleep over at Somers Psychotherapy for teenagers. More details about that can be found here >> Evening Rituals.
How to help your teen at home
Keeping a journal is a great place to start. It is good to be able to explore the feeling, what is triggering it and then be able to talk through it with a trusted person. It doesn't have to be just writing either, drawing and other creative outlets are also a great way to release. There are many different ways to journal, your teen may like to keep a gratitude journal, a dream journal, a bullet journal or invest in a journal with prompts designed to help with anxiety.
There are other calming practices too such as walking, exercising, Yoga, meditation, mindful colouring and breathe work.
Should you wait until your teen shows signs of anxiety to get help?
Anxiety is a part of life, as I said earlier, it is completely normal. You don't need to wait until it becomes a problem to learn helpful tools, techniques and practices to manage it, in fact it really helps to learn them before. This is why I love teaching children's Yoga, it is setting a foundation. Yoga and mindfulness is a practice and it helps to practice regularly, even for just five to ten minutes at a time. When children learn these practices they have them in their toolkit for when they need them the most.
Here are a few great practices to try together to help manage anxiety and stress at home!
1. Mindful listening
This is a great practice for connecting with each other. It lets your teen know that you are listening and that you care. So often we are half listening or don't know if our teen is hearing us! This activity works on both sides, we can both feel seen and heard and it can bridge any gaps. The idea here is that one person talks for 2 to 5 minutes (set a timer if you'd like) and the other person listens. The listener doesn't interrupt or add anything at all, they can just nod and show that they are listening, eye contact is also good here. When that person is finished, you simply thank them for sharing with you. You don't try to fix it or offer advice, you just let them know that you heard them. Then you switch roles. You don't have to talk about the same thing or respond, the talker just talks about any thing they need to in that moment. It may be tough at first, but don't end the time early just let the talker keep talking about anything that comes to mind - it doesn't have to be serious or a problem or about anything in particular.
2. Practice Yoga - together!
There are so many videos available on Youtube or through programs etc. Find a style that your teen enjoys and practice together. I would highly recommend a book called 'Yoga for teens' by Shawna Schenk.
3. Meditate together!
Meditation has a range of benefits for your teen and for yourself. Try out this meditation I have recorded for you - Free >> Meditation for Anxiety
4. Schedule regular walks together.
Take time just the two of you to get out for a walk, this could be each day or each week. I know it is not always easy to get one on one time especially when you have other children to care for but if it is an option, it can be such a nice way to de-stress and spend time together.
What would you like to add?
What would you add as a parent of a teenager? I am not a parent of teenagers yet so it's always good to know what you would like to add. My jam is Yoga and mindfulness, I could talk it all day, and while I have studied anxiety and experienced my fair share as a teenager (and now) it is not the same as living it! I think that is the most important take-away. Trust your parenting intuition, read books about anxiety, and look after your own wellbeing - that will all help.
Check out last weeks Blog post: Why meditation is not going to help your teen with anxiety.
Meditation has a range of scientifically proven benefits but it is not going to help your teen on it's own and here is why....
In my classes, I will often share with my pre-teens and teens about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. I have 10 years old's who I am sure could teach a little about it at this point. They love to learn about it because it makes sense to them why we do the things we do and how it helps. Let's look at these in a bit more detail to better understand why meditation alone is not going to help.
The Sympathetic Nervous System
You may have heard of the fight or flight response. This is a response that is triggered by a stressful event (or even the thought of a stressful event). The response is activated by the sympathetic nervous system. It gives us the energy and focus required to escape danger. So while this state is often labeled as 'bad' or that we want to be in our 'rest and digest' state, it has a vital role to play. Just like with our emotions, it all has it's place - it is all valid.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System
This system triggers the 'rest and digest' response
Okay, so what does this have to do with meditation?
The purpose of meditation according to mayoclinic.org is to give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that both benefit your emotional well-being and your overall health. Meditation is a practice that originated in India several thousand years ago. When most people think of Yoga, they just think of the movement (asana) practice but actually there are 8 limbs of yoga.
You can read more about the 8 limbs of Yoga in more detail in this great artical from Chopa. I bring this up because I want to talk about Dhyana. This is one of the limbs of Yoga - it is when we are completely absorbed in the focus of our meditation.
Yoga Asana was a tool to help prepare the body for this state. Getting the wiggles out if you will but that is not the only reason why yoga is such a great practice before meditating.
If we are in our fight or flight response and we sit down to meditate, we may feel irritated, restless and even unsafe. If you feel unsafe, you're not going to easily activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Let's look at this a different way. If an antelope is running from a lion and they escape unharmed, they are not going to sit down and rest straight away. They are going to be cautious, scanning the area, making sure that they are safe. Animals also literally shake the trauma off. This is the same for us, no we aren't getting chased by a lion (probably), but the danger still feels very real - even if that danger is a math test!
If our sympathetic nervous system is activated we need to find a way, like Taylor Swift, to shake it off.
Yoga is my favourite way to prepare for mediation even if it is with a few gentle poses, but on days when I feel especially agitated or anxiety is high, I like to practice Hatha yoga, Vinyasa or just dance it out to my favourite song. The main thing is that I move my body before trying to sit with my breath.
Having the Sympathetic Nervous System constantly activated
If we don't take the time to relax on a regular basis, we can stay in this 'fight or flight' response. This can lead to a range of problems including fatigue, low energy, decreased immunity, depression, anxiety disorders, sleep problems, irritability, difficulty relaxing, social withdrawal, low self-esteem, muscle pain and even chronic headaches.
Do I need to move every time before my meditation practice?
Meditation comes in so many forms, including moving meditations! So it really is about checking in with yourself (same goes for your teens) and noticing how you feel. How are your energy levels? Is your mind racing? Do you want to be still or move? Do you feel safe? Do you feel agitated? Is your brain on high alert?
What kind of mediation are you going to practice? How would it feel to move your body first?
Mediation alone may not be enough to help when anxiety is high but if you or your teen was to include something that helps to prepare the body and mind such as Yoga, Dance or Shaking it off, meditation could be a great help.
Does your teen have a practice that helps them to activate that parasympathetic nervous system and help them to manage anxiety and stress? Is this an area they struggle with?
Is it effecting their sleep or making them irritable during the day? You may like to check out my new course - Evening Rituals.
What is your biggest take-away from this post, I would love to hear if you got anything from it. Comment below or feel free to send me a message.
You may also like to check out these previous posts:
Stream of thoughts - meditation for teens
22 mindful practices for stressed out mums
Thought hunter - teens practice