A Note from Lifeway Girls: As we approach the end of August, it is more than likely that your girls are already back at school or heading back really soon. For some girls, a new school year means new opportunities to start fresh, but for many, they are heading into an environment that only feeds their anxiety. Emily Katherine does an amazing job to equip you on how you can properly recognize and lovingly respond to anxiety when it presents itself in your girls.
Anxiety and depression are two common words we tend to throw around often not truly understanding what they are, what they look like, and more importantly how to manage. I studied psychology and have a deep nerdy love for cognitive neuroscience. So let’s talk specifically about anxiety.
At its most basic form, anxiety is extra energy or stimulation your brain isn’t sure what to do with. Ever had way too much sugar late at night and you know you should be going to sleep but instead you are wired? Anxiety has a similar effect. Something has told your brain there is something else for it to respond or attend to but your brain does not have a way of responding in that moment. This extra energy is a way God created us so extravagantly, so that, when we are in dangerous situations, our brain can continue to fight and help us protect ourselves against threats to our safety.
But when all this extra energy or unresolved stimulation lingers in our brains, it has great effects. Anxiety can manifest in stress, a weakened immune system, inability to sleep, inability to focus, hyper-focusing, skipping a period, migraines, lack of appetite, stomach ulcers, etc. The most important thing to note about anxiety is that it is not considered a diagnosable disorder until there is “significant impairment of functioning.” In other words, everyone gets anxious or nervous sometimes. A diagnosable disorder necessitating medication or treatment is only needed when an individual can no longer live their life in a healthy manner without some sort of help (e.g. unable to sleep for weeks). In such cases, professional counseling is recommended along with potentially some psychotropic drugs (typically to control serotonin).
What is causing “anxiety” in our teen girls and what can we do to help?
Anxious thoughts can begin to swarm regarding any stressful topic our students cannot form a solution for—grades, interpersonal conflict, injury, parent diagnosed with an illness, divorce, breakups, homecoming dates, etc. What we also know is that teens have not quite developed the neurological capacity to problem solve and evaluate their pressing problem solving conflict with strategic solutions. Rather, they spiral and often jump to solutions that are extreme, make no sense, or lead to more issues they later have to clean up (aka more anxiety).
So what can we do?
1. Teach emotional literacy.
There are few better weapons we can arm our girls with in their fight to be healthy people and fight against the enemy, like knowing their emotions. It’s important to keep a healthy balance here—no, you don’t get to be mean to your younger sibling because you’re feeling shame for the bad grade you got on your test. But, you do get to share with your parents you are in need of some encouragement and maybe some options like tutoring or keeping your younger sibling out of your room for an hour to help you focus on studying.
When we name our emotions we begin to acknowledge the extra energy floating around our brains and give our minds a way to begin to process and store that stimulation. Ask yourself simply, what am I feeling? When did this feeling begin? Is this feeling true? Is what I am feeling true in light of what God says about me? What can I control in this situation? Who can I ask for help?
2. Reframe without minimizing.
We were all teenage girls once. When you are fighting with your best friend and when everyone has a homecoming date but you, it feels like the ABSOLUTE END OF THE WORLD! As adults listening to our girls, it’s tempting to explain in the grand scheme this won’t matter or to use simple statements like, “it’ll all work out.” Often this means our girls will only explode more, but internally.
The golden rule in a counseling relationship is to “only confront as much as you support.” Thus, with our girls, we have to validate their feelings. “Yeah, that sounds really lonely.” or “That sounds really hurtful.” Once they feel safe and understood, we can then help them see from a new perspective. But if we jump right to problem solving or making their problem smaller, they will often explode or never come to us again with a pressing situation.
3. Encourage good care for their bodies.
Anxiety can take a great toll on a girl’s physical health but can also be made worse by poor self-care. It is important to encourage her toward healthy eating, drinking water, exercise (especially cardio), doing something just for fun, spending time alone and off their phone, and having a routine of slowing down their mind and body before going to bed.
4. Just love them.
I can still remember the feeling in high school when my world was coming to an absolute end. And I remember the sweet women who just held me as I cried, asked me to coffee, or let me put on their makeup before church when I had cried mine all off in the car. In the moments when your world is ending and your brain is spiraling, you tend to ask a million questions but the two key ones are “Am I loved?” and “Am I safe?” We can offer our girls these two needs that are “Yes and amen” in Jesus time and again and again.
Anxiety is a serious issue that when causing significant impairment of functioning necessitates a medical intervention along with therapy and within the home. But the common stressors amongst our teenage girls can prove to be areas of their lives where we enter in, help them navigate their feelings, validate them, offer solutions, encourage good care for their bodies, but most importantly love them with the grace and care their Father will never stop showing.
Emily Katherine Dalton grew up in Spartanburg, SC and now lives in Rome, GA where she graduated from Berry College, studying Psychology and Spanish. She now serves as an assistant coordinator with the WinShape College Program as she is pursuing a Master of Divinity in Christian Education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Emily Katherine loves volunteering with middle school and high school girls in her church’s student ministry and working in college ministry. She is a coffee lover, book reader, blogger, and a big fan of a paper planner. Connect with Emily Katherine: Website // Instagram