Helping Teenagers Cope with Stress and Anxiety
With much trepidation, I prepared to ascend the daunting Doomsday Hill, a 1.1 mile hill with 157 feet in elevation gain, which is essentially like climbing 16 flights of stairs. My quads were on fire and burned from the 5 miles I had already run. Frankly, I hadn’t trained for the race and I wasn’t conditioned to run. The 7.46 mile race had sounded like an exciting adventure when I registered, yet my running had taken a back seat to motherhood, just like many other things in my life. I was an avid runner before kids. How hard could it be to run 7 plus miles? Piece of cake, right? Wrong.
As my body ached and my pace slowed to that of a turtle, I felt the oppressively hot, relentless sun beating down on my neck. My feet swelled in my Adidas shoes, which were tied too tight for an unusual 90 degree spring day in Spokane. I looked up, only to see runners from my point of view, making the slow, uphill climb, winding up the steep, zig zag path. They looked more like tiny ants than athletes. I knew I was truly doomed as my heart rate began to quicken.
As I stopped to catch my breath, a young man joined alongside me. I’ll never forget what he said: “Just keep your eyes focused directly in front of you and you’ll make it.” As he quickened his pace and sprinted out of view around the next bend, I thought about what he said. I turned my eyes back to the pavement, slowed my pace a bit more, leaned slightly forward, pumped my arms to a moderate cadence and rhythm, and began the gradual, uphill climb—this time with a new perspective.
I don’t know why I was reminded of that particular race as I sat with my journal today. Maybe it’s because I’ve noticed there are so many teenagers struggling with anxiety, worry, depression, and frustration in the midst of this pandemic.
What do we do when the world seems out of control? We run to the Lord and to His truth! The wise words that spilled out of Proverbs lay before me:
Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Proverbs 4:25-26
Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly in front of you. Yes! The definition of worry is, “… the state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems.” We worry because of uncertainty and what we fear. We feel a sense of hopelessness and lack of control. And therefore, we begin to feel anxious, stressed, agitated, and depressed. When we hit the pause button and fix our eyes on what’s directly in front of us, we’re therefore able to stop the spiral, re-center, re-focus, and ground ourselves in what we know to be true. Our feet are on a level path and our ways are firm again.
This is easier said than done. In the midst of this pandemic, it can feel as though we are tackling Doomsday Hill with the teenagers we love. So, what do we do?
Let me suggest the 4 R’s:
Kids are stressed. All day, they are filled with negative information, sitting in front of computer screens, phones, and social media. Anxiety is bottled up inside like a pressure cooker. Teenagers rarely stop to really think about how they feel or what the underlying cause of that feeling might be. We need to encourage them to release their thoughts, feelings, and stress to our God. Journaling and prayer is a great way to do that.
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall.” Psalm 55:22
“Cast your cares on the Lord because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
The Greek word for cast literally means to throw away. We can encourage our children to throw their heartache, disappointment, worry, and broken dreams to the Lord because He cares for them. By releasing, teenagers make room to receive.
There is so much unknown right now, especially for teenagers as everything they once knew has been stripped away. Our seniors are ending their last year of high school without any of the traditional rights of passage. They are embarking on uncharted territory at their universities. College students are wondering if they will have jobs when they graduate. Many students are watching parents lose jobs and they themselves are struggling to learn online.
The future is unknown. There is turmoil, uncertainty. It’s important to come back to what we know, what’s right in front of us – God’s promises. That’s why rooting in the truth of God’s Word is so important. The Bible is full of stories of hope and of God’s promises to walk with us, strengthen us, and never forsake us. Remembering His promises roots us, giving us strength to weather the storm.
As parents, it’s important for us to ground ourselves in Word each day. Not only does this provide an opportunity to model behavior for our children, it also allows us to grow in Jesus. As we grow and mature in our own faith, we’re then able to encourage our teenagers to do the same.
There are several, practical ways to impress this at home:
- Have your teenagers memorize Scripture. A daily devotional with Scripture references can be helpful, as well the multitude of Bible verse apps available for iPhones or Androids. As a family, you can all memorize the same verse each week. I often write Scripture on index cards and post them on my computer, bathroom mirror, or the refrigerator. I’ve even texted Scripture to my children throughout the day.
- Find stories of hope and trust in the Bible and share those stories with your teenagers. Stories serve as a reminder of His promises, giving hope for the future. I love to read the story of Noah. Noah didn’t know how long he would be on the ark, yet he passionately believed in God’s promise. He kept his focus on what was right in front of him, without worry about tomorrow. He trusted in God’s promise and rooted himself in the truth.
- Use personal examples. Has God carried you through tough situations? Share your personal faith walk so your teenagers know you’ve been through hard times and that He has walked before you & alongside you.
Once we have released our worry at the foot of the cross and rooted ourselves in the truth, we’re ready to receive. This is where we listen.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
We wait to hear God speak and to give us direction and discernment. Only in the quiet and the stillness are we able to truly hear and to feel His peace upon us. I start my day by listening. I tiptoe down to the family room, light a candle, and invite the Lord to speak. It’s an important discipline to establish as we grow in our faith.
Find quiet and stillness for yourself and encourage this with your teenagers:
- Get up 15 minutes earlier each day to spend time meditating on God’s Word and listening for His voice. You can quietly journal as you pray, and then pause in silence, asking God to speak to you. Or simply sit in quiet, reflecting on a passage or words of Scripture that have challenged you.
- End the day with the Lord. Sit upright in your bed and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with His peace, relaxing and listening.
I learned a hard lesson the day I climbed Doomsday Hill. You have to train. Training our hearts and renewing our minds is no different. Building a spiritual routine is just as important as having a physical routine daily. Release, Root, Receive… REPEAT!
During this complicated, difficult time, it’s important to give our teenagers tools to manage anxiety and stress by focusing on what we know to be true—that Jesus has rescued us from our sins by living, dying, and rising again. It’s by grace we have been saved! Knowing and believing this, we are truly able to enjoy God’s peace. And although spiritual disciplines are important in our faith journeys, ultimately we want our teenagers to place their hope not in themselves, but in what Christ has done for them.
In the midst of stress and anxiety, I pray you and your family will stay focused on Jesus, finding the hope and peace that only he can bring.