In August, Elana Fauth, an Ezra Jewish Education Specialist and Springboard Fellow at Hillel, shared an article chronicling her battle with anxiety (you can read it in full here). She writes about how she felt isolated and struggled to respond to the pressures of her daily life and what seemed like a terrifying and fast-paced world around her. Additionally, Elana writes about how the Jewish community offered her support, connection, and—in her lowest moment—was the resource that provided her help. Finally, Elana touches on an essential point: “I never considered that repairing the world starts with repairing myself.” That tikkun h’nefesh, repairing one’s soul, is just as important as tikkun olam, repairing the world.
For many of our teens, Elana’s feelings are not unfamiliar. When faced with enormous pressure—midterms, finals, SATs, college, extracurriculars, the list goes on and on—teens can struggle to find their safe space and a moment of calm. It is how we support them through these moments and build up their internal strength that helps them handle these challenges and learn to ask for help when it feels like too much.
Teens experience a variety of changes as they move through adolescence. These include physical, mental, social, and emotional changes. These changes may present differently in all teens and some of the changes can also look similar to some of the symptoms of mental illness—shifts in mood, decreased/increased appetite, sleeplessness, or excessive tiredness. The distinction is that if a change in your teen is impacting their ability to function in school, if they are withdrawing from family and friends, if they no longer want to engage in activities they once enjoyed, or you are noticing a drastic change in their behavior, they may be experiencing a mental health challenge, rather than a typical adolescent change.
It’s important to check in with your teen and let them know you have noticed a change in their behavior. Use I-Statements: “I have noticed a change...” or “I have seen…” This provides them with a safe space to share their feelings and experiences.
Teens also have protective factors that affect their resiliency to assist in their navigation through these changes and challenges that adolescence presents. Protective factors can include a sense of spirituality, good self-esteem, a good support system, and a sense of community. The most important protective factor is a positive relationship with a safe adult. This could be you or it could be a BBYO staff member or advisor, a coach, an aunt or uncle, or a teacher. Who are those safe adults that your teen can turn to if they are struggling?
Some additional tips for dealing with stress and anxiety in teens are:
Maintain open communication with your teen. Allow them a safe space to express themselves without fear of punishment.
Practice self-care with your teen: Go for a walk, take a yoga class, practice meditation, or find something that works for both of you.
Talk about your feelings. If your teen hears you expressing yourself, they know that they can do the same.
Know the warning signs for mental health issues so that you can recognize if your teen experiences them.
Know where to go for help. Talk to your child’s pediatrician, school counselor, and others to know what local resources are available to you.
Have questions or want to talk more? As always, we are here for you. Reach out to us at [email protected] and [email protected].