We all experience moments of feeling stressed and overwhelmed.  Teenagers, especially, feel under pressure which could be caused by deadlines, exams or conflict with fellow students and parents. That’s normal. Anxiety though, is a whole different matter all-together.  Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two, as the lines can easily be blurred.

So, what is the difference between stress and anxiety?

Stress is when situations can be managed. It can also have an upside when it motivates you to meet expectations, perform better and provide an energy to be more productive. It can improve focus, concentration and build your capacity to cope with stress.

Anxiety is when you experience a bodily response and shift in energy. It’s often referred to as the fight, flight and freeze response. Symptoms include:

  • Feeling helpless.
  • Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness.
  • Mood swings.
  • Restlessness and agitation.
  • Change in eating and sleeping habits.
  • Having a rapid heart rate and fast breathing.

Many parents are also worried that their child may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, but in actual fact most of the time it’s rather episodes of anxiety.  This is good news, because if managed correctly it will pass.

If you are worried as a parent, the obvious questions are, what are the signs to look out for and when should you be concerned? According to medical journals anxiety disorder include prolonged periods of excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioural disturbances like worrying about events that will likely not happen. It could also consist of constant panic attacks and feelings of hopelessness.

Should these symptoms persist for a period of 6 months or longer, it would be best to seek professional help from a psychiatrist and phycologist. The first step would be to identify the type of anxiety and intensity the child is experiencing.  The two main forms of anxiety experienced by teens are social or general anxiety. This could be treated with practicing mindfulness, cognitive restrictive management and dialectical therapy. In some instances, medication can be prescribed to help your child cope.

How can you support a child with anxiety?

According to Dr Serahni Symington, counsellor and play therapist specialist, she would advise parents to do the following:

  1. Assist your child to verbalise and accept the situation which is causing anxiety.
  2. Determine what your child needs in that immediate moment.  Is it comfort or solutions?
  3. Practice deep breathing exercises to help your child relax.
  4. Identify and try to avoid triggers that will agitate anxiety.
  5. Assist your child to transition from having an emotional to a logical mind response which will then result in a “wise mind” response.

“Something that can’t be stressed enough is to practice selfcare.  Taking time off to relax and take care of yourself gives you the capacity to face what lies ahead and look at things with a new perspective” says Dr Symington.

Managing Director, Ian Strydom also adds: “At Wingu Academy we have a Wellness Hub of trained professionals that can guide parents and students in attaining routine, structure and planning which in most cases will avoid anxiety.”