Necessary Anxiety – What Teens Gain From Anxiety

Every living creature experiences anxiety. Anxiety is necessary for survival and adaptation.  Normal anxiety is common, and generally short-lived. In today’s fast paced world, however, we live in a culture that suggests any anxiety is bad and a person who struggles with any level of anxiety is weak or faulty. Society is so eager to diagnose a person with an official disorder.

Teenagers have been taught the need to be perfect. They have received participation trophies for their whole lives. Social media is used as a tool to present an edited/photoshopped sense of perfection. Many students get to retake their test in school to increase their GPA.  We have created people who have never experienced failure. When one has been protected and has never struggled to achieve, they are often unequipped to handle the smallest mistakes later in life. These first failures can be crippling and can lead to catastrophic feelings once the safety nest of parental protection is removed.  

Yet there are many positives once you learn to embrace your anxiety or face your nervousness. Studies have shown how the power of facing adversity can create resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to overcome challenges of any kind. The mastery of resiliency takes time and training. It is especially important for teenagers to have safe places where they can experiment with failing and facing their fears/anxieties.

3 Proven Ways to Build Resiliency

  1. SHARE INTENTIONALLY – Create a space for teenagers to share both successes and failures as well as opportunities to see others (more importantly adults) talk about their ups and downs. This expands a teen’s view of normal anxiety and overcoming failure, and can take place at the dinner table, a small group setting, or during prayer time.
  2. HIGHLIGHT STRENGTHS – Find ways to highlight a teenager’s gifts. Too often, teenagers can overly magnify their smallest perceived flaws. Highlighting strengths over weaknesses, teens learn how to overcome anxiety and stress brought on by a hyper focus on the negative. We all have many different talents that are unique to each of us. Helping a teenager name their gift(s) allows them to see more than the negatives. The second part of this step is to brainstorm with them ways for the teenager to use these gifts in their everyday lives. Be specific. Challenge them to find ways to engage with their gifts daily and celebrate them when they do use them, even if it does not work out as planned.
  3. NORMALIZE & FOSTER MENTAL TOUGHNESS – Remind teenagers that it is okay to have bad days and being mental strong is not about having it together all the time. Help them see past our society’s unhealthy need for perfection to learn that anxiety can be seen as an opportunity to grow rather than a threat or personal flaw. Mental toughness and resiliency are strengthened by learning to embrace anxiety/uncomfortableness and take action anyway.  The more often a person steps into their challenges, the stronger and more confident they can become.      

Kris Lott practices Marriage and Family Therapy in Nashville. His website is https://lottcounseling.wordpress.com.  Kris has also served as the youth minister at Calvary United Methodist Church since 2004 and coaches for the Center for Youth Ministry Training. In his free time Kris enjoy spending time at the lake with his wife and three daughters. 

Asking the Hardest Question

Suicide Prevention – Asking the Hardest Question – Published in Newsletter of TN Conference of the United Methodist Church on Sept. 6, 2018.

When was the last time suicide was mentioned at your church?  Was it from the pulpit?  Was it after a loss, or was it in a preventative discussion?  September is Suicide Prevention Awareness month, and it is time for all churches to start talking about this important topic.

According to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN), suicide claims over 1,000 lives per year in Tennessee. This means that each day, an average of three Tennesseans die from suicide.  The suicide rates in the U.S. are at an all-time high for teens and young adults.  In just the past two months, I am aware of five youth (6th grade – 12th grade) that have died by suicide in the mid-state area. While these statistics are alarming, suicide prevention should not only focus on teenagers, but on all age groups.  Suicide rates remain elevated among people in midlife, and Tennesseans aged 45-64 are over three times more likely to die by suicide than teenagers.

The most important way to aid the suicide prevention movement is to educate yourself and your congregation on the warning signs of suicide.  The church is on the front lines of suicide prevention.  Each of you walk side-by-side with your congregants and provide empathy and compassion in their struggles. Recognizing the warning signs of suicide and knowing how to respond may save a life.

TSPN’s director, Scott Ridgeway, notes potential behavioral patterns that might indicate someone is thinking about suicide include sudden differences in behavior, withdrawing from friends and communities, a loss of interest in hobbies, work or school, and/or talking about suicide or death.  For a complete list of warning signs and other information on suicide and suicide prevention visit: http://tspn.org/warning-signs.

If you see these warning signs with a church member or loved one it is important to ASK EARLY, ASK DIRECTLY, and ASK FOR HELP.  Studies show that you will not give a person the idea of suicide by asking them about it.  While it may be hard to ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” it shows that you care enough for the person to ask the tough question. Offering a safe space for the person to openly discuss their feelings is one of the most helpful ways to start finding them help.  Do not try to fix their problems, or debate with them about how much they have to live for.  While it is important to act fast, it is better not to act alone. Do not forget that your role is to help connect the individual to professional help.  Every minister should have a list of therapists in their community that work with suicidal individuals.  If you find yourself in a crisis situation, act immediately.  Call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-(TALK) or use the crisis text line by texting “TN” to 741-741 to speak to a trained specialist.

Suicide is preventable.  Kevin Hines, a suicide attempt survivor states, “Most people considering suicide want someone to save them. What we need is a culture in which no one is afraid to ask.”  Do not be afraid to ask the tough question about suicide, listen and provide hope, and be a connector to more support and help.

Kris Lott, MMFT