So far this year, the page on ReachOut.com with the most views is the page about anxiety.
Anxiety is a common feeling and a normal reaction to stressful situations. Different things and situations can make us feel nervous, anxious or stressed. All young people (and all us parents!) will experience anxiety at certain stages but it can become a problematic. If feelings of anxiety start to interfere with a young person’s everyday activities or if the feeling persists for more than a couple of weeks, it’s time to get some support.
Anxiety is clearly a big issue for young people in Ireland. We hear from young people that they are stressed; with exams, school and body image among the top causes. Many young people are searching on ReachOut.com and other websites for information about anxiety and how to deal with it. Anxiety is also one of the most common issues among young people presenting to Jigsaw.
As a parent we can inform ourselves about anxiety; what’s normal and what might not be. We can encourage talk about stresses and worries, listen respectfully and help to identify solutions to problems. It’s also important to be aware of our own anxieties and worries; children pick up on how parents are feeling so try to be a good role model when dealing with anxiety and stress.
Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and sleep can impact on anxiety levels. If your son or daughter is feeling anxious, it can often help to look at what they are eating, how active they are and how well they are sleeping. Having good connections with friends and family and a trusted person to talk to can also help.
Sometimes, anxiety persists even with changes to lifestyle and talking with a trusted person. If feelings of anxiety persist and start to affect day-to-day activities, it’s best to seek advice from your GP. There are professional supports available that can help and your GP can advise.
People can have different needs in terms of sleep, but for children and young people especially, getting a good night’s sleep is key.
Teenagers and young adults need an average of about eight and a half hours sleep per night. However, research suggests that many teens don’t get enough quality sleep and teachers and youth workers tell us that sleep deprivation is a huge issue among young people.
Getting sufficient good quality sleep is essential for our health and wellbeing. It helps with our energy levels and our ability to concentrate. Not getting enough sleep can lead to a huge number and range of issues for young people such as moodiness, lack of enthusiasm, anxiety, poor decision-making, difficulties at school.
Most of us have experienced that feeling of exhaustion and know how overwhelming it can be. Even simple things become difficult and we know how irritable we can get without enough sleep. This can have knock on effects in terms of what we eat and how much exercise we get. When we’re tired we tend to opt for sugary snacks and drinks, and we’re not as active.
Our quality of sleep is influenced by our daytime routine. Young people especially need to eat regular, healthy meals, get regular physical activity early in the day and have a wind-down routine before bed. A wind-down routine involves limiting screen time; TV, phones, tablets, laptops etc. at least an hour before bed and avoiding drinks with caffeine. Instead, they could read a book, listen to music or drink warm milk.
Ideally, phones would be switched off or handed over before bed. This can be extremely tough for young people, but late-night texts or social media use can severely disrupt sleep.
If anxious thoughts are preventing sleep, they could keep a notebook beside their bed to write down these thoughts as they come and set them aside until the morning.
There’s more information about sleep here.
A team based in Co. Wicklow have developed a toolkit aimed at addressing sleep deprivation among 12 – 14 year-olds. The Sleep Programme aims to give teachers and youth workers the tools they need to support young people in improving or maintaining a good sleep routine.
Areas such as stress, diet, physical activity, drug and alcohol use are all addressed within the programme along with practical information for young people, which they can then implement in their daily lives.
The programme is to be facilitated by teachers or youth workers but there’s some really useful information for parents there too. ‘The Sleep Programme’ is available for download here.