When a girl struggles with anxiety, it can leave some parents and caregivers feeling overwhelmed and underequipped, but experts say there are many ways to help:
Ask about the spoken and unspoken expectations she feels in her life. Listen respectfully when she shares her stressors and anxiety triggers, no matter how big or small they may sound to you in the moment. Frequently express love that is independent of her performance or achievement.
Don't avoid all situations where she feels anxious, or do the anxiety-producing things for her, because she'll come to believe she can't handle anything and her anxiety could get worse. Teach her that feeling anxious is normal, but when it becomes overwhelming, she can develop skills and tools to help her cope until it passes. Continually express your trust in her ability to handle anxious feelings.
Ask what is important to her and what brings her joy. If she has a hard time answering, that could be a sign she's trying to please everyone else — and not herself. Maybe she needs to explore some new hobbies, or bring back an old one.
Talk about the people and groups she connects with on social media. Are they encouraging her or fueling a sense of inadequacy? Give permission to unfriend, unfollow and avoid things online that are draining, not energizing. Also, set time as a family when everyone's phones are put away — whether that's a few hours each night or a Saturday or Sunday — to encourage more face-to-face conversations.
Work to develop a healthy eating plan and teach her about the way that food impacts her emotional health. If she's fueling up on sugar, processed foods and quick energy sources, she'll be more likely to crash later. Encourage and model healthy eating habits and make dinnertime a chance to connect as a family and have meaningful conversations.
Make her bedroom an inviting place by buying an alarm clock and removing technological distractions such as cellphones, tablets or televisions. Experts say blue light from phones can disrupt circadian rhythms. Teach her the value of a consistent, healthy bedtime, rather than staying up late to study or socialize.
Exercise can be a powerful mood regulator, so encouraging her to get out and sweat may be just the thing she needs — even if she's not excited at first. Offer to go on a walk or run together, take a hike or ride bikes. Maybe she'd like to start a dance class or join a yoga studio. Help her find something she enjoys and can stick with.
Girls need supportive adults in their life beyond just mom and dad. Help her develop friendships with trusted adults, whether it's grandparents, aunts or uncles, teachers, neighbors or family friends. Encourage her to seek help from safe sources and be open and honest about her struggles.
If your girl is struggling with debilitating anxiety, be willing to accept the fact that professional help may be needed. Seek out trained therapists in your area and recognize that it may take visits to several different therapists before your daughter finds someone who's a good fit for her.
Talk to your kids about your own anxiety and stressors and reassure them that it's OK to not be OK — but that there are healthy ways to deal with those feelings. Modeling positive coping skills, whether it's breathing exercises, visualization techniques, going for a walk or visiting with professional help — will assure your children that taking mental health challenges seriously is nothing to be ashamed of.