Top 10 Tips for an Anxious Teenager.

A recent global survey revealed that anxiety levels are high in UK schools with disadvantaged pupils worse affected. The survey carried out by the OECD will add to growing concern about the mental health and wellbeing of young people in the UK. Almost a quarter of British pupils say they are being bullied a few times a month, while more than 14% say they are bullied frequently, making the UK the fourth worst affected of all 34 countries surveyed.

Teachtalks asked the speaker and author Rachel Kelly for her Top 10 Tips for an Anxious Teenager. Rachel speaks and writes about her experience of depression and recovery to help educate and break stigma that surrounds mental health.

Tip 1: Breathing

When we are an­xi­ous, our breath­ing be­comes fast and shal­low. When we breat­he more slow­ly this for­ces our rac­ing minds to slow down as well. It can help to close one nostril with a fin­g­er – this means we breat­he at half the rate to norm­al, rath­er like when we have a cold.

Tip 2: Avoid Alcohol

In­itial­ly, al­cohol can make us feel happy – but pre­tty quick­ly this ef­fect is re­ver­sed. Al­cohol lit­eral­ly de­pletes the bit of our brain that is re­spon­sible for mak­ing us feel happy, and con­tributes to in­som­nia too.

Tip 3: Generosity to Others

Being kind to oth­ers has a very real ef­fect on our hap­pi­ness. We be­come kind­er to our­selves.

Tip 4: A Happy Diet

A good break­fast helps keep me and my mood steady. Ex­peri­ment with por­ridge, poac­hed eggs, oat­cakes and goat’s cheese or sour­dough with some peanut butt­er, in­stead of your usual break­fast. Dur­ing the day, eat lean pro­tein, whole grains, pul­ses, fish, fruit, nuts, cere­als and olive oil – all of which again help to stabil­ise your mood. Try and avoid the quick fix of a chocolate bi­scuit, it can play havoc with your mood, sen­d­ing it whizz­ing up, then down again. I think a vitamin B sup­ple­ment is also a rea­l­ly good idea.

Tip 5: Insomnia

Wor­ry­ing about not sleep­ing is far more damag­ing than ac­tual­ly not sleep­ing. Our bod­ies make sure we get the sleep we need as long as we can be flexib­le about when we sleep, and catch up when we can. If you be­come tense when you feel you should be as­leep and are not, try prac­tis­ing muscle re­laxa­tion and breath­ing tech­niques.

Tip 6: Be Compassionate

De­velop a more com­pas­sionate, ac­cept­ing inner voice, which you can call upon to help you co­un­teract negative think­ing. Heal­ing man­tras act as a balm for my hurt mind. Two of my favourites are ‘My strength is made per­fect in weak­ness’ (2 Cor­inthians 12:9) and ‘You are a child of the uni­ver­se, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here’ (Max Ehrmann’s De­siderata). I stick these on my bathroom mir­ror and use them as gentle re­mind­ers to carry on in mo­ments of every­day ad­vers­ity.

Tip 7: Learn to Practise Mindfulness

Mindful­ness is a non-judgmental way of focus­ing at­ten­tion on what we are ex­perienc­ing in the mo­ment. It can be hard when are minds are full of negative thoughts. My chal­lenge has been in­cor­porat­ing this into my every­day life. The an­sw­er has been to make an every­day ac­tiv­ity a mind­ful one: I use hand-washing. I pay par­ticular at­ten­tion to the sen­sa­tion of cold water, the sound of the tap, the smell of the soap. These mind­ful mo­ments pro­vide full stops amid the rush, and a re­mind­er to slow down.

Tip 8: Read Poetry

Poet­ry has pro­ved to be a li­feline for me. It is free, has no side ef­fects and helps fill up the spaces ot­herw­ise oc­cupied by my in­sis­tent wor­ries. It helps with my in­som­nia (I can learn a poem in the mid­dle of the night); makes me feel less alone (my poets have be­come friends), and gives me words to de­scribe how I am feel­ing when I can­not find them for myself.

‘Love bade me wel­come, but my soul drew back/Guil­ty of dust and sin.’ (Geor­ge Her­bert). For me, that is what de­press­ion feels. Other top poems in­clude Hope by Emily Di­ckin­son and In­vic­tus by Wil­liam Er­nest – so in­spir­ing for times when I need to find co­urage.


Tip 9: Exercise

Re­search shows that ex­erc­ise can be as ef­fective as some drugs. We all know about end­orphin highs, but I’ve never been spor­ty and have a fear of gyms. I do, howev­er, like gett­ing th­ings done and so love com­bin­ing chores with ex­erc­ise – both are less bor­ing as a re­sult. So I bi­cyc­le to pick up my son from school. I ring the gas com­pany on speaker-phone while I sweep the back gard­en. I’ve also learnt that I should­n’t do noth­ing just be­cause it suits my in­clina­tion. Even a few stretches can help, or a short walk, es­pecial­ly out­side – we all know the med­ical and psyc­holog­ical be­nefits of vitamin D and sun­light. Fin­al­ly, I do a week­ly dance class with a friend that I can’t eas­i­ly get out of with­out lett­ing her down.

Tip 10: This one is for you…

This is for you to come up with your­self.

The worst thing about being de­pres­sed is peo­ple like me tell­ing you what to do. It’s a bit like being a first-time moth­er when all the other moth­ers tells you how to burp the baby. Or a teenager who is endlessly given advice… Re­memb­er that you know best. Make a list of your own top warn­ing signs that an epi­sode of de­press­ion might be on the way. Print it out, make a few co­p­ies, laminate them and put them in strategic places – on the bathroom mir­ror, in your bag, or hidd­en in­side your desk. And if one day you can’t get up, your mind con­sumed by dark­ness, be as gentle as you can on your­self. This too will pass.


Rachel Kelly

Rachel now speaks publicly about her experience of depression and recovery to help educate and break stigma. She is an official ambassador for Rethink Mental Illness, Young Minds, Sane and The Counselling Foundation, and her latest book ” The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood “ food was published in January 2017.

Rachel Kelly

Rachel is a mental health campaigner, public speaker, and writer. She is an official ambassador for Rethink Mental Illness, Sane and The Counselling Foundation. Her latest book "The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood" was published in January.

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