5 Tips for Helping Teens with Anxiety & Procrastination
We’re coming up on that time of year again that many parents dread…final exams! If you’re the parent of teens with anxiety, you know the week of final exams can be really tough.
You see your teen run the whole gamut of emotions – anger, helplessness, worry, and maybe even panic. They may also compare themselves excessively to others, think negatively, and have more difficulty focusing than usual.
And then there’s procrastination.
Procrastination is so common among teens and it fuels a lot of their anxiety especially when it comes to test-taking.
What is Procrastination and How Does it Affect Teens with Anxiety?
Procrastination is the act of delaying or putting off tasks, in this case studying, until the last minute.
One of the biggest factors contributing to your teen’s procrastination is the perceived idea that they have to feel “inspired” or “motivated” to study.
As parents, we know that if they wait until they’re “in the mood” to study (especially subjects they don’t like), it will likely never happen. But many teens don’t see it that way.
There’s also the tendency to believe that writing papers and finishing projects can be done much faster than they actually can. This assumption often leads to a false sense of security. And when your teen realizes that they misjudged the actual time commitment, anxiety and panic can quickly set in.
Procrastination and Perfectionism
If you’re wondering why teens procrastinate, teens with anxiety who struggle with procrastination can often be perfectionists. The reason that it may be less stressful psychologically to NOT study for an exam than to study hard and get a bad grade. It doesn’t make sense, but they may be so worried about what parents or friends will think of them that they jeopardize their grades to avoid judgment. Better to fail due to not studying than have to admit they’re not perfect or as smart as they’d hoped.
Perfectionism can also look like your teen designing tasks in ways that are over the top. Usually, this excessive effort is because your teen wants to get something really “right”. Unfortunately, something that is usually quite manageable if kept reasonable can feel completely overwhelming and trigger procrastination in your teen.
Procrastination and Teens with Anxiety
Not surprisingly, perfectionism and teens with anxiety go hand in hand. When your teen feels anxious about something, the tendency will be to put off doing it. Sometimes this anxiety-procrastination link is obvious to your teen and other times, it isn’t.
For example, if after struggling in chemistry class all semester your teen now has to study for a final chemistry exam, they may procrastinate to avoid feelings of failure.
You may have also had your teen tell you that they actually perform better under pressure. But while they might be able to convince themselves of that, research shows it’s generally not the case. If anything, they start to create a bad habit of studying at the last minute in order to experience that rush of having to beat the odds. In the end, all it does is add to their anxiety.
What’s at the Root of Procrastination?
Psychologists have identified various factors that can lead to procrastination. Among them are:
- Low self-confidence
- Lack of structure
- Inability to motivate oneself to complete unpleasant tasks
- Fixation on negative thoughts
Fundamentally your anxious teen may be avoiding tasks because they don’t think they’ll enjoy doing them and want to avoid making themselves unhappy. They might also fear not doing the tasks well. Or they may procrastinate when they’re confused by the difficulty of a task or when they’re overly distracted or tired.
5 Tips for Teens to Manage their Anxiety and Procrastination
Regardless of the exact reasons for anxiety and/or procrastination, teens can still be successful during final exams by using some of the following tips.
Tip #1: Breathe Deeply
When we feel fearful or anxious, our bodies can go into panic mode. It’s important to slow down the adrenaline rush by breathing deeply.
There are a number of different ways to calm your breath. You can do a Google search and find half a dozen techniques. The important thing is that you bring attention to your breath in a nonjudgmental way. Focus on what your breath feels like at the moment. And if you find your thoughts returning to the upcoming exam, simply and gently let go of those thoughts and return to an awareness of your breath.
Next, try to slowly inhale a little deeper, pause at the top of the breath, and then exhale even slower than the inhale. By mindfully focusing on your breathing, your mind will start to relax. Your body will also begin to calm which helps the blood flow back into your brain resulting in better focus.
Tip #2: Use Positive Self-Talk
Before reaping the benefits of positive self-talk, it can be helpful to notice the negative self-talk. For example, when you’re about to take an exam, you might hear the following thoughts: “I’m going to fail this test,” “I didn’t study enough,” or “I’m not very good at test-taking.” These thoughts are only going to make it more difficult for you to concentrate so it’s important to dispute them.
Instead, change the statements to, “I studied hard, and I know the material,” “I’m going to do my best,” or “I’ve got this!”. You’ll begin to notice your anxiety decreasing and your focus and recall ability increasing.
Tip #3: Stay Realistic and Resilient When Handling Teen Anxiety
Exams are actually an opportunity to show off how much you know. If you’ve studied hard and are prepared, then exams are a really good place for you to shine. See it as a personal challenge to keep growing and acquiring knowledge. Make it more than just a grade.
In addition, remember that your teachers want you to do well. They’re on your side so stop thinking of exams as a way for your teachers to trip you up and fail you. It’s not true and it erodes your confidence. Stay realistic and remind yourself of how resilient you really are.
Tip #4 – Exercise
Exercise the morning of your exam, if possible. It not only releases built-up tension in your muscles, but it also releases “feel-good” endorphins that will help put you in a better frame of mind. Exercise is an exceptional way to supercharge your mood and help you perform better!
Tip #5 – Make an Anti-Procrastination List for Your Teens with Anxiety
There are a number of things you can do to combat procrastination as you sit down to study or complete that final project. Here are just a few helpful suggestions:
- Make a to-do list with due dates next to each item. It will keep you on track. Schedule study times and stick to them.
- Take baby steps. Break down the items on your list into smaller, more manageable steps so that the tasks don’t appear so overwhelming. You want to set realistic and specific goals and steps for studying.
- Get the hardest assignment/project done first. This will mean working when you feel most alert and efficient. It will also give you a feeling of accomplishment to have it behind you.
- Recognize the warning signs. We all know when we’re about to fall prey to procrastination so it’s important to resist the temptation. To counteract it, force yourself to spend a few minutes working on whatever you’re doing.
- Eliminate distraction. Get really clear on what pulls your attention away the most—probably your phone or social media – and turn off these sources of distraction.
- Congratulate yourself. When you complete an item on your to-do list, congratulate yourself and then reward yourself by doing something fun, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
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