With rates of anxiety hitting catastrophic numbers among today’s youth, the question begs to be asked: “why are teens so darn anxious in the first place and what can we do to help?” Relying on her firsthand experience giving hundreds of hours of therapy to teens, parents and families, author KRISTINA VIRRO takes a deeper look into this unsettling phenomenon to locate some of its root causes and possible solutions in her first book, THE ANXIOUS TEEN.
I recently spoke with Kristina and asked about her background and then about the inspiration for this book which offers valuable advice for parents, teachers and grand-parents and the teens in their lives.
As a psychotherapist and holistic nutritionist, I look at how the different parts of your life shape who you are, from your innermost beliefs about yourself to your eating and exercise habits. I prioritize being transparent, non-judgmental, and supportive, while also challenging some of the seemingly automatic beliefs and thoughts you may have that prevent you from meeting your goals. I also pride myself on being open-minded and anti-oppressive in my work. Models of therapy I am trained in and have been inspired by include: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, and Trauma-Informed Care. – Kristina Virro.
What inspired this book focusing on teen stresses and anxieties and how parents/teachers can support or resolve these issues? A main component of my master’s program involved being a full-time therapist intern who worked with individuals, couples and families in the community. It became clear very quickly that practically every single teenager and university student was struggling with anxiety. On top of that, the university I was studying at witnessed a shocking number of suicides among its undergraduate students that year. I couldn’t help but wonder why these teenagers’ concerns seemingly hadn’t been addressed before coming to university, and I was curious about how I could help parents, teachers and mentors take a more preventative approach to their teenagers’ mental health.
How was your own life – did you experience any major anxieties and if so, how did you deal with them? I had taken a very organized, methodical approach to academia when I was younger: everything was planned out perfectly and by the age of 22 I’d completed my first master’s degree in journalism. After a few years in field though, I realized it wasn’t the best fit and I had to do a bit of soul searching. That’s when I experienced a crippling amount of anxiety. I’d gone from being someone who was “ahead of the game” with their entire life planned out to someone who didn’t know their purpose while their friends were working their way up in the real world. It was really, really hard. I dealt with it by seeing an amazing therapist who helped me get to know myself better and develop my resilience.
You have a background in various therapies, can you tell us how this expertise aided the creation of this book? I gained so much insight about anxiety through providing family therapy to different people. Meeting with teenagers alone is one thing; you can discuss different strategies, coping mechanisms and other tools, but when you meet with the whole family, you can see pretty quickly how different dynamics might be contributing to the anxiety. What’s useful, though, is that from there you can see how everyone can be part of the solution as well.
What are a few of the signs that parents, teachers or mentors need to heed as potential ticking time-bombs when dealing with a “moody teen”? Firstly, it’s important to be able to differentiate between when a teen is being moody versus showing symptoms of a legitimate mental health disorder. Everyone gets moody sometimes, but mental health disorders tend to change a person in more drastic ways such as affecting their eating habits, discouraging them from partaking in activities they once enjoyed, or isolating themselves. You can also learn a lot by just listening to how teenagers talk about themselves or life in general. Do they frequently put themselves down? Are they constantly worrying about the future? Are they unable to highlight any of their strengths? These could all be signs that an anxiety disorder is at play.
What do you hope readers gain by the time they turn the last page of your book? I hope readers will realize that decreasing rates of anxiety in teens isn’t just a “teenage issue.” I’ve seen so many parents bring their kids to therapy in the hopes that I’ll “fix them,” when in reality, there are so many cultural, familial and generational factors that influence why teens are so anxious today. But parents, schools, friends and more can all contribute to helping teens feel more supported, too. I hope readers will be reminded that we all need to work together on this.
Any advice or assurances you can give readers that their “kids are alright”? When a kid is struggling, it’s easy to become so consumed by the problem that we forget about their strengths. But the truth is teens are very resilient, malleable, resourceful individuals, which makes working with them very rewarding. They teach me so much and possess so many qualities that allow change to happen, and we need to remember to harness these.
So whether you’re a worried parent or frustrated teacher, this book provides practical tips and useful tools designed to reduce symptoms of anxiety in teens and increase caregivers’ abilities to cope, too.
The eBook is available now via Amazon & iBooks for $9.99 or $20 for hard copy [ISBN #978-1-9994279] (see weblink below for book purchase) and Kristina will be presenting several book signings and workshops across the GTA in the fall so watch for announcements here on this blog or via her website or social media.