How Can I Support My Anxious Young Adult?

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 120 · Duration: 00:11:41

How Can I Support My Anxious Young Adult?

How Can I Support My Anxious Young Adult

Sometimes, we give a little extra financial and emotional support to a young adult who needs it.  But how and when does it end?  

If you have a question you’d like me to address on this podcast, don’t be shy, we’ll all benefit from your question so come on over to my website, and enter it there today. And while you’re there, download a free copy of my Parental Burnout Recovery Guide.

Heather from British Columbia, Canada  writes:

Our 21 year old daughter has been managing severe generalized anxiety and panic disorder since she was 15 years old. She has been living on her own for almost two years and working at an entry-level job with our additional financial support. She has been building on her strengths and developing independence however when the unpredictable happens like room mate changes, relationship challenges, overwhelm at work etc., the anxiety symptoms flood in and she becomes overwhelmed then reverts back to dependence and need.  How can we continue to support her growth and independence through these episodes?  Is there a time when you press the reset button, move home, begin again?

Thanks for your question Heather and it’s a very important one and as you read or listen you’ll see why I feel so strongly about it.

An Overview

You’re telling me that your 21 year old daughter is managing severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder with occasional panic attacks and she has had this condition since she was 15 years old.  Since she was 19 years old you’ve been supporting her living out of the home in an entry-level position.  You say she is improving in her level of independence, yet gets overwhelmed and reverts back to depending on (I assume you) when there are normal life stressors. 

Heather, now you’re wondering if there is a time to hit reset, have her move home, and begin again.   

The Challenge of Moving Back Home

Here is what I don’t understand.  Your daughter was diagnosed at 15 with anxiety; yet she is intelligent I assume talented in some ways which we all are, and here she is 6 years later still in the same place.  I’m not sure why she suffers from anxiety. Is it her basic temperament?  Was there trauma in her development?  But rather than getting successful treatment for her anxiety and continuing to move forward in her life, socially, academically, vocationally, emotionally, she’s remained a victim of her anxiety and relies on you for financial and emotional support.

If she moves home, what then?  Here is the challenge of moving home and there certainly are some circumstances when it makes sense. But when young adults move back home, they tend to experience themselves as younger than they do out in the world,  and behave younger as well.

But when young adults move back home, they tend to experience themselves as younger than they do out in the world, and behave younger as well.Click To Tweet

Early in my adulthood, even after I became a licensed psychotherapist, when I would visit home, I’d be cued into feelings and behaviors that were reminiscent of my childhood and my role in the family.  This is a common experience and what we don’t want for your daughter is to stay stuck in her role in family dynamics. 

Empowering a Young Adult with Anxiety Disorder

Heather, while I don’t have a lot to go on here, your daughter’s dependency on you is a factor that is keeping her young.  I know this sounds weird, but at some point helping is hurting; the more you help, the more it encourages her belief that she can’t manage on her own.  And I’m certain that a significant part of her disability is her belief in the dis and not the ability. 

So now, rather than think of whether she should come home or not, she and you need to think of how she can get past the idea that she’s disabled and get on to the idea that she needs the skills to manage the anxiety that is limiting her vast untapped potential as a young woman. 

You asked the question, “How can we continue to support her growth and independence through these episodes.”  The answer is, by doing less, not more.  I’d recommend when she calls you with a drama that is upsetting her, simply respond but validating how tough it is, and then go on to describe something in your life that’s hard too.  What you’d be doing is changing from the person with the answers, to simply normalizing the experience and acting like problems are a normal part of life that we all need to deal with. 

Let me role play what I mean  when she shares something horrible happening.

Daughter:  “We just got a new manager at work and he’s totally mean.  He doesn’t understand my condition at all and he gives me the worst shifts.  I don’t know how I’ll be able to handle it.”

You:  “That’s terrible.  I hate it when things are going along pretty well and then out of the blue, a new crisis shows up.  It seems like that always happens.  Just yesterday, I was saying to dad how calm everything was going for us and then suddenly, the dog gets the runs and starts throwing up and it wouldn’t stop.  We had to take him to the vet on a Sunday and they put him on an IV to get his fluids back up.  They’re keeping him for observation to see if it passes or if they need to do more. That little episode will cost us close to $1000.”

You have to stop having answers and start believing in your daughter’s inner strength, her ability to find answers to her problems. Click To Tweet

Therapy Can Help

Heather, you have to stop having answers and start believing in your daughter’s inner strength, her ability to find answers to her problems.  She is a good candidate for therapy and likely medication.  Is she seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist?  If she is and needs more, there could very well be an intensive day treatment program in her community.  Community based day treatment programs are often utilized post psychiatric hospitalization, but that wouldn’t be a requirement.  They offer mindfulness skill development, CBT, and do it in a group setting so clients help each other and work together.  More intensive treatment would be a residential treatment center for young adults with severe emotional issues.  Another thing to consider if after changing your relationship and your daughter getting appropriate therapy and if she continues to stay stuck, would be psychological testing. That  would discover if there are undiagnosed issues that need consideration; autism spectrum disorder for instance.

These options are there for your daughter, but in order for her to grow and get better, she needs to own her problem, then she can own the solution. Your role is to communicate that to her, not by shaming or complaining that she relies on you too much.  But by not having answers or suggestions, and by asking her how the professionals are helping her believe in herself, manager her anxiety, set personal goals and take steps towards achieving them.  It could be reasonable for you and her to have therapy together to help the two of you make that transition together.

Then your relationship with her can be more positive and fun- go shopping, buy shoes, have a latte together- and let the advise your daughter gets come from professionals. 

Handing Off of the Responsibility from Parent to Child

Heather’s question is a common and important one.  The process of helping a child grow up is a gradual hand off of responsibility of functions from parent to child, then teenager, then young adult.  This process is more difficult to execute when children, teens or young adults have issues that make self-management more challenging. 

It’s that much more difficult for parents to know how or when to let go and empower their child to function on their own.  It’s also easy for therapists to get caught in the same trap; see the disability, sympathize, empathize, even try to teach and encourage the use of skills, but not realize “the letting go struggle and dilemma” between the parent and child, a dilemma that when unresolved, can keep young adults and their parents handcuffed together indefinitely.

 Heather, we all wish you and your daughter our very best.  As we sign off, let’s all take a deep breath, and think of one thing we’re particularly grateful for. 

And please, take care of yourselves, you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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