Moody, difficult, rebellious.

These are words many of us hear grownups use to describe kids when they are going through adolescence. 

Yes, at times, it may be teenage angst. But thanks to an ever more increasing focus on mental health, we are now aware of how hormonal changes in children’s bodies can affect their thoughts and behaviour – and how many children suffer from anxiety disorders.

These are, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “characterised by feelings of anxiety and fear”. Anxiety disorders is a broad umbrella term which can include “generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the UN health agency says.

And one in five South Africans are affected by anxiety annually, clinical psychologist Charity Mkone told the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

“We define someone suffering from anxiety as someone who constantly worries about something whether financially or even with the matric results,” she told SADAG shortly before the release of the 2019 matric results. 

How the world has changed since then, with adults and kids alike more anxious than ever as the pandemic rages and SA moves from lockdown to lockdown. 

For matric students concern over academic performance, access to learning materials and missing out on formative social rites of passage such as matric balls are just some of the factors that may cause them some distress. 

In order for us to really understand anxiety, we need to develop good wellness habits which can help us know when our thoughts and emotions are spiralling and whether what is being experienced is a panic attack or anxiety, which are closely related. “It’s important for people to know apps . . . to practise breathing techniques when the person is not having a panic attack so that when they do experience it, they know what to do,” said Mkone. 

In a time of turbulence for teens, these five apps can help your matric child self-soothe and combat anxiety. 

1. My Possible Self 

BEST FOR: Daily mood tracking, identifying thinking patterns and behaviours, and monitoring progress.

Not everyone knows how to put a name to a feeling, which is why My Possible Self is useful. It helps you diagnose your mood from bad to great then gives you advice based on how you feel. For example, if you feel tired, it may suggest you switch off the lights, close the blinds and make the room temperature more comfortable. Over a period of time, it’ll also track your mood with a graph to give you insights into how your emotional wellbeing generally is and can help you identify if your thoughts fall into any thinking traps such as catastrophising, black-or-white thinking or jumping to conclusions, then it gives you coping tools to deal with those thoughts.

Free with in-app purchases on the App Store and Google Play.

Read more | Neuroplasticity - How to help your child develop a growth mindset

2. Calm app 

BEST FOR: Falling asleep.

Many people struggle with sleep. But when your teen’s anxiety fuels their lack or poor quality of sleep, this may be insomnia, which is a sleep disorder “characterised by difficulty falling asleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, waking up too early in the morning, or nonrefreshing sleep” on a frequent basis, according to the South African Society of Sleep Medicine (SASSM). In fact, one in 14 South Africans suffer from insomnia, says the Human Sciences Research Council. This app uses soothing sleep stories, meditation, music and masterclasses to help users cope with sleeplessness, anxiety and stress.

Free with in-app purchases on the App Store and Google Play.

3. Moodfit 

BEST FOR: Cognitive behavioural therapy and mood journaling.

Over the years cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has become a popular form of psychotherapy to help patient re-frame their thinking and change behaviour. This is done through a “solutions-oriented” talk therapy that aims to “modify dysfunctional emotions, behaviours, and thoughts by interrogating and uprooting negative or irrational beliefs”, according to Psychology Today. 

For people suffering from anxiety, for example, the idea of endlessly talking about their distressing thoughts without gaining coping tools to help them change how they think may be ineffective. While seeking a therapist is still best, Moodfit is an app that can help your teen get to grips with CBT. Helping users journal daily goals for their mood, breathing, sleep, meditation, water intake and other habits that contribute to wellness, this app is customisable for individual users.

So if intrusive or distortive thinking, for example, are one of the contributors to your teen’s anxiety, the CBT Thought Record is a tool within the app they can use to help process those thoughts, track them, analyse them and get actionable insights. The app also includes a gratitude journal.

Free with in-app purchases on the App Store and Google Play.

4. Headspace 

BEST FOR: Meditation for beginners.

“Just breathe!” That’s the profound pearl of wisdom everyone feels compelled to drop when they see someone being overtaken by anxiety. It seems obvious, we all know to breathe, but there is indeed wisdom in the simplest truths. This is what the Headspace app will teach your teen. It’s a nifty app with a simple interface to help users easily master meditation, better sleep and the basics of yoga. Headspace’s main purpose is to educate, teaching users how to take restorative, calming breaths, ground themselves, stop their thoughts from wandering away – all very useful skills for an overwhelmed matric student.

Free with in-app purchases on the App Store and Google Play.

5. MoodMission

BEST FOR: Dealing with stress, low moods and anxiety.

Everyone loves a bit of adventure. And this is what this app, as its names suggests, can help your teen with. MoodMission is a simple-to-use tool for turning stress, anxiety or feeling low into a different type of thought or behaviour. So this app does draw on CBT and positive psychology to help your children identify and validate their feelings, whether positive or negative. Then it guides them to accomplish missions such as taking a walk, cleaning or drinking water, to use their negative emotions as motivation to achieve something that can make them feel good about themselves. 

MoodMission leads users – after gathering and analysing their responses to personalised surveys about how they feel – to the realisation that self-care, emotional awareness and achieving small, feel-good missions can reduce anxiety or stress. And because teenagers always want to know "why", this app is perfect because it provides an objective and rationale for each mission, explaining why cleaning your room or sitting in a certain yoga position for five minutes can reduce anxiety. Missions are thought-based, physical and behaviour-based, with new ones to discover each time your teen uses the app. It gathers their feedback on how useful they found each mission to suggest custom-tailored missions in future.

R79 with in-app purchases on the App Store and Google Play.

Remember, none of these tools can replace professional help from a trained and certified therapist. It’s important to seek medical advice for an accurate diagnosis of anxiety disorders.

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