This post: Healthy Coping Skills for Teenagers: 10 Ways to Relieve Stress & Anxiety
I think nearly every parent of teenagers would agree that raising teenagers is hard. But boy, oh boy, make no mistake about it, being a teenager is hard, too.
When I look back on my own teen years, I remember when those waves of intense emotion would come over me out of nowhere. And now, I see my kids facing those same emotions. Pile on the stressors that teens face today, including relentless academic pressure, the comparison trap of social media and the push to make decisions about their future long before they’re ready, and it’s easy to see why kids today sometimes feel totally stressed, anxious or overwhelmed.
It’s normal for our teen’s minds and bodies to react to the challenges of life. In fact, everyone feels stressed out and anxious every now and then.
What’s concerning, however, is when our kids don’t know how to manage those feelings or when they adopt unhealthy (or even dangerous) coping mechanisms to manage those uncomfortable feelings.
Teenagers need to be educated on how to protect their mental health. They need to know that what they’re feeling isn’t something they should be fearful of acknowledging or shameful of expressing. They also need to be given the freedom to voice their feelings and be equipped with healthy strategies to help them cope.
Here are a few healthy coping skills for teenagers along with specific ways to help them relieve their stress and feelings of anxiousness.
Healthy Coping Skills for Teenagers: 10 Ways to Relieve Stress & Anxiety
It’s important to first understand what stress and anxiety are and to realize that they aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, these emotions can spur our teens on, help them stay alert, motivate them to solve problems and make them more aware of risks.
What Is Stress?
Stress is our body’s response to pressure. It can be triggered when our teens experience something new or unexpected, when a situation threatens their sense of self, or when they feel overwhelmed or have little control over a situation.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry or fear. Everyone feels anxious at times, but anxiety can become a mental health problem if feelings become very strong or are long-lasting.
COPING: What It Means and Why It Helps
Coping describes any behavior that is designed to manage the stress, anxiety and overwhelming emotions that accompany tough situations in life. According to Medline Plus, for a teenager, that stress and emotion can be triggered by (but not limited to):
- Worrying about schoolwork or grades
- Juggling responsibilities, such as school, work, sports, and family life
- Having problems with friends, being bullied, or peer group pressures
- Becoming sexually active or feeling pressure to do so
- Changing schools, moving, or dealing with housing problems or even homelessness
- Having negative thoughts about themselves
- Going through body & hormonal changes/puberty
- Seeing parents go through a divorce or separation
- Family financial issues
- Living in an unsafe home or neighborhood
- The pressure to figure out what to do after high school
- Getting into college
By helping your teenager learn and develop positive and healthy coping skills at their young age, you’ll be giving them the tools to manage their emotions, build resilience and protect their well-being, not only now, but throughout their entire adult life.
10 Healthy Ways to Relieve Stress & Anxiety
#1 Talk It Out
Teenagers are notorious for keeping their emotions bottled up. It can be difficult for them to not only understand their feelings but also to bring all those heavy emotions swirling around in their head to the surface.
Rather than harboring those feelings when they’re stressed or anxious, (and having to face them alone), talking it out is exactly what they need to do. In fact, research has shown that teenagers who share their emotions and talk about their feelings are less likely to suffer from anxiety or get depressed. One study found that when teens simply label their feelings as, “I feel frustrated,” or “I’m feeling totally overwhelmed,” was enough to help them identify and manage their feelings in a more productive way.
Whether they open up to you, a friend they trust, a counselor, or a professional, having a chance to release some of that pent-up frustration can be just what your teen needs to release stress and tension.
#2 Take a Break
If school and relentless homework have your teen on edge, give them the freedom to take a mental-health hooky day. If their sports schedule is getting to be too much, encourage them to miss a practice or a game (chat with the coach first). If their after-school job is adding too much pressure in their lives and making them feel overwhelmed, maybe it’s time to cut back on their hours or quit altogether.
Taking a time-out from an area of their life that’s triggering their stress so they can regroup and regain their energy isn’t being “lazy” or irresponsible. It’s healthy!
#3 Lower Your Expectations
The pressure society places on teenagers today is intense. In fact, without realizing it, we might be adding to our kids’ pressure by encouraging them to “get good grades,” “do their best,” and to “try hard so they can get into a good college.” Of course, we all want our kids to be successful, but at what cost?
They don’t have to get a 4.0 to be successful. They don’t have to be the star football player or land the lead role in the school play. They don’t have to land that internship to eventually get a great job. Cut your teen a little slack. Lower your expectations and encourage them to do the same. Life isn’t a sprint… it’s a marathon.
#4 Identify the Triggers
Every time your teen starts to feel totally stressed out, anxious, panicky, overwhelmed or depressed, have them write down what’s happening in their life at the time. Chances are, they’ll begin to identify key triggers that are causing their uncomfortable emotions. Maybe it’s when their teachers pile on too much homework. Maybe it’s when friend drama gets to be too overwhelming or perhaps it’s when life at home becomes unsettled and stressful.
By zeroing in on the trigger(s) that are causing their heavy emotions, your teen can start to better anticipate and, in turn, take productive, healthy steps to cope and manage those instances before their emotions get out of control.
#5 Look at Stressors Methodically
Once your teen has identified the trigger(s) that are causing their stress or anxiety, it’s time to take action. Of course, not everything in their lives can be fixed. However, there are still plenty of strategies they can use to keep their stress at bay.
If the daily grind of school is triggering their stress, they can reduce or eliminate other commitments in their life so they can focus on their grades more calmly. If too many distractions in their life are causing them to feel anxious and unable to focus, they can turn their phone off when they need to focus, put it in another room or download an app to avoid distractions. If certain friendships have become unhealthy or toxic and they’re causing your teen stress, they can take a break or walk away completely to cut out unnecessary negativity in their life.
#6 Get More Zzzzs
You’ve probably seen first-hand the effect your teen’s lack of sleep has on their mood. After a sleepless night, they’re more irritable, short-tempered and far more vulnerable to the stressors of life. But a lack of sleep creates far more than merely “a cranky teenager.”
Research studies from the Journal of Sleep Medicine Reviews (August 2020) showed that lack of sleep in teens is associated with a 55% increase in the likelihood of depression and anxiety. Another study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that people who slept 4.5 hours a night for a week felt more stressed, angry, sad and mentally exhausted. Bottom line, your teen needs an adequate amount of sleep to maintain their physical and mental well-being.
#7 Exercise and Eat Healthy
We all know the benefits exercise has on our teen’s physical and mental well-being, but sometimes we overlook the obvious… the impact food and vitamins can have on their overall health.
For instance, did you know that according to WebMD, a Vitamin D deficiency can mirror signs of depression including mood changes accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, sadness, loss of interest in activities, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts? And, a deficiency in Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) can cause anxiety, depression, insomnia and irritability. So, as much as your teen loves juicy hamburgers, chicken nuggets and fries, it might be time to re-evaluate what they’re eating and adopt a healthier diet. Another thing teens need to do is avoid nicotine (i.e., smoking/vaping) and consuming too much caffeine – both of which can worsen anxiety.
#8 Develop Positive “Self-Talk” Skills
Our teen’s “inner voice” plays a huge role in how they think and how they react to the normal ebb and flow of life. And, considering most teenagers are their own worst critics, helping them develop strong, positive “self-talk” skills, will prove beneficial their entire life.
The next time your teen feels miserable, encourage them to nix negativity, be brave and fight back. When a negative thought creeps into their head, encourage them to nip that negative thought in the bud and replace it with a positive one.
Instead of: “I’ll never be good at math.” Try this: “I studied hard and got a C on that last test. I’m definitely improving.”
Instead of: “No matter how hard I practice, I’ll never be as good as the other kids on the team.” Try this: “I wasn’t even sure I’d make the team and here I am. If I practice hard, I will get better.”
Instead of: “I’m not as pretty as those other girls – I’ll never be.” Try this: “They’re THEM and I’m ME. I’m unique! There is no one like me and that makes me special.”
#9 Practice Relaxation & Mindfulness Techniques
Let’s face it, when our teens walk in the door after school and escape to their bedrooms with the door closed, there’s a good chance they’re not really relaxing. We might think they’re just chilling out or even being lazy when, in fact, their brain is on overdrive. They’re re-evaluating everything that happened that day, things they have to get done, or school deadlines or projects that are weighing heavy on their mind.
Sometimes, the best thing our kids can do is to quiet “the noise” in their head. Simple things like taking deep, meaningful breaths, stretching, visualizing themselves in a calmer place, learning the art of meditation, or writing their feelings down can help them pull in the reins of stress and help them regroup.
#10 Do Things that Make You Happy
Our teens can’t control every aspect of their life, but they can control how they react when life starts to get the best of them. When they’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed or stressed, doing something that makes them happy or brings them comfort can help turn their mood around, relieve stress, and create more balance in their lives.
Here are a few healthy coping skills for teenagers to help your teen replace negative, stressful thoughts with positive, “I can get through this” thoughts:
- Take a brisk walk, ride your bike or go on a run with a friend
- Listen to music (create a specific “music that makes me feel happy” playlist)
- Listen to the sounds of nature (ocean waves, birds chirping, etc.)
- Watch television or a funny movie, or listen to an uplifting Podcast
- Call or Facetime a supportive friend
- Go on a long drive with your mom, dad or bestie (roll the windows down, too!)
- Hangout with friends (laugh, get silly, go on an adventure!)
- Dive into a great book
- Make plans to do something fun (having something to look forward to can change your outlook)
- Snuggle up with your favorite blanket and take a power nap
- Dive into a few pieces of dark chocolate
- Keep a journal (the next best thing to talking about thoughts, feelings, and emotions)
- Take a day or weekend vacation and just GET AWAY
- Draw, doodle, paint, do a craft or build something (doing something with your hands will take your mind off of your negative feelings)
- Clean, organize or declutter your bedroom (it might not be something you love to do, but your environment plays a huge role in how you feel)
- Make a gratitude list (there’s a ton of good going on in your life – write it down!)
- Light a lavender-scented candle (lavender is known for helping to reduce stress and calm nerves)
- Light a beach-scented candle (bring your mind back to more relaxing, calm days by the shoreline)
- Meditate, do Yoga or practice deep breathing/relaxation techniques
- Suck on an ice cube (research has shown it helps take your mind off your stress or anxious feelings)
- Do something nice for someone else (redirect your thoughts toward others)
- Make your favorite snack or comfort food
- Sit in the sun, close your eyes and try not to think… just breathe
- Buy yourself something new (even if it’s something small)
- Hit the gym and crank up the music
- Get out into nature
- Scroll through funny TikTok videos to get you laughing
- Spend time with your favorite pet
- Pamper yourself by taking a long bath, getting a manicure, pedicure or massage.
- Create a Coping Toolbox
When To Call a Medical Professional
According to MedlinePlus, call a medical professional if your teen seems overwhelmed by stress, talks about self-harm in any way, or mentions (or even jokes) about suicide. Also, call if you notice signs of depression or anxiety that cannot be managed with positive coping strategies, that are long-lasting, or that seem unrealistic or disproportionate to the situation.