This post: Create a Coping Toolbox to Help with Your Teen’s Anxiety
So much has been written about how young kids are coping with the coronavirus pandemic, yet little seems to focus on teenagers and how they’re coping with the total upheaval in their lives.
At a time when they’re supposed to be carefree, enjoying time with friends and figuring out who they are, they’re stuck at home or in their dorm room limited on what they can do and where they can go. They’re missing out on major milestones, memories and events in their lives – and, for more than half of all teenagers, the strain is making them feel totally stressed out, anxious and, in some cases, depressed.
In a recent survey, 7 out of 10 teenagers said they were struggling with their mental health in some way with more than half saying they had feelings of anxiety, 45 percent saying they felt stressed out and another 43 percent reporting that they were dealing with depression.
Teenagers’ emotions have a tendency to be inconsistent to begin with. But when you pile on the added stress of school, college, friends (drama), work and society’s expectations to be and do your best, sometimes, the pressure can get to be too much. Add on the fact that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and it can be downright unbearable for some teens.
When your teen’s stress and anxiety is at an all-time high, it’s hard to know what to do or what to say.
According to experts, if you suspect your teen is depressed, it’s best not to wait to summon professional help. However, for those times when they’re feeling anxious or stressed, the perfect remedy can be to create what experts are calling a “coping toolbox” to help deal with those stressful times.
Not sure what a coping toolbox is? Here’s everything you need to know to create a coping toolbox to help with your teen’s anxiety.
How to Create a Coping Toolbox to Help with Your Teen’s Anxiety
What is a Coping Toolbox?
A coping toolbox is essentially a box filled with items, notes, quotes or anything else that may offer comfort to your teen when they’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious to help them calm down, de-stress and refocus their energy and emotions in a positive, healthy way.
According to experts, the toolbox, (which can be anything from a shoebox to a small container), should be created at a time when your teen isn’t feeling stressed or anxious. The key is for them to fill the box with things that make them feel calm, that help them take their mind off their stress or anxiety and help them feel more positive, empowered and re-energized.
“I created an anxiety toolbox for my son who was under a ton of stress. At first, he laughed and thought the idea was dumb. Now it’s his ‘go-to’ box every time life gets the best of him.” ~ mom of 14-year-old.
Things such as inspirational quotes, uplifting music they love, a stress ball or a scented candle might seem like obvious relaxers, but when you’re in the thick of a stressful or anxious moment, it’s nice to be able to have a collection of things that you can turn to that will bring you relief and comfort.
What to Put in a Coping Toolbox
In a quote printed in USA Today, Dr. Kathryn D. Boger, program director at McLean’s Anxiety Mastery Program, said she likes to encourage her patients to put physical items in their coping toolbox that will help soothe their five senses. “The idea is that by engaging the five senses, you’re helping to ground yourself and be more present in the moment.”
Here a few examples of items you can place in a coping toolbox to help with your teen’s anxiety, help them engage their senses and replace negative, stressful thoughts with positive, “I can get through this” thoughts.
Considering the fact that most teenagers already rely on and turn to music to help them express and balance out their emotions, creating a playlist of inspirational, happy or calming songs can do wonders to help them regroup when stress takes hold. Nature sounds such as birds chirping and ocean waves is another option as well as recordings of them laughing or being silly with their friends.
There may be certain smells that trigger your teen to think about good memories or happy thoughts. Or there might be smells that are simply pleasing to them. Things like scented candles or essential oils are great to include in your teen’s coping toolbox. Lavender is known for helping to reduce stress and calm nerves, ocean or beach scents can bring them back to a fun memory at the beach and even the scent of chocolate can put a smile on their face.
Comfort foods (non-perishable, of course) can be great to add in a toolbox. Hard candy, gum, chocolate, their favorite tea or coffee blends (so they’ll be inspired to make themselves a cup), trail mixes or granola bars – your teen can include any items that bring them and their tastebuds joy.
Think about things here that are either visually appealing and that your child can see or read that will bring them comfort. Inspirational quotes, jokes, photographs of family, friends or pets, magazines with beautiful or inspirational pictures, small trophies or mementos to remind them of their accomplishments or anything else that they can look at that will bring them back to a happier place.
A great way for teens to get in touch with their feelings and emotions is for them to start a journal. Expressing themselves on paper not only helps them help identify what’s contributing to their stress, but it can actually help relieve their stress by bringing it to a more conscious level. A few other “touch” ideas include a stress ball, their favorite stuffed animal or blanket (no, your teen isn’t too old for a ‘blankie’), a fidget toy or their favorite pair of cozy socks.
The best part about coping toolboxes is that they’re personalized. No two will ever be alike. Every teen’s box will be filled with items that are specifically geared toward them – their likes, what brings them peace and comfort and what reminds them of good times and positive thoughts.
According to Dr. Boger, “There are two approaches to using a coping toolbox: You can reach for it at times when you notice your stress levels are starting to rise or you can reach for it periodically throughout the day for a more proactive approach.”
Alternatives to a Coping Toolbox to Help Your Teen’s Anxiety
If you feel you can’t talk your teen into using an anxiety or stress toolbox as a coping mechanism, pass along these stress-relief ideas that might work:
- Focus on positive thoughts – things you’re looking forward to, places you’ve been or loved or places you’d like to go when life settles. Speak positive thoughts to yourself and remind yourself that it’s a bad day, not a bad life.
- Get moving. Nothing can help you hit the reset button than physical activity.
- Get outside. Take a brisk walk, go hiking with a few friends, take a run or jump on your longboard. The sun, wind and fresh air will do you a world of good.
- Set the scene with everything cozy. Sometimes, even the smallest change of scenery can make all the difference in the world. So, light that candle, dim the lights, turn on relaxing music and cuddle up in your favorite PJs.
- Dive into a little comfort food. Sometimes, a little indulgence can go a long way in kickstarting your mood.
- Watch silly videos. Simple as it may seem, there are plenty of TikTok and YouTube videos that can get you laughing – after all, laughter really is the best medicine.
- Call, go see or Facetime a friend who makes you laugh. We all have that one friend who makes us smile – call them!
- Pamper yourself. Whether you take a hot bath (complete with mounds of bubbles), give yourself a manicure or buy some new makeup and try a new look, a little “me time” can do wonders to reset your mood.
- Pet your dog or cat. Studies have shown that hanging out with your pets and stroking their soft fur can do wonders for stress and anxiety.
- Get together with your friends. Even if it’s just one or two friends – call them up, invite them over and have a movie night or game night, or just hang out. (Don’t forget a little junk food, just for good measure.)
- Do something for someone else. Take the focus off yourself, your problems, your worries, your stress and do something for a perfect stranger. it’s an amazing feeling to do for others and there are plenty of people and organizations right now that could use a helping hand.
- Check out the many apps (specifically for teenagers) that help with anxiety and stress. Here are a few you might want to check out.
- Do something you’ve been putting off. Anything. Checking something off your to-do list that you’ve been putting off or dreading can make you feel empowered and encourage you to knock a few other things off your list.
- Dive into a great book. Get lost in a great adventure, a murder mystery or a romance novel. A great distraction is sometimes all you need.
- Crank up the music. The louder the better! (You might want to do this when you’re alone in the house.)
- Listen to a podcast. There are a ton of great podcasts for teens you probably don’t even know exist. Check these out for ideas!
- Grab a pen and paper and start writing. Get your thoughts down and let it out. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel.
- Cry if it’s going to make you feel better. There’s no shame in letting out your emotions. Sometimes, a good cry is the best remedy after a crummy day.
What are some things you think you could put in a coping toolbox to help your teen’s anxiety? Share your idea in the comments sections below!