As you probably recall from your own experience, being a teenager is hard. Between all the pressure, changes, and constantly riding an emotional rollercoaster, life can feel overwhelming at times. And it goes beyond usual sources of stress: According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly one-third of adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience some type of anxiety disorder. Add that to the usual mix of teen anger and angst, and it’s a lot to handle for anyone — let alone people without a fully developed prefrontal cortex.
But the good news is that there are ways for you, as a parent, to help your teen deal with their distress. Here are some coping strategies for teens dealing with stress, anger, and anxiety.
What are coping skills?
Everyone goes through challenges, but not everyone handles them the same way. Much of that comes down to their set of coping skills — or strategies that help us make it through periods of high stress. These can range from quick-fix solutions (that usually end up only being temporary) to research-based techniques for reducing stress and anxiety.
What are some causes of teenage stress?
As adults, it might be tempting to minimize teenage stress, but that isn’t helpful or productive for anyone. Everyone has their own sources and triggers of stress, and as parents of teenagers, it’s important to recognize what those might be for our own kids. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), examples of causes of teenage stress include:
- School demands and frustrations
- Negative thoughts or feelings about themselves
- Changes in their bodies
- Problems with friends and/or peers at school
- Unsafe living environment/neighborhood
- Separation or divorce of parents
- Chronic illness or severe problems in the family
- Death of a loved one
- Moving or changing schools
- Taking on too many activities or having too high expectations
- Family financial problems
What are some ideas for teenage stress management?
Although there’s no shortage of stressors for teens, there are also a number of ways they can manage them. Per the AACAP, here are some stress management techniques:
- Exercise and eat regularly.
- Get enough sleep and have a good sleep routine.
- Avoid excess caffeine which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation.
- Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way.
- Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
- Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques).
- Decrease negative self-talk and challenge negative thoughts.
- Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress.
- Look up some local food pantries or soup kitchens in your neighborhood and volunteer. Sometimes helping others can make you feel better about yourself and the world around you.
- Take a day and organize your space. Cleaning your room creates a more relaxed and calming environment. Clutter and chaos only add to your anxiety and frustrations.
- Talk yourself up and say positive affirmations before you start your day or when you’re feeling down.
- Go outside. Getting some fresh air can go a long way. A walk in the park or going on a hike can be a calming activity. Nature has a way of grounding and relaxing people. And if you want some company, invite a friend to tag along.
- Download a meditation or positive affirmation application on your phone. It’s no secret teens spend a lot of time on their mobile devices, and though it can be a source of anxiety, it can also help reduce some of their stress. There are apps that encourage positive thinking and daily breathing exercises.
Are there coping skills for anger?
Sometimes stress can lead to anger, and when that happens, it helps to have some additional coping skills specific to that situation. One option for teens is taking a problem-solving approach to what is upsetting them. This involves five steps:
- Identifying the problem and what has made you mad and why.
- Thinking of a few potential solutions to problems before acting or reacting.
- Considering the consequences of each potential action or reaction.
- Making a decision only after carefully weighing the pros and cons of various choices and their outcomes.
- Checking in with yourself after the situation has ended to take a look at how you handled it.
What coping skills help with anxiety?
Everyone deals with anxiety from time to time. No one’s life is completely worry-free. But when anxiety starts to get in the way of a person’s everyday life and how they function, it can veer into anxiety disorder territory. Whether a teenager’s anxiety is circumstantial or ongoing, there are coping skills that can help them deal with it. These include:
- Identifying triggers
- Breathing deeply
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Eating well
- Understanding that many things are beyond your control
- Reframing your thoughts and expectations
It’s hard to watch your teen struggle with stress, anxiety, and anger, but as a parent, you can arm your teen with the tools and strategies they need to manage these challenges.
What are unhealthy coping skills?
Dealing with stress or trauma can be difficult, but the only way to get through it is to understand what poor coping skills look like.
Avoiding things that aren’t positive: Life’s filled with good and bad things so you shouldn’t try to immerse yourself in one world. You can’t always control what happens in your life, but you can control how you react and feel. Avoiding negativity isn’t possible, so your goal shouldn’t be to avoid it completely, but to develop the mental fortitude to deal with trauma in a healthy way. Eventually, you’ll be able to take the highs and lows of life without being thrown off balance.
Isolation: Sometimes alone time is a great idea. But too much time by yourself can make it harder for you to be around others. It’s also important to reach out to someone if you feel extremely overwhelmed.
Catastrophizing: When dealing with stressful situations, preparing for the worse is sometimes a bid for control. If you can emotionally equip yourself for the worst possible outcome, you won’t be any more hurt if things do go to sh*t. Jumping to conclusions is a way of provoking the darkest pain you can feel within the situation. That way you won’t have to worry about feeling worse. This does nothing but produce added stress about something that may not even happen. It’s easier said than done, but live in the present and take problems for what they are to avoid spiraling.