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 to that 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.
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, after carefully weighing the pros and cons of various choices and their outcomes.
- Checking in with yourself a bit later, after the situation has ended, in order to take a look at how you handled it.
What about coping skills for anxiety?
Everyone deals with anxiety from time-to-time — no one’s life is completely worry-free. But when anxiety starts getting 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 can be hard to watch your teen struggle with stress, anxiety, and anger, but as a parent, you have the opportunity to arm them with the tools and strategies they need to manage these challenges.