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Coping During the Teen Years

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Just imagine being a teen and trying to navigate your freshman year of high school. Yes, we’ve all been there before, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. It is a tough life adjustment- attending a new school, trying to make new friends, figuring out who you are, and trying to gain more independence. This is challenging for many. A great deal of teens are currently struggling with adjustment difficulties, various forms of anxiety, and depression for various reasons. They are struggling to cope or are trying to find ways to be able to express their feelings without the use of drugs and/or alcohol. I have found some of the following skills to be helpful for a lot of teens facing these obstacles.

According to Janine Halloran, the author of the “Coping Skills for Teens Workbook”, there are four categories of coping skills. They include processing, relaxation, movement and sensory, and distraction coping skills. The processing coping skills focus on identifying what you are feeling, how these feelings present in your body, and how to understand these thoughts and emotions. The relaxation coping skills focus more on deep breathing and mindfulness techniques. The movement and sensory coping skills focus on the use of your body and your five senses to help manage emotions. Finally, the distraction coping skills focus on being able to just have fun including activities and stress relievers to give you a break!

First, it is vital for the teen to know what their emotions are and how to process them. Once they have identified these emotions, they can look at what caused them, the “triggers”, and figure out ways to express those emotions that will not hurt themselves or others. One of the ways teens can do this is by keeping a log on how they feel from day to day. There are various apps that can assist with this including The Mood Meter App, Daylio, and MoodKit. Once the teen has identified their emotions, it is important to focus on how these emotions present in their bodies. How does your body feel when you are angry? Do you feel warm? Does your heart start racing? After identifying these feelings in the body, teens can start looking at identifying the things or events that triggered them. An activity that I tend to use with teens is looking at what they can and can’t control in life. I also like to review the various thinking errors teens may be experiencing and how to replace negative self-talk with more positive, realistic self-talk. There are many creative ways that teens can express their feelings without hurting themselves or others. Some examples include writing music or poems, singing, drawing, or painting. Journaling can also be extremely helpful for teens. This allows them to get the issues out of their heads and onto paper. If they are worried about someone reading their journal, some teens use journaling apps. 

Teens often find relaxation and mindfulness techniques to be useful. I like to use several different strategies with teens to help them calm down when they are feeling overwhelmed. Deep breathing is key! Some like to use the hand technique for deep breathing, breathing in and tracing the outside of your thumb with your finger and then breathing out, tracing the inside of your thumb and so on for each finger. Teens can even do this at school underneath their desk so nobody can see. There are also various apps that assist in deep breathing including Relax Stress & Anxiety Relief, Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, and Breathing Zone. Some teens prefer mindfulness techniques which focus on the present moment, not worrying about the past or the future. I love teaching teens the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise which allows them to focus on the present moment. This exercise uses the five senses. For this technique, the teen looks around the room, finding five things they can see. Then they find four things they can feel such as the couch they are sitting on. Next, they will listen for three sounds they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. This often allows them to feel calmer and in the moment. 

Exercises that utilize movement and their senses can help teens become more centered. These exercises release endorphins which can cause positive feelings in the teen’s brain. Some find the use of a weighted blanket to be helpful or just taking a walk in nature. Yoga and stretching can also be beneficial. Some teens drink tea to soothe themselves and take in the mindful moment of how warm the mug feels and how great it tastes. Sometimes a small object to hold and fidget with can help teens focus; paper clips, binder clips, worry stones, pen caps, or ring fidgets. Finally, exercising can help which can include things like running, weightlifting, and even dancing! 

Lastly, there are the distraction coping skills. Sometimes teens just need a distraction coping skill until they are ready to process and deal with the issues they are facing. Of course, we do not recommend teens ignore their thoughts and feelings they’re experiencing. Utilizing the other coping skills first, instead of the distraction skills, would be a great idea before going to the distraction. Play is key! Whether this is spending time with friends, going to an amusement park, or going to a waterpark. Some other distractions that teens have found helpful are playing an instrument, helping others such as volunteering, spending time with their pets, or making something with their hands such as crocheting or woodworking. 

All feelings are absolutely fine to have, there are no “bad” feelings. It’s how you act on those feelings that will impact you and the other people in your life. I like to look at coping skills as an experiment; one size doesn’t fit all, but when you find the healthy helpful skills you like, go with it! Change takes time and those little steps will eventually make a huge difference!

If you are interested in exploring more from the author, Janine Halloran, her other works include “Coping Skills for Kids Workbook”, “Coping Skills for Kids Activity Book: Processing Feelings”, “Coping Skills for Kids Activity Book: Relaxation”, and Coping Cue Cards.  Counseling Works can also help your teen hone these coping skills.  Call for an appointment today!


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