Helping Teens Cope with Stress and Anxiety

We are all feeling stressed and anxious right now. And teens are no exception. Adding COVID-19 worries to the normal teen stressors, may have many teens on edge.

Meditation is a good tool to reduce stress and anxiety

Meditation is a good tool to reduce stress and anxiety

Typical teen reactions to stress and anxiety include:

  1. Feeling stressed or overwhelmed, frustrated or angry, worried or anxious.
  2. Feeling restless, agitated, on ‘high alert’ or unable to calm down.
  3. Being teary, sad, fatigued or tired, losing interest in usually enjoyable activities or finding it difficult to feel happy.
  4. Worrying about going to public spaces, becoming unwell or contracting germs.
  5. Constantly thinking about the situation, unable to move on or think about much else.
  6. Experiencing physical symptoms such as increased fatigue or other uncomfortable sensations.

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, so you should not expect any specific reaction. Still, take a few moments to talk with the teens in your life about how they are feeling and what may help them during this difficult time.

The simplest way to validate your teen is by stating what is true about what they said and saying that it makes sense. This means you explain to your teen that from their point of view this makes sense. It is important to keep in mind that validation doesn’t mean you agree with your teen, but it amplifies the empathy you share, which makes them feel understood.

Remind them that all of these thoughts and feelings are common right now, and discuss simple self-care strategies that will help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Here are a few more tips for teen mental health and coping.

  1. Encourage an alternative behavior to digital.
    Your teen is bombarded by digital intrusion, and the more they are exposed to it, the more anxious they will feel. Brainstorm ways to shut off the media. Can you get outside and take a walk (with proper social distancing)? Is there a good podcast the entire family would enjoy listening to? Can you all have a dance party? Think back to basics: board games, card games, and family movie night can all serve as comforting distractions at a time like this. Maybe you can all cook dinner together as a family? Don’t just suggest shutting out the onslaught of scary information, find something soothing to replace it.
  2. Think about others.
    Ask your teen what advice they would give younger kids who feel similar feelings of anxiety. During difficult times, research suggests that teens feel better when they turn their attention to supporting others. Teens who are engaged in the community generally have more resilience.
  3. Relieve stress with physical activity. Go for a walk.
    Walking not only counts as physical activity, but also provides mental health benefits. Encourage your teen to get outside to walk; studies have shown that a brisk walk can even make a person feel more creative — an extra bonus!
  4. Encourage hobbies or activities that are enjoyable, calm one down or can help focus the mind and body.Color or doodle.

    Studies have shown that “structured coloring of a reasonably complex geometric pattern,” such as a symmetrical mandala pattern or coloring book, can lead to a meditative state that helps reduce anxiety. Get started with these.

  5.   Sing, listen to (or play) music
    Singing has been shown to improve mental health and a sense of belonging.
  6. Encourage deep breathing for relaxation. Breathe in. Count to 5. Let go. Repeat.
  7. Help them understand the benefits of mindfulness practice.All About Meditation from the Mayo Clinic
  8. Show them how it is done. Your teen may be more open to meditation and other mindfulness practices if they see how it benefits you.
    How to Start Meditating at Home
  9. Find a good meditation app.
    There are literally hundreds of different meditations out there, so the key is finding one that resonates with your teen.

    A favorite is MyLife. The app opens with a short ‘interview’ where your teen can indicate how they are feeling, and then based on that information, the app recommends a few mindfulness practices that would be most supportive. Older teens may like 10 Percent Happier. Dan Harris has a very scientific, skeptical, and humorous approach that many teens appreciate. The app Smiling Mind is free and has a great series of practices for kids ages 13 to 15 and 16 to 18 that can be completed in about 10 to 15 minutes each day.

    A few others are  Insight Timer (free), Headspace, Calm, and Unplug.