Getting anxious from time to time is a normal thing to feel. Anxiety can surface whenever you are anticipating something stressful, such as a test, or when you have a worry on your mind.
However, when your stress response goes on overdrive, you may experience high levels of anxiety or even an anxiety attack. This can happen to many individuals, even in situations that aren’t dangerous. Despite there being no threat, the body’s fight-or-flight response causes a surge in stress hormones like cortisol, thus leading to an exaggerated stress response.
Sometimes anxiety in children can start early before progressing into anxiety for teens. And with so much change happening in the adolescent years and with everything that teenagers have to juggle, it’s no wonder that they may be experiencing more stress than usual.
If you’re a teenager going through anxious moments, then it’s important to remember that you are not alone in this experience. Many of your peers can get anxious about taking tests, meeting new people, or even speaking in class.
However, it is best to learn how to cope with this condition, especially if it is a recurring one. Otherwise, anxiety can hold you back from the things that you may want to do.
Here are 5 anxiety coping skills for teens that can help significantly.
5 Anxiety Coping Skills for Teens to Practice
Overview of each coping skill and explain briefly how this helps cope with anxiety. Feel free to give tips on how to execute or master these coping skills.
1. Identify unhelpful thoughts
One of the most useful anxiety coping mechanisms for teens is the identification and management of unhelpful thoughts. Also called thought distortions, these unhelpful thoughts convince the mind that something is wrong, even when the contrary is true. Although this is meant to protect us from threatening circumstances, it can be maladaptive in situations where this isn’t the case.
Here are the most common unhelpful thoughts that anxious teens may experience:
All-or-nothing thinking. This type of thinking only sees situations as one way or another, without taking into account the in-betweens. One example of this is when people believe that something cannot be done unless it is perfect. This type of thinking involves evaluating things in black-and-white terms. However, this can be quite harmful because life is rarely ever one-sided or exactly another.
Thinking this way only increases a teen’s anxiety levels. This is because it can be difficult choosing between extremes. Thoughts such as “I always mess up” or “I need to do everything right” can lead to analysis paralysis. Learning how to reframe one’s thinking can reduce anxiety as it reminds teens that they have accomplished and can continue to accomplish things. When one becomes a little more flexible with their thinking, it is easier to make decisions and enjoy things instead of being anxious over the last detail.
Personalizing. Personalizing involves jumping to conclusions about situations, believing that we are fully to blame for everything that goes wrong. Putting the blame on yourself all the time can lead to distressing thoughts and emotions. By identifying that you are personalizing, you can reduce anxious thoughts related to being the source of the blame.
Catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion that makes people think that the worst is always going to happen. People who catastrophize often like to ask “what if” questions. “What if I mess up?” and “What if everyone laughs at me?” are common questions that assume the worst is going to happen in any given situation.
Thinking this way can be extremely difficult to stop. Learning how to interrupt your thoughts during a spiral can help you cope with anxiety by reframing problems into possibilities.
Identifying these unhelpful thought patterns is the first step in interrupting them and restructuring your thoughts to be more positive. It helps to learn more about turning negative thoughts into positive ones.
2. Move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset
People who have anxiety not only have unhelpful thoughts. Much of the time, they are also unable to move past those thoughts as they are stuck in a fixed mindset. They may believe that they are incapable of growth or change.
To develop a growth mindset, try to counter every fixed belief you have with something completely the opposite. For example, you may firmly think that you are no good at math and will fail the class. Try challenging that thought with something like, “If there’s a possibility that I’m bad at math, then that means there’s also the possibility that I’m good at math. Maybe I can try to see how I perform.” This teaches your brain new ways to respond, and it eliminates the anxiety that results from being rigidly stuck in place. A growth mindset also allows you to practice changing your thoughts and beliefs about your own anxiety.
3. Pay attention to how anxiety feels physically
One of the most important anxiety coping strategies for teenagers is paying attention to how anxiety manifests physically. While there are common physical symptoms of anxiety that many people experience, not everybody will feel it in exactly the same way. Some teens may get butterflies in their stomachs, and that’s about it. Others might have more severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, shaking, and tensed muscles.
By identifying the physical feelings of your body’s stress response, it can be easier to manage them. You can use a worksheet to identify how anxiety feels in your body. Doing so will allow you to figure out how to reduce these feelings of distress. For instance, breathing exercises can help with rapid and shallow breathing. The key is not to push away these feelings. Remember that the sensations are not permanent — they will pass. See if you can leave them in the background rather than allowing them to take over.
4. Practice grounding exercises
When teenagers experience great distress, it can be very difficult to control their thoughts and emotions. Grounding exercises reduce anxiety by allowing them to refocus their attention back on the present. By focusing on what you can control in the moment, you may feel that you have more control over your emotions, thereby reducing the out-of-control feelings that anxiety brings.
One of the most helpful coping skills for teen anxiety is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding method. Simply look for five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This allows you to be more present and slow things down.
5. Practice positive self-talk
When you’re anxious, it’s easy to fall into the trap of negative self-talk. Similar to what we mentioned earlier in identifying unhelpful thoughts, it’s important to recognize when you’re saying negative things, such as “I can’t do this” or “I’m going to fail.”
Practicing positive self-talk by being around positive people, doing accuracy exercises, and doing a regular check-in with your feelings can help you reframe your negative thinking. You may instead begin to say “I feel anxious, but I think I can do this.”
Learning the coping skills for teenage anxiety can be difficult. After all, dealing with anxiety is no walk in the park. By honing these skills and making an active effort to manage your anxiety, it is possible to come out of the trap of anxious thoughts and feelings more quickly.
However, if you feel that your anxiety isn’t improving even with these steps, it is always best to consult with a licensed mental health professional.