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Key Takeaways:

  • Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. However, anxiety disorders in children and teens can lead to persistent feelings of fear and worry.
  • Anxiety symptoms include shaking and trembling, changes in body temperature, rapid breathing, feelings of dread and nervousness, and general distress.
  • Parents and caregivers can help children and teens manage anxiety through deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, healthy diets and habits, therapy, and other grounding techniques.

While everyone experiences anxiety, those with chronic anxiety disorders may find it doubly challenging to get through the day. Fortunately, there are coping skills for anxiety you can practice to keep you functioning normally.

Still, no two coping mechanisms work for the same people. For instance, one might benefit more from physical activity, whereas another may prefer emotional methods like journaling or meditation.

Whatever the case, children and teenagers must develop healthy and reliable coping habits to provide comfort in times of stress.

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is the body’s response to perceived danger and stress. In a child or teenager, anxiety might manifest as nervousness and helplessness, a sense of impending panic, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, or overthinking the panic trigger.

31.9% of adolescents between 13 and 18 experience anxiety disorders and are more likely to perform poorly in school, engage in substance abuse, and miss social opportunities [*].

Many children with anxiety can benefit from psychotherapy and medication, but developing healthy habits and coping strategies can be equally impactful.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Most people experiencing anxiety will demonstrate a general unease or nervousness, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. This worry can cause physical symptoms, including the following:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Increased body temperature
  • Rapid breathing

Occasionally, a child or teenager might develop anxiety attacks, which can cause severe restlessness, difficulty focusing, weakness, feelings of dread, and even nausea.

14 Effective Coping Skills for Anxiety

When a child experiences sporadic anxiety, applying these coping skills can prevent them from losing focus and allow them to feel in control of the situation.

1. Deep breathing exercises

The body returns to equilibrium because deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. The heart rate slows, the lungs absorb more oxygen, and the muscles unclench.

Breathe in for four counts and breathe out for another four counts for five minutes. Alternatively, you can consult these breathing exercises for kids.

2. Mindful meditation

Mindful meditation is an excellent way to train children and teens with attention deficits to create mental space within themselves. When performed regularly, meditation can manage anxious thoughts and allow kids to observe their thoughts from a different perspective.

3. Progressive muscle relaxation

This muscle relaxation technique involves tensing and releasing. According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) reduced stress and anxiety symptoms in 50 individuals [*].

Parents and caregivers new to PMR can find guided audio recordings on YouTube, mobile apps, and wellness podcasts.

4. Cognitive restructuring

Anxiety, especially in teenagers, can result in negative thinking patterns. Through cognitive restructuring (using cognitive behavioral therapy), adolescents can learn to self-monitor unproductive thought patterns and question their assumptions.

While therapy is the best way to introduce cognitive restructuring, parents and caregivers can help kids reflect by asking the following questions:

 

  • Does negative self-talk provide some form of relief? Why do you think this makes you feel “better?”
  • How do you feel this behavior affects the people around you? Do you notice peers or adults responding differently?
  • How does this kind of self-talk affect your performance in school?

5. Guided imagery

This relaxation technique taps into the imagination to make the body calmer and the mind quieter. It removes the person from a stressful circumstance, placing them in a controlled situation where they can recount pleasant images, sounds, smells, and tastes.

Through guided imagery, a child might revisit their favorite places, such as the park or a specific restaurant, an enjoyable activity, such as a sport or hobby, or a fond memory, like a concert.

Children and teens can practice guided imagery with a parent or caregiver, therapist, or in peer groups. When practicing guided imagery with a child, find a quiet space where you can get into a comfortable position. Consider following a guide if you’re new to this activity.

6. Grounding techniques

Grounding is a mindfulness technique that allows practitioners to “ground” themselves in the present moment. Previous studies show that grounding techniques reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression [*].

Some physical grounding exercises include taking a cold shower, shaking your whole body, or running in place to “restart” your senses. Another method of accessing the senses is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, which involves naming:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can feel
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

7. Regular exercise

Physical movement releases endorphins, natural pain relievers that help regulate anxiety symptoms and boost feelings of pleasure.

While naturally athletic adolescents may take to this method of anxiety relief, those who aren’t fans of vigorous exercise might fare better with yoga, which has been scientifically proven to reduce stress [*].

8. Healthy diet

Not every child is a fan of vegetables. Fortunately, other “happy foods” exist, such as salmon, nuts, shrimp, and seeds. These foods contain omega-3 fatty acids, which improve brain health, thus, easing anxiety [*].

9. Sufficient sleep

Anxious thoughts can keep anyone up at night. Adolescents can wake up refreshed and less anxious when they prioritize sleep hygiene through exercise, healthy bedtime habits, and cutting back on sugary or caffeinated drinks.

10. Social support

Even children and teens who suffer from social anxiety can benefit from the occasional social gathering. Intimate get-togethers with a few close friends promote a sense of community, decrease loneliness, and encourage laughter.

11. Limiting caffeine and alcohol

In 2021, 3.2 million youths reported binge drinking once a week [*]. Teenagers are impressionable and often drink due to peer pressure and stress. Alcohol abuse in teenagers is critical and may require professional intervention.

12. Setting boundaries

Developing healthy boundaries enables children and teens to strengthen relationships with loved ones, improve communication, and avoid negative emotional triggers. Children should learn to prioritize their needs as early as possible.

Encourage anxious kids to:

  • Decline requests that may overcommit their time and energy.
  • Limit exposure to people, places, and activities that trigger stress and anxiety.
  • Establish rules for how they want to be treated in professional and interpersonal relationships.
  • Take breaks from overstimulating or emotionally taxing situations.
  • Dedicate personal time for rest, reflection, and self-care.

13. Relaxation techniques

Besides deep breathing, light exercise, mindfulness, and meditation, other relaxation techniques for anxious kids might include:

  • Drawing and coloring
  • Mindful posing
  • Stress and fidget toys
  • Singing
  • Dancing

14. Humor and laughter

You’ll be surprised to realize the power of laughter. Laughter stimulates organs in the body because it enhances the intake of oxygen-rich air. Because it stimulates circulation, it also soothes tension.

Tell jokes. Watch an all-time favorite sitcom. Importantly, know what isn’t funny. Use your judgment to discern what is within a child’s boundaries—or just ask!

When to Seek Professional Help for Anxiety Management

It may be a good idea to seek professional help if the child is not showing signs of improvement, self-help isn’t working, and their schoolwork is suffering.

Consider visiting a GP to determine whether the child has an anxiety disorder. Remember to discuss this openly with the child to avoid making them feel pressured into an appointment.

The Bottom Line

While occasional anxiety is common, especially in adolescents, knowing when to seek help can equip children and teens with valuable self-management and anxiety-coping techniques.

By incorporating simple ways to cope with anxiety, kids and adolescents can prevent future episodes from affecting their school, family, and social lives.

Learn more about how to navigate anxiety with our comprehensive collection of anxiety worksheets for children and teens.

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