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Coping Strategies for Teens

by Jaime Budzienski

Most can agree: the teen years aren't easy. School demands, negative thoughts and feelings, bodily changes, issues with friends or peers, unsafe living environments, moving or changing schools, taking on too much or having too high expectations, and family financial problems are examples of stressors teens may face in their daily lives. Just like adults, teens experience stress every day and can benefit from learning stress management skills, notes the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Most teens experience additional stress when they perceive a situation as dangerous, difficult or painful and don't have the necessary resources to cope with it. Help your teen handle stress more effectively with some coping skills recommended by the AACAP.

Taking Care of Body and Mind

The AACAP notes that it's easier for teens to cope with whatever comes their way when they take care of themselves. Teens should try to exercise and eat regularly, avoid excess caffeine intake (which can increase feelings of agitation and anxiety), and avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco. They should also learn relaxation exercises, such as abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.

Learning Everyday Survival Skills

Certain skills can minimize the stressors teens may face. Teens should develop assertiveness training skills, which will help them to state their feelings in a polite and firm way that's not overly aggressive. Learning how to say things in an assertive way can help teens feel competent and confident (i.e., "I feel angry when you yell at me" or "Please stop yelling.") Rehearse and practice for situations that may be causing anxiety, stress or overwhelming feelings. If your teen is feeling nervous speaking in front of the class, she might try taking a speech class so she feels more comfortable.

Developing Self-Love

Teens can be hard on themselves if they're facing a lot of pressure, and feeling like it's tough to measure up sometimes. The AACAP advises teens to try and decrease negative self-talk, and to challenge negative thinking with neutral or positive thoughts. For example, "My life will never get better," can be countered with "I may feel helpless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help." Teens with perfectionistic tendencies should try to be happy with doing a "good enough" job, which can decrease feelings of stress.

Finding a Healthy Outlet

Encourage your struggling teen to take a break from stressful situations from time to time, if possible. Try soothing activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, writing in a journal, doing drawings or spending time with a pet, all of which can lower stress levels. And, teens should try building a network of friends who can help them cope in a positive, healthy way.

About the Author

Jaime Budzienski has contributed essays and articles to the "Boston Globe Sunday Magazine," "Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine" and the "Boston Parents Paper." She holds a B.F.A. in writing, literature and publishing from Emerson College and a master's degree in education from UMASS Boston.

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