Learning to Manage their Thoughts will Help Teens Manage their Stress and Anxiety

Dec 09, 2020

Unfortunately, many teenagers experience ongoing stress and anxiety. For some, these emotions feel heightened due to restrictions related to the pandemic, uncertainty about whether they will be able to participate in certain activities, ceremonies, or celebrations, and not being able to celebrate the holidays in the way they are accustomed to. One thing that can be very beneficial to understand, is that events and circumstances do not cause us to feel stress and anxiety. It is what we think about events and circumstances that causes us to feel stress and anxiety. 

This is why two people can experience the same exact situation and have very different responses to that situation. It is because what they think about it is what causes their feelings. Because of this, learning to notice and manage thoughts can be very powerful in helping teens manage their emotions. 


Below are 4 things that teens can do to help them manage their thoughts that are causing stress and anxiety.

1.  Download their thoughts on paper / Journal. We have over 6,000 thoughts per day. We can't possibly notice all the thoughts that are running through our minds. So many of them run on the unconscious level. Because of this, it is helpful for teens to take a piece of paper and write out anything that comes to their mind.

They should do this completely uncensored, so they are getting to what they are really thinking. Next, they should look at their thoughts and notice how they are making them feel. If the thoughts are causing them to feel stress and anxiety, is there a different thought they could be thinking instead that would result in their feeling better? This can be powerful because when they notice what they are thinking, they can start to feel more in control of their emotions. 


2.  Practice Mindfuless Meditation. The goal of mindfulness meditation is learning to be present in the moment, rather than dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future. Teens are dealing with so many insecurities and uncertainties in their lives that it can be challenging for them to stay present in the moment. They are often replaying situations from the past and/or worrying about things in the future (which will likely never happen). When they can learn to focus on the present moment, they will reduce all the worrying thoughts they have about past or future events. 

There are many apps that provide guided mindfulness meditation activities. I would suggest having your teen check out a few of these until they find one they can connect with. The good news about mindfulness meditation is that you do not need a lot of time. Consistency is far more important than length of practice. Just five minutes of practice daily, can result in reduced feelings of stress and anxiety. 

Below is a 5 Minute Mindfulness Breathing Meditation that can help reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position. You may choose to close your eyes or keep them open with a soft gaze (if you are feeling tired, it may be useful to let just a little bit of light in to keep you alert).
  • Begin by gently moving your attention to the process of breathing. Observe each breath as it happens. You may focus on the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen, or on the sensation of the breath in and out of the nostrils. Feel what it is like to breathe without trying to alter your breath. The goal is to just observe the breath as it happens, not to change the speed or depth of the breath.
  • As you engage in this exercise, you may find that your mind wanders distracted by thoughts, by noises in the room, or by bodily sensations (this is called “monkey mind”). When you notice this happening, know that this is okay, simply notice the distraction, and gently bring your attention back to the breath.
  • Do this for about 5 minutes (or less time if this is completely new to you). There are free timer apps or you can use the clock on your phone – this is advised so that you don’t feel like you need to check the time during any part of the meditation.
  • After the 5 minutes are done, take a few moments to yourself, to really feel connected with the present moment. Next, expand your awareness from the breath into the room around you, and as you feel comfortable to do so, look around the room and bring yourself back to your surroundings.
  • This is an activity that can be done daily, or even multiple times throughout the day. You can adjust the time of each meditation session based on what works for you.

3. Practice gratitude. When all we are focus on are the negative or hard things, we will feel much more stress and anxiety. However, if we are intentional about also looking for the positive things that make us happy, we will have reduced symptoms of stress and anxiety. Have your teen write down anywhere from three to ten things that they are grateful for each day. They should be small things that may go unnoticed if they were not being intentional. Examples may be, playing or snuggling with the dog, finishing an assignment, a funny text from a friend, a movie they enjoyed, eating their favorite dinner, or a warm, sunny day so they were able get out of the house for a while.


Another way to help them with this is for you, as the parent, to role model this for them. Share with them the things you are grateful for and even make it a dinnertime routine where everyone goes around stating one thing from their day that they are grateful for.


4. Do something that requires a lot of focus. This should be something that requires focus but that is not overly stressful. The objective of this is not necessarily to have them change their thoughts, but to have them get some relief from their thoughts that are causing them to experience stress and anxiety. This could be playing a game that requires ongoing thinking, doing a puzzle, making food that requires following a recipe, practicing a sport, arts and crafts, playing an instrument, trying to learn a new dance, or researching something specific online that requires a lot of focus. Ideally, they will have several things they can connect with and use when wanting to "take a break" from their stress and anxiety. 


Stress and anxiety can be challenging emotions to deal with, however, since they are directly related to the thoughts we have about situations, the above strategies can help teens manage them. None of them require a lot of  time, however, being consistent will provide the best results. Learning to manage these symptoms will serve your teen for the rest of their lives. 


As is the case with any mental health concerns, if you feel your teen's symptoms are worsening, if they are using non-prescribed substances to self-medicate, or if you feel they are at risk to themselves or others in any way, you should seek professional help from your doctor, emergency room, or a mental health professional in your area immediately.


Do you have my FREE Guide, Surviving Your Teen During the Long Lasting Pandemic? If not, you can get it HERE now!


~ Karen

Restoring Peace of Mind During the Teenage Years

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