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Anxiety Coping Skills for Teens

One girl told us she felt like every surface had germs on it. She would avoid touching anything. 

Another boy told us if his grade was less than a 96% he would feel a pain that started in his chest, spread through his body and he would eventually be unable to breathe. 

Yet another teenage girl told us she’d stopped talking for about a year because someone made a critical comment when she spoke. 

How do we help kids with anxiety that starts to spiral? 

Every kid is unique and needs an individualized plan. But here are some ideas.

  1. Validation and Contact: One thing that certainly helps is contacting their anxiety and listening. Imagine if you just sat with someone and heard their fears without even needing to respond. When you stay in contact with them, in a non-judgmental way, without even making a single suggestion, they start to regulate on their own. Anxious people are often in need of connection. Plus, when you listen, you might start to hear a deeper anxiety that isn’t always obvious on the surface. That’s when we are really getting somewhere.
  2. Questioning their stressful thoughts. What if we are working with a teen who believes they “shouldn’t have been late” or they think, “I never should’ve said that” or some other stressful thing. “People are talking about me” “I will never get into college” “My teacher hates me”. These are the thoughts anxious people often have that hook in and dysregulate them. What if we wrote one of these thoughts down and questioned it? What if we even found evidence of the opposite of the thought? What happens to their anxiety then? The therapist may try this with a number of their stressful thoughts and have them work on doing this one their own.

Learning to Question Stressful Thoughts is a Skill that Can Help

3. Mindfulness: The therapist helps the teen to be mindful in order to create some space from the anxiety or the stressful thought. In DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), the client learns in a very small, step-by-step way, how to watch the thoughts rather than reacting and believing the thoughts. Mindfulness is broken down and practiced over and over with the use of diary cards so they can track their progress.

4. Help Them Identify What They Are Feeling: The therapist helps the teen identify what it is they are feeling using feelings cards, detailed feeling worksheets, art prompts or other mindfulness experiments that draw out the emotion. Many times when you ask a teen what is wrong, they say, “I don’t know”. They can’t process what they can’t identify because they honestly don’t know. So we help them delineate how they feel then we can process the underlying fears.

5. Deep breathing or progressive relaxation: Simply learning to breathe or even take a few breaths before reacting can help. The therapist may work with the teen to help them practice relaxing certain parts of their body, moving onto other parts, or they might have them work on their breathing techniques using examples like box breathing or counted breaths.

Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Helps with Obsessive Thoughts

6. ERP (Exposure, Response, Prevention): What if you have a teen who is afraid of starting high school? First, you drive by the school. Then you take a tour of the school. Then you might watch movies about teens in high school or practice opening up a locker. Then you might draw out a map of the high school and have them trace the paths they need to take to know how to get to their classes. These are forms of exposure. You are exposing them slowly but a little more each time. Exposure, Response, Prevention. You expose them while preventing an avoidance response which is what the anxious part of them wants to do.

7. Label The Parts: In Internal Family Systems (IFS Therapy), we identify the anxious part, the angry part or the insecure part (whatever shows up in the session) and we dialogue with it to help create more awareness. When we listen to the parts and find out more about them, the client starts to learn how to navigate their own mind and even turn their attention to other parts that can help. The Anxious Part is no longer the only part of them running the show.

If you are looking for a clinician who might be able to help your adolescent with learning anxiety coping skills, we have a team of providers below.

TEAM MEMBERS PAGE

If you are looking for group therapy, we have some wonderful groups that use most of the coping skills you read about in this article.

GROUP THERAPY PAGE

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Free Clear Mind Therapy provides in-person therapy in Fishers & Indianapolis and online therapy across Indiana. Specializing in anxiety therapy for teens, adults, and kids.

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