Anxiety is on the Rise in Teen and Young Adults
Research suggests anxiety is on the rise in teens and young adults as they face so many challenges. Many experience anxiety as a temporary response and feelings of uneasiness or nervousness disappear when the triggering stressor is gone. For others, like myself, anxiety becomes a disorder where apprehension and fear are persistent and overwhelming, causing dysfunction in everyday activities and responsibilities. Whether mild or chronic, managing anxiety usually involves therapy, medications, and relaxation techniques. I’ve found it helpful to ask others with anxiety what works for them and doing my own research. Both have inspired me, as well as given me new ways to cope and I’ll share what I’ve learned.
“Classic” Coping Skills
If you’ve ever taken an English or Literature course, you’ve likely read the classics to get a good foundation of knowledge. The same goes for anxiety, starting with “classic” methods is a best bet for base skills. They often include deep breathing, meditation, journaling, and some physical activity. If these work for you, that’s great. They don’t always work for me, and I like having other interesting options to reduce my anxiety. Anxiety shows up differently in every person, so learning how others manage it can be especially useful for having responses in case your go-tos don’t work.
What are Coping Skills? Ways to Reduce Anxiety and Stress.
They’re often discussed, but you may not know exactly what they are. A great definition of coping skills is, “Any characteristic or behavioral pattern that enhances a person’s adaptation and/or manages or reduces stress” (Morton, 2018). Like developing any new skill, it’s important to practice coping regularly to be effective. Coping skills are categorized often into types, such as problem-focused, emotion-focused, support-seeking, and meaning-making coping. Both personally and ss a therapist, I like to keep things simple and will use two categories: distraction and processing.
10 Distraction Methods to Reduce Anxiety
Distraction skills help you focus on something else when anxiety kicks in. It may sound difficult when highly anxious, but it can become a useful and healthy way of coping.
- Paint your fingernails. It’s especially helpful as a distraction from self-harming and many gender-neutral nail polishes are sold. I used liquid White-Out back in my day.
- Get outside and get some sun! It can be done at home, during work breaks, or at school. Sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D (15-20 minutes exposure for most); many in the U.S. are deficient. Sunlight also causes the release of endorphins or “feel-good hormones.” In winter months or cloudy periods, a seasonal affective disorder light works great! Inexpensive ones available on Amazon.
- Blowing bubbles or snapping plastic bubble wrap. With each pop, imagine your anxiety decreasing.
- Watch your favorite show or videos. Comedies or comedians are great! Laughter increases oxygen levels and relaxes muscles. It also feels good, lightens our mood, and shifts our focus.
- Draw, doodle, or color. I love to doodle, and coloring is cool! Tons of adult coloring books available on Amazon – my favorite.
- Music. Create playlists for calm, chill vibes, or feel-good anthems. Music powerfully affects our nervous system. This song is scientifically engineered to reduce anxiety by up to 65%!
- Sit with and pet your dog, cat, or other animal companion. Don’t have one, borrow a friend’s or neighbor’s and/or visit a local shelter. Caring for living things gets us outside our heads. Petting reduces the stress hormone cortisol, promotes social interaction, and releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin.
- Post positive or motivational thoughts in your room, home, or at work. Put them in places you’re at often: mirror, refrigerator, computer, cell, car, etc. Seeing them helps to reduce anxious thoughts. Find them by search engine or make up your own.
- Drive with the windows down to one of your favorite places. You’ll see, hear, and smell all sorts of things that will direct you away from anxious thinking.
- Weighted blankets. From personal, clients’, and friends’ experiences, they work; research suggests they reduce anxiety.
10 Processing Methods to Reduce Anxiety
These strategies focus on your brain processing anxious emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. They are about understanding, working through difficulty, and/or finding meaning.
- Practice gratitude. With expressing gratitude, people acknowledge and express good things in their lives regularly, recognize goodness also lies outside themselves, and connect to something larger. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.
- Write a friend or family member a card. It’s old school but handwriting helps process information and cards express thoughtfulness and make others feel good.
- Create a video journal. With easy access to cameras on cell phones and computers, make entries in the moment and have evidence of how you appear expressing yourself. Like holding up a mirror, you see how you are expressing yourself and video allows a lasting visual record you can revisit.
- List of 3 things you like about yourself or situation and update regularly. Like gratitude, it helps you focus on positive things and decrease automatic negative thinking.
- Aromatherapy. Smells are powerful ways to evoke good memories, remind us of people, and reduce anxiety. Science confirms scents can provide calmness and make you happier. Find specific scents here.
- Diet can reduce anxiety. Think about how you fuel your body and its effects on emotions and mood. Here are some nutritional strategies to ease anxiety.
- Cinematherapy. It involves using movies to promote healing and growth.
- Create a feelings collage. Grab a piece of paper or poster board, put an emotion word in the middle, and surround it with images, words, objects, and/or colors to express how you are feeling.
- Have creative outlets. Things like art, writing, dance, singing, scrapbooking, etc. allow us to express ourselves non-verbally and are great for people who are creative or may have difficulties verbalizing their emotions.
- Experiment. Find what works best for you by trial and error. Any effort to process emotions is a good step! One strategy may be good for you, or possibly a combination of many.
I hope you found this blog helpful in finding new ways to cope with anxiety. Good luck!
For more information on Small Town Counseling services for children and teens, what to expect, and/or scheduling an appointment check out our Child and Teen Counseling Services or call 209-968-1707. FAQs and resources for anxiety are available in our Good Reads! For additional parenting resources visit Parenting Resources.
OMG, GAD! What is It? Does My Teen or Young Adult Have It? is written by David Cayton, M.A, M.S.. David has experience as a mental health professional working with children, teens, and professionals, an academic advisor, education-based research assistant, and student affairs at colleges and universities. At the time of this publishing, David Cayton is Trainer and Research Associate at Small Town Counseling® a group mental health practice located in California that helps individuals, groups, and organizations in promoting mental wellness and education on trauma and anxiety through mental health services and training.
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