Coping Skills For Teens: How To Handle Difficult Emotions

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Stress and other difficult emotions are often thought of as being experienced only by adults. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), teens actually experience a higher level of stress than adults do during the school year, and 34% of teens believe their stress will increase over the next year. However, there are strategies for building a tool kit of coping skills to manage difficult emotions, and help is always available through licensed online counselors.

Why is it important to cope with difficult emotions?

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Learn about coping skills for teenagers experiencing stress

Whether you’re experiencing stress, anxiety, anger, or any other challenging emotion, you’re not alone. These are common emotions that people of all ages experience at times. It can sometimes be tempting to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as binge-watching Netflix, escaping into video games, eating far too many unhealthy snacks, or even turning to alcohol and drugs. However, there are more effective positive coping skills available for helping teens with anxiety

Starting the process of using healthy coping skills

How do you begin replacing unhealthy habits with positive, productive ones as a teenager? It might help to first become more aware of any coping mechanisms you currently use that aren’t really helping you. Maybe as soon as you feel that familiar twinge of anxiety, you grab your phone and start scrolling through social media. Perhaps you turn to the snack cupboard anytime you feel overwhelmed. It’s important to be gentle and not judge yourself for turning to these kinds of coping mechanisms. The fact that you’ve developed these ways of coping means you’ve made an effort to handle your difficult feelings in one way or another.

Once you’ve identified some unhealthy habits, you can change them into effective coping mechanisms that can improve both your mental and physical health. For example, when you notice yourself grabbing your smartphone, you could set it down and take a few deep breaths instead, or you could even go outside and take a short walk. Rather than reaching for those sugary snacks, you could opt for fresh fruit or nuts, which offer several health benefits and can give you some energy to face the situation at hand.

Two teens are walking together outside and are looking at each other; they have happy expressions.
Getty/AnnaStills

If you want to develop healthy coping mechanisms that last in the long term, it may be easier if you write them down, commit to them, and make them a consistent habit. While this might be challenging at first, over time, it can become part of your regular routine. 

You may also find it useful to talk to a teen counselor who can help you look at your feelings and assess where they might be coming from. They may help you to determine the root of the problem so that you feel more empowered to manage challenging feelings.

Healthy coping strategies for teens

From anxiety coping skills for teens to general teenage coping skills, the following list offers some options for teenagers who want to handle the emotions in their lives in a healthy way. Read through the list and see if any of the following options might work for you.

You may even want to make your own list of coping strategies to turn to when stress or challenging emotions arise.

Activities

These positive coping strategies are meant to help you calm down and regain control over your emotions so that you can return to the situation at hand feeling more capable and empowered.

  • Write, color, draw, sculpt, or create in another way.
  • Sing, dance, or play an instrument.
  • Take a warm bath or shower.
  • Go for a walk or drive.
  • Clean and organize your surroundings.
  • Read a chapter of a book.
  • Hold an ice cube. This is a common grounding technique to redirecting the mind away from overwhelming thoughts or feelings.
A teenager wearing headphones is sitting on a couch and using a tablet; he is also smiling.
Getty/AnnaStills
Learn about coping skills for teenagers experiencing stress

Communication

Interacting with others can be a great way to receive social support and manage difficult emotions.

  • Talk with someone you trust, such as parents or guardians, friends, or other families.
  • Write a note to yourself or a friend.
  • Volunteer or find a way to help others.
  • Snuggle with a pet.
  • Role-play the situation that you're stressed about.

Positive thinking

Research shows that positive thinking can help teenagers to reduce their anxiety. There are ways you can train your brain to focus on the good in life. The following suggestions may, over time, work to naturally encourage you to be more mindful of yourself while facilitating resilience in a variety of situations. In addition, these can be important skills to build and use not only in your teen years but throughout your lifetime.

  • Create a gratitude list of all the things you are grateful for in life.
  • Brainstorm solutions for the situation at hand.
  • Write down all of your strengths and positive attributes.
  • Make a pros and cons list if you're struggling to make a decision.

Releasing tension

Sometimes, it may help to release intense emotions, and this can be done via a variety of mechanisms.

  • Watch a YouTube video or show that makes you laugh.
  • Get your body moving with exercise.
  • Allow yourself to cry.

Lifestyle changes

Your lifestyle can have a significant impact on your stress levels and ability to handle stress and other emotions. Consider making some of the following changes to improve your mental health.

  • Set aside at least eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Fuel your body with healthy foods.
  • Cut back on caffeine.
  • Make deep breathing a part of your everyday routine.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Seek help for managing emotions

Aaron James, LPC
"Just got done with my very first counseling session with Aaron and I feel like I’ve finally came up for air. I was nervous about seeking help, thinking I would be judged. I was wrong and now I definitely look forward to learning about myself and how to manage my emotions better with Mr. James’s help. Thanks, bro!”

If you’re experiencing stress or difficulty with challenging emotions, you don’t have to face them alone. You can reach out to a professional counselor experienced in helping teenagers who face similar concerns. If you’re a teen, you can turn to your school counselor for help, but if seeing a counselor in person makes you nervous, you might consider online therapy. Online therapy has been proven to be effective for anxiety, and you can talk to a therapist from the comfort of your own home. In some cases, it may be necessary to speak to your parents so that they can look into getting you (or themselves) a therapist. 

TeenCounseling is one alternative to in-person therapy for teens, and it tends to be more affordable than in-person therapy. The same services are offered to adults through BetterHelp. The availability of online therapy simply means you don't need to go anywhere outside of your home to obtain the help that you or your loved one needs - plus you save money and time.

Takeaway

If you are ready to talk to an online counselor or if you simply have questions about how a counselor might help you manage difficult emotions, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Counselors are available to listen to your unique concerns and help you formulate a plan that works for you. Take the first step today. 

Learn to cope with the challenges of adolescence

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