Coping Skills For Teens: How To Handle Difficult Emotions

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated August 1, 2022

Stress and other difficult emotions are often thought of as being experienced only by adults. Many believe that the teenage years are a carefree time without responsibility--and while this may have been true at one time, today’s teens have a lot on their plates! From the demands of school to complex family dynamics and trying to find a balance between homework and extracurriculars, plus navigating puberty and maintaining a social life, there are plenty of sources of stress and angst for teenagers. Add in the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting isolation, and the adjustment to the “new normal,” and it’s no wonder the average teenager today has stress levels even higher than adults.

Why Is It Important To Cope With Difficult Emotions?

Whether you’re experiencing stress, anxiety, anger, or any other challenging emotion, it’s essential to have a healthy way to work through it. Many of us are guilty of turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms--think binge-watching Netflix, escaping into video games, eating far too many unhealthy snacks, or even turning to alcohol and drugs--but the problem with these unhealthy coping mechanisms is that they don’t get to the root of the issue and aren't effective at helping teens with anxiety. Unless you find a productive way to work through things, it’s likely that your difficult emotions will only become more difficult as time goes on. Luckily, there are many ways to cope with those emotions, such as through online therapy.

Starting The Process Of Using Healthy Coping Skills

So how do you begin the process of replacing your unhealthy habits with positive, productive ones as a teenager? The very first step is just to 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. Or perhaps you turn to the snack cupboard anytime you feel overwhelmed. You don’t need to shame yourself for turning to these kinds of coping mechanisms--and you shouldn’t. 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.

Now, it’s time to take your unhealthy habits and change them into coping mechanisms that will benefit you and improve your mental as well as physical health. 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 have great health benefits and will give you some energy to face the situation at hand.

It’s also important to take a look at your feelings and think about where they’re coming from. If you simply ignore the way you feel, you’re likely to find that the same emotions continue to bubble up to the surface again and again. But if you can determine the root of the issue, you’ll have much more power over those challenging feelings.

If you want to develop healthy coping mechanisms that last long-term, the key is to commit to them and make them a consistent habit. While this might be difficult at first, over time, it should become second nature. Until then, you’ll need to pay close attention to your urges to use unhealthy coping mechanisms and actively choose to use healthy coping skills instead.

Healthy Coping Strategies For Teens

From anxiety coping skills for teens to general teenage coping skills, we’ve created the following list to provide plenty of options for teenagers who want to handle their emotions in a healthy way. Read through the list and see if any of the following options catch your eye. You may even want to make your own list of coping strategies that you can turn to again and again when stress or other unwanted emotions begin to take their toll.

Activities

These 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

Communication

Interacting with others and receiving social support is a great way to deal with difficult emotions.

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

Positive Thinking

Positive thinking doesn’t just mean looking at life with a glass-half-full perspective. There are also other ways you can train your brain to focus on the good in life. The below suggestions can, over time, work to naturally encourage you to be more mindful of yourself and life as a whole while facilitating resilience in a variety of situations.

  • Write a list of things you're grateful for
  • 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, you just need a way to release intense emotions that don't harm yourself or anyone else.

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

Lifestyle Changes

Your lifestyle has a significant impact on your stress levels and ability to handle stress and other emotions. Consider making some changes to your life that will empower you and improve your mental health.

  • Set aside at least eight hours for 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

Spiritual Strategies

Whether you’re religious or not, spiritual coping skills can provide you with feelings of acceptance and peace.

  • Meditate
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Pray
  • Connect with nature
  • Volunteer for a worthy cause

Having AHard Time Coping?

Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help if you need it, or even if you don’t feel you absolutely need it, but could still benefit from it. If you’re a teen, you can turn to your school counselor for help. 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 great alternative to in-person therapy for teens, and it’s affordable and accessible. The exact same services are offered to adults through BetterHelp. You can get the help of a certified therapist from the comfort and privacy of your own home!

User Testimonial

“Since covid started my anxiety started skyrocketing again because I wasn't able to leave my house. I've had bad experiences with therapists before and was hesitant to try this at first but then when I had my first meeting with her I knew that things were finally gonna change. She's helped me tremendously with many different coping skills and worksheets to get my mind going. I am so glad Loretta has come into my life!”

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