Coping Strategies for Teens with Anxiety – Part 1

Published on May 10, 2023 by Rose Strawser

Some of us are more prone to anxiety than others.  Perhaps it’s because of our genetic make-up, or the obstacles life has thrown in our path, or maybe it comes from some poor coping habits that we’ve repeated over and over again.  We will never be able to completely eliminate anxiety from our lives, but we can help make it a little more tolerable by adding some new coping skills to our toolbox.   This will be a two part series, so please join us next time for the remaining new skills to learn!  

Start a Mood Journal

The purpose of using a mood journal is to practice becoming aware of our negative thoughts so that we can change them.  Learning how to change our thoughts is a whole other topic, but to start we need to first recognize when we have them.  Your mood may vary greatly from day to day, so it is helpful to look for patterns in the way you are feeling over a typical week.  Each day, record at least one negative thought you’ve experienced and list the trigger which may have led to that negative thought.   For example, your negative thought might be “I’m going to fail – I’m such a screw up!” and that negative thought may have been triggered by forgetting your book that you were going to study for a test. Pay attention to what your mood was when that trigger and negative thought happen and write that down.  

Identify Negative Thoughts

Look at your mood journal – do you see any common thoughts?  Some common negative thoughts include feeling stupid, feeling that nobody loves me, being afraid or lonely, feeling ugly.  Negative thoughts often use qualifiers that are untrue such as “always”, “nobody” or “never”, i.e., “I always do it wrong”, “nobody likes me” or “I will never be able to do this”.  Keep in mind that the triggers that led to these negative thoughts are temporary occurrences and shouldn’t be allowed to qualify your entire being.  

Plan a Fun Activity

When people feel discouraged, they tend to lose energy and motivation for everything . . . even things they enjoy. But when you are feeling sad, that is exactly when you need to have fun to bring your mood up!  Make a list of fun activities that you can do in several categories such as:  
  • Plan a Physical Activity -- It’s been proven that physical activity helps improve our mood.  Go for a walk around your neighborhood, go for a hike in nature, play basketball or a sport with friends, go for a bike ride
  • Do a Success -- When we do something well, it helps us to feel better about ourselves.  Plan an activity that you know you have a talent or knowledge in.  Examples could be to write a new song or poem, play a sport, create an art project
  • Do an Act of Service -- Doing acts of service helps us to focus on someone other than ourselves and our own problems.  Volunteer at a local church, daycare, retirement home, or call a relative or friend who doesn’t get many visitors.  And animals are included in this category too – take your dog for a walk, pet your cat, or if you don’t have your own pet, volunteer at the humane league.
  • Plan a Social Meeting -- When we are feeling discouraged or stressed, being in a social setting might not be what we think we need, but it can help boost our mood.  Make plans to meet a friend at the park  - you can plan an activity together or just sit and talk.  Choose someone who makes you feel relaxed, you can be yourself with, and makes you smile.

Develop Rewards

After all of your journaling and planning, you deserve a reward!  What are some simple things that make you happy?  We aren’t thinking of elaborate items that may never be achievable – think of small, inexpensive, easy to do, items. Here are some thoughts:
  • List four people who you’d like to spend more time with but don’t get a chance to do so on a regular basis.
  • List four places nearby where you’d like to go.
  • List four things that you do not own but would like to have and can afford (a game, clothes, etc.).
  • List four food and/or drinks you like best (try to choose healthy items, or if not, then make these rewards in moderation).
  • List four simple activities that you enjoy (reading, listening to music, being with your pet, painting, etc.).

Seek Professional Help When Needed

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help when needed.  Find a therapist or counselor that you can trust.  Look for group programs in your area such as The Blues Program for teenagers -  

Rose Strawser

Contributing to this article is Blues TOT Trainer Holly Hardin, MA; written by Rose Strawser.