“One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem.” ~ Robert Fulgh
Coping mechanisms are the strategies that teens use to manage stress, painful situations, difficult emotions, intrusive thoughts and to solve problems. As adults, most of us have developed coping mechanisms to manage our stress levels or at least ways to destress. We may not be able to alleviate the sources of stress but at least we have learned to manage it. For a teen, their developing brain has not yet learned to identify the source and symptoms of stress, therefore, making it more difficult to cope.
Good coping mechanisms can help them to manage their emotional well-being and mental health in light of stressful events and uncomfortable situations. For some, managing the little things may be more difficult if they do not have the foundation of coping skills to help them to overcome.
We all develop methods of coping with stressors in our lives to varying degrees. Whether it is how you react to an unexpected rain shower, a messy kitchen, or the loss of a job, coping mechanisms help people to problem-solve so that they can continue throughout their day and life. Without them, we would all be stuck in our situations, our stresses, and our difficulties. A variety of coping mechanisms are needed to handle all that life throws at us from the stresses of school and family life to the illness or loss of a loved one.
Coping mechanisms are as unique as each individual but healthy coping skills can be the key to getting a person through tough times. While some skills are innate, others are learned strategies that help us to reduce, eliminate, and deal with stressful situations. Teenagers may not yet have developed these skills but it is never too late to learn. Even as adults we need to practice and sometimes modify our coping mechanisms based on the event or level of stress. There is no exact rule about when and how to use coping mechanisms and what works in one situation may not work in another and therefore, teens should have a variety of strategies in their tool kit to help them manage their challenges.
When children are little, parents may give them a “time out”. This forces them to separate themselves from the thing that is causing distress and to refocus their energy. Even from an early age, children are learning appropriate coping mechanisms. Teenagers can use this same methodology to cope with all that life throws at them by separating themselves from that which is stressing them even if only temporarily allowing them to refocus, re-energize, and think more clearly.
Talking things out is an excellent way of coping and alleviating stress. Have you ever felt better after you have laid out a problem to a friend? Even just hearing the words out loud sometimes helps to bring clarity and a new way of thinking about the problem. This is the reason why talk therapy is so beneficial in helping many teens with mental health issues. Talking helps teens to understand the situation and to alleviate some of the feelings and emotions associated with it. It affords them the ability to breakdown seemingly gigantic problems into smaller, more manageable pieces with a new perspective on how to handle it.
Aside from speaking to someone else, positive self-talk is an important coping mechanism. Teens can give themselves a pep talk, affirming their positive qualities, and providing the motivation that they need to handle the situation.
Many coping mechanisms are learned behaviors. When parents model appropriate ways of handling stressful situations, teens are more than likely to follow suit. If a parent reacts to spilled milk by screaming and yelling, a child or teen will handle situations similarly. However, if a parent responds in such a way that is calm and nonchalant, teens will learn to handle stressors in the same way.
When making a decision, it is often beneficial to make a list of the pros and cons of the problem or situation. By writing down positive and negative qualities, teens can manage the stress associated with the situation as well as make an informed, logical decision.
Exercise is an important and appropriate coping mechanism. When teens are healthy and relaxed, they will have the energy needed to manage their challenges. A regular exercise routine will help to keep their mind and body strong while doing some activity when life gets stressful can help to bring oxygen to the brain bringing clarity and focus.
Just as talking is an effective coping mechanism, journaling is also very beneficial in helping teens to handle stressful situations. The very act of writing allows the brain to process information and refocus energy appropriately.
Crying can be a healthy and effective strategy for releasing pent up anger and emotions. Although it does not solve a problem, shedding those tears often is the emotional release needed to move forward.
Screen time, although it may serve as a distraction to many of life’s challenges, may in fact place more stress on an already stressed teenager. However, with the proper balance, social media and gaming can be used as a coping mechanism.
Breathing exercises are another coping mechanism that helps to bring clarity and focus to a stressful situation. Teens who learn to take several deep breaths can control their heart rate, lower anxiety, and increase oxygen to their brain.
Meditation and mindfulness are very beneficial in helping teens to manage the stressors of life and to live in the moment without fear or worry of the future, struggles, or expectations. Many forms of holistic therapy may also help cope with life’s challenges including yoga, acupuncture, Reiki, and massage.
Recreational activities that both distract and stimulate the mind are powerful tools for managing stress. Puzzles, matching games, drawing, and reading can take a teen’s mind off their mental health, illness, or fears even if only temporarily to allow them to relax and refocus their attention more appropriately.
As difficult as sleep may be when stress arises, it is an important coping mechanism. When our brains are overtired, problems can seem larger or even worse than they really are, elevating the level of stress and anxiety.
Having fun is not only a distraction from the struggles of life but it also is an excellent way to live in the moment, take them away from the source of stress, and return to it refreshed and with a new mindset. Fun can be whatever a teen wants it to be; sports, games, hanging with friends, playing with pets, and siblings.
For some teens, they have not developed good coping mechanisms because mom and dad have always provided a solution to the problem on their behalf. Teens need to not only experience challenges and stress but they need to learn to manage it since parents will not always be there to support them and resolve their issues. Unfortunately, as much as parents want to help, enabling them does not allow teens to develop the coping skills that they will need later in life.
When it comes to mental health, there are many coping mechanisms that teens can utilize to deal with the negative feelings, thoughts, and emotions they may be experiencing from depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety, etc. aside from the many already discussed. For example, external stress and its impact on the brain is compounded by internal negative thought patterns brought on by mental health issues. Encourage your teen to look positively at the situation and to see the good in everything. This will help to make the circumstances seem less intimidating, scary, and less likely to provoke stress.
With each challenge, teens learn to adapt and build upon what they learned from the last problem or inconvenience to better handle the next.
While many coping mechanisms are positive and healthy, unfortunately, many teens also develop unhealthy or even dangerous strategies of handling stress many of which can lead to additional stress and problems. Using alcohol and drugs, overeating, and even retail therapy may offer temporary relief from the stress and emotions, but they do not serve to resolve the problem at hand or alleviate the feelings and emotions. Rather these negative coping mechanisms only mask the problem temporarily.
If you are looking for additional methods to help your teen develop good coping mechanisms, the mental health professionals at Beachside Treatment Center can offer solutions and strategies to ensure that your teen has the tools and resources they need to successfully navigate the many stressful situations and events that occur in their lives.