Liz Morrison, LCSW
4 Simple Anxiety Coping Skills for Kids and Teens
Experiencing anxiety as a kid or teen is tough. You’re still learning how to make sense of the world and your body and dealing with anxiety on top of that isn’t easy.
When anxiety strikes, it can feel overwhelming. You might not be able to think clearly or even understand what’s happening. Your body probably feels uncomfortable in some way. Maybe your chest starts to feel tight, or your head or stomach starts to hurt. Maybe your heart is pounding really hard.
These sensations usually feel uncomfortable or scary. During these situations, it’s important to have some anxiety coping skills to be able to handle what’s coming up for you.
Learning to calm yourself down in the moment will help you get through it. It will also help you learn that anxiety is something you can get through, even though it might seem beyond your control.
At Liz Morrison Therapy, we teach kids and teens how to understand and manage their anxiety using these coping skills and more. Let’s talk about what anxiety coping skills are, and how you can use them in your daily life to help you get through tough moments of anxiety.
What Are Anxiety Coping Skills?
Anxiety coping skills are mental practices or activities you do when you’re feeling anxious or nervous.
Think of coping skills as a sort of toolkit. You develop these skills so you can “pull them out” when you need them, in the same way you’d pull out a hammer and nails from a toolkit.
These coping skills usually require some level of practice and patience. They’re skills, which means they need to be built, and this takes time.
Sometimes coping skills can involve actual objects to help soothe you. For example, you might keep a physical anxiety kit for yourself and bring it out when you need it. We’ll get more into these physical kits a little later.
How Can Coping Skills Help With Anxiety?
Coping skills help you relax so your body doesn’t feel so agitated. It’s difficult to feel relaxed and anxious at the same time, right?
Relaxing helps you calm down and break your cycle of worrying. It also helps bring you back to the present moment, which can be difficult to do when you’re in the midst of anxiety.
Coping skills also help redirect your focus to something other than what you’re worried about.
When you focus on what you’re anxious about, it keeps the anxiety rolling. But when you focus on something else, you can distract yourself in a healthy way.
Additionally, coping skills help slow you down, so you have time to pause and consider what you might need next. Slowing down can also help keep you from making rash decisions based on your anxiety and discomfort.
Coping Skills For Kids and Teens With Anxiety
The following coping skills all involve noticing physical sensations or redirecting your anxious energy to something outside your thoughts.
The idea is to bring you back to the present moment. When you’re anxious, you’re in your head. Your thoughts are racing and you’re probably not even noticing what’s happening around you.
Being in the present helps you feel calmer and more connected with your senses. The calmer and more present you are, the less intense your anxiety will be.
Try these coping skills out and see what you think. You may not like all of them, and that’s okay! You can take what works for you and keep adding to your own anxiety coping skillset over time.
1. The 3 - 3 - 3 Exercise
Here’s how this exercise works:
Look around and name 3 things you see.
These three things can be anything. If you’re outside or have a view through a window, you might want to choose things in nature: a bird, a tree, a rock, or the wind in the grass. If you’re inside, just find objects nearby: an indoor plant, a pencil, or a lamp, for example.
Then name 3 things you can hear.
Again, these can be any sounds. They don’t even have to be soothing sounds! Focusing on sounds happening around you is a great way to redirect the brain from anxious, racing thoughts to the things going on outside your body.
Then focus on 3 parts of your body.
If you focus on your arm, for example, you can run your fingers up and down one of your arms with your other hand and focus on the sensations. Or you can just move your arm around: wiggle your fingers, touch a surface, or do arm circles. Then repeat this process with two other body parts.
Paying attention to different parts of your body helps you focus on physical sensations in and around your body rather than the racing thoughts in your head.
2. Box Breathing
Slowing down your breathing is a really effective way to calm yourself down. It slows down your beating heart, loosens your muscles, and keeps you from feeling panicky.
Box breathing is one way to slow down your breathing. Here’s how:
Put one hand on your heart, and close your eyes if you want.
Count to four (aloud or in your head) while inhaling.
Hold your breath for four seconds.
Exhale for four seconds.
Hold your breath again for four seconds.
Repeat these steps ten times, or as many times as it takes for you to start to feel calmer.
3. Jump up and down or go for a walk.
Sometimes anxiety needs a physical route out of your body. Anxiety is energy, and physical exercise can help move it through and out of your system. You can try jumping jacks, skipping, hopping, or going for a walk.
If you leave home, make sure someone knows where you’re going, or ask someone to go with you.
If you’re in school, this one may be trickier. If you get a break between classes or can take time at lunch, find somewhere quiet to get some exercise.
4. Make an Anxiety Kit
Keep comforting, soothing objects in a box so you can grab the whole thing when you need it. Anything that fits can go inside. There’s no limit to what can go in here. If it’s comforting to you, put it in.
Here are some ideas of what to include in your kit:
Photos of loved ones or peaceful places
Magazine or article cutouts
Essential oils or scented candles
Stones or gems
A soft stuffed animal
Art or painting supplies
A journal to write in
Ideally, include items that you can interact with in various sensory ways. So for example, maybe mint flavor calms you down and you want to include peppermints or mint tea. You may also want to include one or more objects you can hold, touch or rub. Including fun, interactive activities is also helpful for some people.
How to Help if Your Kid Has Anxiety
If you’re a parent reading this, you can help your child with their anxiety issues.
Learn to recognize symptoms of anxiety in your kid. Listen to their concerns. Help them through the exercises in this blog.
If you think extra support would be helpful for you or your child, therapy can help.
We offer therapy for children and teens in New York to help them learn how to manage their anxiety, communicate their needs, and respond to life’s challenges in a healthy way.
We also provide therapy for parents to provide you with support. We know parenting is tough. It’s easy to feel lost, alone, and unsure of how to best support your child. We can help you learn resources and skills to support your child with anxiety. We also help you learn how to better communicate with your child, so you feel more connected and at ease with one another.
If you’d like to learn more about therapy for kids with anxiety, feel free to reach out to inquire about online counseling. We offer free consultations to discuss any questions or concerns you may have to see if we’re a good fit.