How to build coping skills for anxiety

View from below of guy writing in notebook

It can be tricky knowing how to help a teenager with anxiety. From helping them learn coping techniques, to making lifestyle changes as a family, there are things you can do to help your teen manage their anxiety.

Coping strategies for anxiety

Breathing exercises

Physical symptoms of anxiety include rapid, shallow breathing and hyperventilation. These symptoms can sometimes trigger panic attacks. Try teaching your teenager some breathing exercises to help immediately reduce their anxiety symptoms and calm them down. For example, try the 'long exhale':

  1. Thoroughly exhale, pushing all the air out of your lungs.

  2. Take a deep breath and inhale slowly, counting to four.

  3. Exhale slowly, counting to six. Try to spend more time exhaling than inhaling.

  4. Repeat for two to five minutes.

Going for a walk or doing light exercise This can help to distract the mind and manage the physical symptoms of anxiety and stress. It’s also an opportunity to take a break from whatever is making your teen anxious.

Writing down worries Writing down your worries and setting aside a designated time to come back to them is a technique used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and can help ensure that excessive worrying – which can lead to anxiety – doesn’t take over someone’s life. ReachOut has developed an app called WorryTime to guide young people through the process.

Meditation and mindfulness These tools teach you how to focus on the present, instead of worrying about things in the past or the future. Smiling Mind is an app designed to teach young people mindfulness meditation, a technique that has been shown to help with anxiety.

Find more ways young people can manage their anxiety here.

Lifestyle changes for coping with teenage anxiety

Dealing with teenage anxiety can be tough for a lot of parents. It's important for your child to be aware of their anxiety, and of techniques they can use to cope and manage their symptoms. There are also things that your child can do to avoid making their anxiety worse.

Anxiety can be triggered by:

  • lack of sleep

  • major life events

  • poor health

  • illness

  • hormonal changes

  • alcohol and other drugs.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce the effects of anxiety and give your teen better skills to cope with the ups and downs of everyday life. You could encourage the whole family to be involved in these things.

  • Regular exercise. Being active has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. Exercise is not only a great stress reliever, but also helps to improve physical health.

  • Healthy eating habits. A regular eating schedule, nutritious meals/snacks and staying hydrated all support your physical and mental development.

  • Regular sleep schedule. Your brain needs time to rest and recharge. Getting enough sleep helps us to make good decisions and be present in what’s happening, and lowers stress levels.

  • Connecting to others. None of us can get through life alone. Spend time together as a family, encourage your teen to hang out with their friends, and talk to your teen regularly to maintain your connection with them.

Get more practical tips for your family’s wellbeing here.

If your teen's symptoms aren't improving after trying these coping strategies for teenage anxiety, or if they've been going on for a while, it could be time to think about whether your teen could benefit from professional support.

Did you find what you needed?

  • I need to know more - Read our fact sheet about anxiety.