By Ani Thomson, MFTi,
Woodland Hills, PHP/IOP
It’s normal for teens to experience symptoms of anxiety, especially when it comes to school. There is usually pressure to succeed, to get good grades, and to fit in with their peers. All of these pressures can lead to an internal worry that has the potential to grow into something more problematic, so it’s helpful for teens and parents to be educated in healthy coping skills that can be utilized in school (or anywhere!). Here are some practical and non-distracting tools to deal with anxiety during the day:
Breathing: Focusing on your breathing can be a great tool for managing anxiety in a wide variety of settings. Make sure to take long, slow, deep breaths instead of shallow breathing that often accompanies the physical experience of anxiety. Allowing time to breathe can be very beneficial in helping you feel calmer and more relaxed as it circulates better blood flow and slows down the “ramp up” of anxiety.
Theraputty: It’s exactly what it sounds like! It’s putty used for therapeutic reasons. Holding the putty allows you to keep your hands busy if you are having challenges sitting still, and can be good for relieving frustration or stress. Keeping some putty in your pocket, purse, school bag or locker could come in handy when you are feeling anxious. Theraputty is a great tool because it’s a coping skill that is not distracting and can help you feel calm while still paying attention.
Guided Imagery: If your feelings of anxiety become overwhelming, this technique can help you to focus your mind on a more pleasant experience. In order to do guided imagery, you should mentally focus on a place that makes you feel calm and relaxed. Examples might include the beach, the mountains, or a favorite room in your house. Think about the feelings you experience when you are there. Think about everything you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. The more you focus on the details of this place, the more you will be distracted from your feelings of anxiety and replace them with feelings of peace.
Drawing: This is another technique that can be useful during class, as long as you can still complete your work. You can draw on a separate sheet of paper or in the margin of your notes. Drawing shapes and repetitive patterns can be calming, and can help relieve anxiety. Drawing shapes or figures can give your mind something else to focus on to help distract you from the anxious feelings.
Grounding Exercises: There are many different types of grounding exercises. These techniques allow you to remain focused on the present, and feel more in touch with your body or surroundings. One example is counting things in the room around you. How many blue things can you see? How many colors can you count? Another options is to focus on your five senses. What can you see, smell, taste, hear and feel right now? List what you are experiencing with each sense.
Journaling: This can be a great coping skill to use at breaks or after school. Journaling gives you a chance to share anxious thoughts by putting them down on paper, which can also help you to process them. Sometimes getting it out takes care of the anxiety.
Getting Support: Reaching out to a friend, family member or teacher can be a very helpful way to manage anxiety. Talking through your feelings or asking for help with challenges can allow you to feel connected and supported.
Taking a Time-Out: If your anxiety becomes overwhelming, taking a few minutes to yourself can be very helpful. This should only be used during classes if your anxious feelings are causing you severe challenges, as it requires leaving the room. It is recommended that you talk to your teacher in advance to explain your situation and ask if you can use this coping skill if needed.
Self-Care: This is a very important part of managing anxiety. Make sure you are taking enough time for yourself outside of school to do activities that make you feel better. Sleeping eight hours a night, eating three meals a day, drinking plenty of water, and exercising are very basic ways you can take care of yourself. You can also engage hobbies such as sports or art, or other activities like spending time with friends, playing video games, or playing with a pet.
Being Kind to Yourself: Make sure you are not putting yourself under too much pressure. Be realistic about the amount of time you need each day to complete schoolwork, complete chores and hygiene, do self-care, and get enough sleep. Be forgiving of mistakes you make, and if you become overwhelmed use anything else on this list to help yourself feel better. Make sure you address yourself in a compassionate way. Reach out for help whenever you need it.
Remember, you are not defined by your anxiety and you can overcome it with some of these simple suggestions.