Middle school can be a difficult time. You can often feel a loss of control in so many areas of your life, which leads to an intense need for coping mechanisms during this critical period; therefore, it is a crucial time to develop healthy coping strategies.
Middle schoolers are still learning how to understand and manage intense emotions, conflicts, and experiences. In addition to that, they are in the midst of a period of significant physiological change. Without a toolbox full of positive coping skills, they are at risk of developing unhealthy or harmful coping strategies that can have a lasting impact on their life.
It is essential to develop a coping plan filled with skills that work best for your students, so I hope you will help them build one after you check out my top 30 favorite coping skills for the everyday lives of teens!
1. Take a Deep Breath
In through your nose, 1...2...3..., and out through your mouth. There are a variety of breathing techniques, but regardless of which approach you take, using a deep breathing exercise is important. Deep breathing is critical to bringing oxygen into your blood, lowering heartbeat, blood pressure, and stress. I always suggest taking at least 3-5 deep breaths before taking any other action in an emotional situation. Make sure you feel the breath deep into your diaphragm, because shallow breathing has the opposite effect, causing increased anxious feelings! Deep breathing is also a great method of calming the body and mind when overstimulated.
Learn more: Kids' Health
2. Take a Drink of Water
Water, water everywhere make sure you take a drink! Did you know water is a coping tool! Water is important for hydration which helps our bodies stay balanced, so drinking enough water regularly can support you in becoming stressed. However, the action of taking a drink of water in the moment of stress is also beneficial to resetting your body and mind.
Learn more: Gr8ness
3. Have a Snack
Yum! Snacking can be an effective coping method or an ineffective one. Having a small healthy 3. Have a snacksnack such as nuts, yogurt, citrus fruit, and even dark chocolate or a small piece of candy can provide a quick boost of calming brain chemicals. Be careful of high sugar foods, though! While it is true that sugar boosts healthy brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, large amounts of sugar can cause anxiety and depression to worsen. So next time you feel stressed, break out the healthy food!
Learn more: Sutter Health
4. Go for a Walk or Run
Engaging, science-based exercises like walking and running can prompt mood-boosters in the brain like endorphins and burn up excess cortisol, the body's stress hormone. Don't just run or walk out of the situation that is causing you stress, make sure to take those deep breaths and then, let someone know you need to take a walk or run to calm down.
Learn more: Mayo Clinic
5. Let in the Music
Listening to uplifting music can help the brain produce feelings of calm and positivity. Music is a powerful tool for teen coping, so keep those headphones handy.
Learn more: Michigan State University
6. Draw, Paint, or Color
7. Find a Fidget or Stress Toy
Fidget and stress toys provide an avenue for channeling overstimulated energy such as that created by anxiety. By having a source to which to target repetitive movements, stress and anxiety can be reduced. Many fidgets are easy and discrete to use in stressful situations.
Learn more: Forbes
8. Strike a Yoga Pose
The process of yoga is intended to calm your body and your mind, thus it is an exercise built for coping. The process of simple yoga poses can allow physical stretching that alleviates tension as well as emotional focus that calms stress.
Learn more: Yogi Approved
9. Seek Out Someone to Talk to
Having someone to talk to when you need to cope with big emotions and overwhelming situations helps you to break down situations into manageable parts. It can also provide a different perspective that will give you new ways to process things, help with problem-solving, and a place to let go of the heavy feelings that can build up in stressful situations. You can talk about how you are feeling with trusted adults, friends, and family therapists. Rather talk to someone in anonymity? You can call an emotional support line or even message peer chatlines like this one.
Learn more: Teen Line
10. Write it Out
Much like talking things out with someone else, writing things out in journals, poetry, or stories, can provide an avenue for processing stress which allows you to consider new ideas and organize your thoughts about the situations you are facing. Seek out a favorite person and let out your emotions. Having an individualized notebook where you can express yourself is a must-have for coping. If you are worried about someone reading it, then you can always look for one with a lock or write using a code. If you have a digital notebook, you can always password protect it.
Learn more: Psych Reg
11. Count up the Good Things
When you are in a stressful situation, it can sometimes be difficult to see the positive for all the emotions you are experiencing. Keeping a gratitude list, writing positive thoughts, or even just listing things you like that make you feel happy can be a very successful way to turn around the train of negativity that often builds up. Create a flow of gratitude by checking out this awesome video that explains why we focus on the negative and how we can work to change it!
Learn more: University of California
12. Get Grounded
No, not that kind of grounded! You need to get your body grounded. We ground electricity to keep from getting a shock, right? Well, our emotions are high energy, too, so we need to ground those to keep them from overwhelming us. You can use the simple 54321 grounding technique (5 things you hear, 4 things you see, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste) or other mindfulness exercises.
Learn more: Therapy in a Nutshell
13. Do Math
You may be thinking, "What?! How can math help me cope?!". You may even feel like math is one of your stressors. Don't worry, you do not have to break out the Algebra textbook. When you become overly stressed, your amygdala (the part of your brain that is responsible for emotion and the fight/flight/freeze response hijacks your thinking, so you need to be able to actively engage the prefrontal cortex (the logical part of your brain) in order to calm down and make thoughtful decisions. Counting or doing simple mental math could engage the prefrontal cortex, stop the amygdala take-over that is happening in your brain, and allow you the control you need to find a healthy coping skill!
Learn more: University of California
14. Find A Funny or Cute Video
Laughing reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, in your body, and looking at cute things helps produce dopamine, the happiness chemical in our brains; therefore, breaking out the funny cute animal videos is great for battling difficult feelings. Check out a compilation of funny and cute animals here!
Learn more: Pet Ward
15. Bring on the Memes
Memes activate the same chemical reactions as cute and funny videos! They provide you with positive feelings and build your confidence that you can make it through situations that are causing you stress. So break out your phone! Find some memes here.
Learn more: Meme Corp
16. Organize Something
Engage your logical brain by organizing and cleaning up. Getting up and doing things can be difficult when you are experiencing feelings of depression, but a healthy space is great for a healthy mind.
Learn more: Intermountain Health Care
17. Roll on or DIffuse Some Essential Oils
Essential oils, like lavender, can have calming and relaxing effects. Scents are wonderful resources that provide quick and easy ways to calm your body and mind.
Learn more: Cleveland Clinic
18. Shred It
Write down your feelings, stresses, and overwhelming situations. While you are writing, make sure to visualize those feelings and stressors pouring onto the page, then tear or shred the paper. This will allow you a way to process and release intense feelings.
Learn more: Medium.com
19. Snuggle a Real or Stuffed Pet
Spending time petting, holding, or hugging a pet reduces stress. However, snuggling a stuffed animal can also release beneficial cortisol-reducing feelings that help cope with stress, too! So, don't give away all your stuffies after all!
Learn more: Bunnies by the Bay
20. Do Something Nice for Someone
Meditation is another mindfulness calm-down technique that allows you to cope when feeling swamped. Meditation is particularly useful for feelings of unreality. Watch this video for a guided meditation.
Learn more: New Horizon - Meditation & Sleep Stories
22. Get a Mantra
A mantra is a phrase that you repeat that helps you in meditation as well as by triggering positive thoughts. Mantras and positive affirmations are important to emotional well-being and serve as pleasant exercises in coping.
Learn more: Psych Hub
Prayer, regardless of your religion, can be a great benefit to your emotional health. Prayer supports positive coping methods through releasing feelings of control and building a calm spirit.
Learn more: Everyday Health
24. Rewrite Your Story
Stress can often make us focus on the worst-case scenario and the possible negative outcomes. Sometimes we may only be able to see the negative outcomes of our situation, but you can rewrite your story! You can turn that around to consider the best-case scenario and find some possible positive outcomes. You can use even the worst situation to strengthen yourself. Acknowledge the bad, and validate your feelings, but do not stop there, instead keep going to find a gain that will make you stronger.
Learn more: Janine Halloran
25. Embrace Radical Acceptance
Radical acceptance is an approach that allows us to acknowledge, accept, and tolerate the painful situations that we cannot control without allowing them to turn into long-suffering trauma carried throughout our entire lives.
Learn more: DBT-RU
Napping restores you, both physically and mentally. Check here to learn more about the benefits of napping.
Learn more: Psych 2 Go
27. Let Yourself Feel
Let it go. Your feelings are valid and they need to be expressed. They serve a purpose in your life. It is important that you let yourself have a moment to feel whatever kind of way you feel.
Learn more: The School of Life
28. Validate Your Feelings
Often people try to focus on why they should not feel a certain kind of way; however, it is important that you accept your feelings are valid. Validity does not indicate accuracy. We cannot always control how we feel, but we can control how we respond to them as well as how we work through them.
Learn more: Candace van Dell
Visualizing quiet, comforting places brings a sense of peace to difficult situations and helps our body lower cortisol levels. Learn about how to use visualizing techniques to build a serene place for coping here.
Learn more: School Mental Health Ontario
30. Rein in the Rabbit Hole of Thought
Often our thoughts spiral and we can lose control of our thinking during difficult feelings. If we recognize the rabbit hole of thought, then we can more easily combat it during challenging situations and keep them from becoming demotivating situations, which are much more difficult to overcome.
Learn more: Fablefy - The Whole Child