Managing Teen Stress and Anxiety During the Coronavirus

Until this morning, I thought that I was strong and holding myself together. After all, I am supposed to be the person who is helping others become stronger and empowering them with the right skills and tools to lead a healthier and happier life. Right?

Well, I woke up to a text from my sister this morning and I immediately knew something was wrong. My siblings were worried about my dad and we feared the worst. After hours of trying to get in contact with all of them, we found out that my dad was okay for now, but that didn’t stop my spiral into tons of emotions: anxiety, fear, guilt (why hadn’t I called him back the other day?), sadness.

I knew that I had to put on a brave face for my three girls and I got to thinking about the basics of stress management. It’s important to focus on our mental health at a time like this and also be present enough to address it with our children. With schools closing and parents working remotely, now is the perfect time to develop new coping skills, practice mindfulness, and participate in healthy dialogue as a family. Below are five tips that I’m utilizing daily to help myself and my family navigate this challenging time.

Tip #1: Try breathing experiences for relaxation

It sounds simple, but many are not aware that most of us take over 23,000 breaths per day—and over 70% of us don’t do it properly. If you want to check if you are breathing properly, sit up straight in a chair or you can also stand up straight. Place your hand on your chest and take a deep breath. Was your hand lifted while breathing? The right way to breathe is through your stomach and is called diaphragmatic breathing. (The American Lung Association offers more tips on the proper way to breathe.)

The best way to lower stress is deep breathing, and once you learn how to do it properly, you will feel so much better. This is because when you breathe deeply, you send messages to your brain to calm down and relax. There is a lot of scientific research on this topic if you are interested but just know that deep breathing helps activate the calm system (aka parasympathetic system) and deactivate the stress system (aka sympathetic system). Elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, and shortness of breath can all be symptoms of stress. One way to send a message to your body to relax is through proper breathing.

You may have to try a few different breathing exercises to find one that works best for you. Here are a few that I recommend, but you can search online for more of your own! I recommend trying these on your own and encouraging your teens to do the same. It may seem silly at first, but these are lifelong coping skills with so many benefits.

Belly Breathing

Roll Breathing

4-7-8 Breathing

Tip #2: Check-in on yourself

Be aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors surrounding the coronavirus and be honest and open with yourself and with your teenagers about how you are feeling. With many people living on autopilot while exposing themselves to a deluge of stress from the outside world, it is important to pause and ask yourself how you feel. What is the storyline that you are telling yourself?