By Angela Huang
While stress is a normal part of daily life and something that we all face, life as a teenager can be especially stressful. High school, homework, relationships with family and friends, future plans—all of these things can pile up and leave us feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to cope.
The thing is, stress can actually serve an important function, signaling to us that our bodies and our minds are overwhelmed and in need of a break. If we are constantly on the go, moving and working, we are bound to feel flustered and anxious. Ignoring these feelings will not make them magically disappear, so it is especially important that we remember to take time to check in with ourselves. Think of it as a little mental and emotional hygiene!
Here are some tips for coping with stress that I have found helpful:
1. Practice mindful breathing
One of the first things you can do when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed is to pause and take a deep breath. If you’d like, you can put one hand on your stomach and your other hand on your chest.
Inhale and feel as your stomach expands.
Exhale and feel as your stomach contracts.
Try to continue this 10-20 times, and try not to rush. After a few times, you may find yourself feeling calmer and more present. If not, that’s ok! There are plenty of other things to try.
In times of distress, we tend to overlook our most basic needs and nothing is more essential than our breath. Breathing is something we do automatically, something which we don’t need to give a second thought to. Yet, consciously deciding to pay attention to our breath can make a world of difference when we feel stressed and anxious.
You can also try breathing along with this:
2. Imagine a wave
Here's an idea: when you feel an uncomfortable feeling arise, imagine a wave in the sea. Picture it rise up, hit its peak, crash, and then eventually settle back down with the rhythm of the water.
Now, bring your attention back to the unpleasant thought or feeling, and imagine it too as a wave. No matter how unbearable it feels in the moment, know that, just like a wave, it will always pass.
More waves may appear, but the trick is sometimes to go with it. Actively resisting bad feelings may only serve to make them worse. Letting a feeling be, without resistance, can take away some of its power.
Sure, in some situations, the best thing to do may be to push away feelings that you may not be ready or able to confront, but other times the best thing you can do is allow yourself to feel whatever comes up. We can't simply do away with everything we don't want to think about or feel. Sitting with feelings, whether pleasant or uncomfortable, can help prevent them from completely taking over.
In any case, no matter how you choose to react to your emotions, always make sure to avoid judgment. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Everything that comes up is valid. It's all just a matter of how we choose to approach it. Cultivating kindness toward ourselves can make all the difference. Waves in the sea are natural and inevitable. Our feelings are as well. So, learning to accept them can allow us to learn from and live with them.
Another cool visualization: picture a stone being thrown into a pond, and see the ripples it sets into motion. See how the water flows outward and then ultimately falls back into stillness.
3. Take a break with some simple activities
Briefly press pause on your list of things to do, and take a break with a simple activity. This will help you return to whatever you have to do refreshed and refocused.
Spend some time outdoors. Take a stroll, observe your surroundings, and try to let go of ruminating thoughts. Notice the birds chirp, the leaves rustling in the wind, the cars driving by, the way the sunlight filters through the trees, the way a cold wind feels against your face...whatever catches your attention. Turning your attention outwards can help take your mind off of your anxieties for a bit.
Listen to your favorite song. Close your eyes and focus completely on the tune and the lyrics. For a moment, let the outside world fade away.
Paint/color/draw/doodle. Avoid judgment, focus on the experience, and don't worry about the outcome!
Sometimes if we are too stuck in our heads, the best way to redirect our anxious thoughts is to shift focus from our minds to our bodies. This can be anything: going for a walk or a jog, playing a sport, taking a swim, etc. Another great thing to do is yoga. Maybe it sounds boring or intimidating, but there are plenty of simple guided lessons on YouTube. As far as boring goes, if it’s not your thing, feel free to skip it.
In any case, whatever your mood, there’s something out there to coincide, whether for brief break or for a full-length class. You can find beginner lessons online as well as guided videos made specifically for stress & anxiety relief, self-care and creating space for yourself.
There is nothing fancy required and no pressure to be a certain way. It is really about how it feels to you and not about how it looks or the amount of poses you can do. Work with what you have available. If you don't have a yoga mat, you can put a towel or blanket on the floor.
Last but not least, something you can do when you find yourself feeling off and in need of an outlet is to take out a notebook and just start writing.
Again, there is no pressure to write a certain way or about a certain thing. Just write whatever feels right and whatever comes up. Writing can help you clarify how you are feeling, and it is a wonderful way to check in with yourself.
So, there you have it! Some small things to try out when you’re feeling stressed and anxious. I'm not here to tell you that coping with anxiety and difficult emotions is simple and straightforward. It's not. I just wanted to share some simple things you may turn to if you are ever feeling like everything is just too much. We all struggle sometimes in one way or another. You wouldn't tell a struggling friend to get over it. You would treat them kindly and try your best to help them. Why not do the same for yourself?
About the Author
Angela is an intern at Linden Global Learning. She is from California and studies economics and politics at Bard College Berlin. She wholeheartedly believes in the power of practicing mindfulness and just wants to spread the word. She believes that it is something that would do all of us good to learn and to practice, whether we're young, old, or somewhere in between.