Heretolisten.org is a resource for caring adults—the front-line staff in schools and community based programs—to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.
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Stress Relief Techniques
Represent staff
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Q: What are some techniques teens can use to cope with stress?

A: Thought stopping is what you do if you have a thought going through your head that’s stressful or upsetting. Many people feel that we’re at the mercy of our thoughts—that if it’s in our head we can’t do anything about it. But actually, you can.

I talk to young people about picturing a big stop sign and having that pop up, stopping the negative thought. It’s one way of teaching that you have control over your thoughts. You can interrupt your own thoughts and refocus yourself. Replace the unwanted thought with something much more calming and less provoking.

I ask young people, “What do you want to replace it with? Is there a safe place you want to think of? Or a calming image?”

You can also do something called “progressive muscle relaxation.” Think about a piece of spaghetti that goes from being uncooked to cooked. Or a toy soldier vs. Raggedy Ann. When our muscles are tense and anxious, we feel very tight and stiff. When our muscles are relaxed we feel calmer. You can think about each muscle and let it relax, and that will help you feel calm.

Belly breathing is another technique. Breathe deeply and slowly, so your belly goes out when you breathe in and pushes in as you breathe out. Breathing from the belly can help you calm down.

Q: How can talking it out help?

A: One thing that’s very important is to help young people identify their feelings. A lot of people of all ages don’t know how to say how they feel. They might feel happy or sad, but they might not know the words to explain all the other emotions they’re feeling. We help them learn other words: anxious, confused, helpless, angry. The better you can convey to others how you’re feeling, the more likely it is that other people can respond well.

At Safe Horizon, we tell a story about something happening to a child, and we have the young person talk through how they’re reacting to that story. Getting to know the words, having an easier time identifying your feelings, and putting those feelings into words can help decrease stress.


More Stress Relief Tips

• Take care of yourself: get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise.

• Pay attention to the ways you react to stress.

• Find healthy ways to relax, like talking with supportive people, listening to music, watching movies, taking walks, or doing something creative, like dancing or writing.

• Use formal relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or thinking positive thoughts.

• Learn your limits—how far you can push yourself and when you need to relax. Learn how to say “no.”

• Plan ahead, structure your time, and set priorities.

• Ask for help when you need it.

Reprinted with permission from New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC.org)

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(FCYU-2003-11-15)

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