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How We Can Help Teens Thrive with Self-Regulating Tools

Written by Allegra Johnson, Secondary Education Coordinator + Yoga in the Schools Instructor

"By helping teens build their toolbox of coping skills, you are giving them strategies that will last a lifetime." - Allegra Johnson

As the secondary education coordinator for the Yoga in the Schools program, I get the privilege of working with teens every single week.

Teens are in one of the most transformational times of their lives as the child is released and the adult has yet to fully emerge.

This is typically a time of soul-searching as they deal with puberty, peer pressures, family conflicts around their autonomy, and trying to figure out how they fit in despite an evolving identity.

And unlike adults, teens’ brains are still developing and forming the neurological pathways necessary for healthily navigating stressors and big emotions.

Stress is a natural part of life, and not all stress is bad. However, it would be a disservice to the teens in our lives not to acknowledge or validate their feelings of stress – which are very real!

So what can we do to help teens navigate change and uncertainty and the feelings of stress and anxiety that come with it?

Teens and Stress

When I talk with teens, it always amazes me that stress is the emotion they're most familiar with and the one they're most comfortable talking about.

I’ve found that they also have wisdom and insight into their feelings and want to be empowered to cope with them.

By helping teens build their toolbox of coping skills, you are giving them strategies that will last a lifetime.

I’ve found that it’s helpful to let teens practice autonomy by offering them a few different strategies and letting them decide what works best for them.

These techniques that I share below are some of the most effective ways to empower teens when they’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Even better? They're super simple and can be practiced in 5 minutes or less!

From Distress to De-Stress: 3 Tools to Tackle Stress and Overwhelm

#1: Breathe

Seems simple, right?

But when our brains and bodies are feeling anxious, we often take quick and shallow breaths, otherwise known as “stress breaths”.

Even pausing to take five to ten long, purposeful breaths allows your body to relax a little.

Try inhaling to the count of four and exhaling to the count of four. Believe it or not, this is actually a technique used by professionals, such as firefighters and the coast guard, to help deal with stressful situations.

Taking slow, deep breaths stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system – a.k.a. your calm-down system!

When we intentionally elongate our inhales and exhales, we can help our bodies to calm some of the other stressed mechanisms, such as increased heart rate, muscle tension and racing thoughts.

One of my favorite calming breaths is called Balloon Breathing.

  1. Sit in Easy Pose with a tall back and straight spine.

  2. Place both hands on your belly with your palms on each side of your belly button. Your fingertips may be gently touching.

  3. Inhale deeply through your nose and feel your belly fill and rise like a balloon as it inflates.

  4. Exhale through your nose and feel your belly go back down.

  5. Repeat several times. Close your eyes if you’re comfortable, or keep a soft gaze on the floor in front of you as you breathe.

Join me in the video below to practice this breath!

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for FREE meditations, breathing practices and yoga videos!!

#2: Journal

When we journal, create a list, or write down what we're thinking or feeling in the moment, it allows our brain to "get out" those thoughts and feelings and re-focus on what's in front of us.

And, while we may think we can do this through typing, recent studies show there is more effectiveness when you take pen to paper.

Process journaling or stream-of-consciousness journaling can be used as a way to process stress and anxiety.

It is especially helpful if you or your teen is feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or anxious. Process journaling can help us to accept our emotions non-judgmentally.

Here’s a how-to list to get you started:

  1. Get a journal, set a timer. I recommend 4 minutes the first go around, with more as you get comfortable.

  2. Write your thoughts as they come up without lifting your pen off the paper. You will have incomplete sentences and imperfect grammar, but this is part of the exercise. If you are a perfectionist, practice letting go of a need to control and perfect at this moment by practicing non-judgment.

  3. Recognize that your writing shows all the important pieces of your inner wisdom- your thoughts, your emotions, and your perspectives.

I'll walk you through the process in the video below:

Allegra explains process journaling.

Some people like to read their work right after it is done, while others walk away and come back to it once they are feeling refreshed.

I am always happily surprised by the truth living inside me that can get out once I stop judging my experiences and myself.

Once I stop “should-ing” myself- telling myself I should feel this way, see it this way, stop doing this, or start doing that- I am met with my true self.

The good. The bad. The beautiful…and the not-so-beautiful.

From this place, we grow.

#3: Move

Movement is something that many teens do daily: in gym class, walking to and from classes, or at work or sports.

The idea of movement to benefit a team is most likely a familiar motivation for teens; however, moving as a way to relieve stress might not be.

Movement in any form from running, yoga, playing outside, or even Tik Tok dances, is a great way for teens to relieve stress in a fun and playful way.

The key is to move mindfully!

Often, when we're plagued with racing thoughts or worry, we're up in our heads.

When we move our bodies, we are giving our brain a physical function to focus on, which helps us become calm and grounded.

Teens might find it helpful to follow a video of movement like the one with secondary Yoga in the Schools instructor, Meghan, to help them practice this type of mindfulness.

If you have a teen that would benefit from videos of movement and mindfulness, consider signing up for the C2C Kids Hub!

It's our online wellness platform exclusively for kids and teens.

New mindfulness and yoga content is always being added so your teens can try out and find what strategies work for them.

Plus, you can try it out with a FREE 2-week trial!

~ Allegra

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