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Therapy & Teen Coping Mechanisms


min read


Some teens will struggle with everyday stress, peer pressure, social pressures, or even mental illness. What is crucial is that your teen develops healthy, useful coping mechanisms for handling tough situations. As teen’s brains are not fully developed, they still have a lot to learn about dealing with complex and negative situations, along with how to cope with everyday stress.

It’s distressing to know that the most common ways teens deal with stress are not necessarily the best coping mechanisms:

  • Problem-solving (resolve the issue through critical thinking)
  • Emotional suppression (repress the issue internally)
  • Cognitive reappraisal (examine the issue from new perspectives)
  • Distraction (attempt to divert their attention to something else)
  • Avoidance (work to ignore or evade the issue completely)

Problem-solving and cognitive reappraisal are both good coping mechanisms from an intellectual perspective, but they don’t always address emotional responses to stress. Professional researchers have determined that the best coping mechanisms are those that help the teen adapt to stressors rather than trying to ignore or change the stressors.

As in all things, there are good coping mechanisms and bad coping mechanisms. Here we will examine some of the best and some of the worst coping mechanisms for dealing with stress.

Types of Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are either emotion-focused or problem-focused. Emotion-focused coping mechanisms help people cope with any distress that comes from the stressor. Problem-focused strategies use strategies for dealing with the problem to reduce stress.

Furthermore, coping mechanisms are either considered avoidant or active. Avoidant coping mechanisms are all about ignoring or avoiding the problem. Active coping mechanisms involve awareness of the stressor and conscious attempts to reduce stress.

Using effective coping skills can help improve mental and emotional health. People who can adjust to stressful or traumatic situations with productive coping mechanisms are less likely to develop anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues as a result of stress or trauma. Whatever your teen’s situation may be, a qualified therapist or family counselor can help your teen develop appropriate coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s stressors.

Importance of Developing Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms help people keep perspective and focus when dealing with stress and the strong feelings stressors can create. However, it is possible to develop coping mechanisms and become more resilient. By learning certain patterns of thought, teens can change their responses in stressful situations.

The key is to consistently exercise your coping mechanisms until they are a force of habit. While everyone’s problems are different, healthy coping mechanisms are generally the same for everybody.

Take the Time to Breathe

While the stress and negativity of our world can create massive amounts of stress, it is important for teens to realize that they can choose how to respond. They can’t avoid their emotions, but they can clear their thoughts enough to think things through. One common coping mechanism is taking long, deep breaths while counting to ten. This helps decrease physical tension and create a more balanced feeling.

Keep Perspective

All stressors can seem like the end of the world to a teen. We all face challenges, big and small, every day of our lives. Losing perspective can make small problems seem huge by assuming the worst. Worst-case scenarios often play out in a teen’s mind when a problem or challenge occurs. Help your teen to focus on the big picture and maintain a reasonable perspective on the challenges and stressors they are facing.

Take Action

There is nothing worse than feeling helpless – like there’s nothing we can do to resolve a situation. But, there’s always something, even little things. Rather than focusing on solving a huge problem, focus on one small way you can make the situation better. Then another, then another. Taking on a challenge in smaller bites makes it far more manageable.

Develop Positive Behaviors

It’s never a good idea to avoid problems, but sometimes you need to take yourself out of the environment to offer yourself a chance to think. Create some positive, reactive behaviors that can actually help you cope with stress: engage in a hobby, do chores around the house, or simply take a shower. That short break can refocus your mind and help you think more clearly when you tackle the issue.

These coping mechanisms give your teen a chance to step back and take a breath while they consider the problem. But not everyone can handle things on their own. Here are four more, solid coping mechanisms that can help your teen deal with stress.


For a teen, talking about stressors with a supportive adult can be an effective way to manage pressure and anxiety. While some teens tend to self-isolate and internalize, talking with a supportive friend or authority figure greatly reduces the effects of stress.


It can seem weird to teens to practice relaxation techniques like meditation. However, these activities, including meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, sitting in nature, or listening to soft music have a way of helping a person calm down and refocus their energy.


Laughter is the best medicine and making light of a stressful situation can help people keep their perspective and stop a stressful situation from getting overwhelming. Finding the humor in every situation is a positive step in controlling stress.

Physical Activity

Exercise is a natural and healthy form of stress relief. Yoga, running, swimming, dancing, walking, team sports, and other types of physical activity can help people cope with stress and trauma.

These positive options for handling stress and trauma are great coping mechanisms; however, there are some behaviors that teens may engage in that would be counterproductive in managing stress or trauma.

Negative Coping Mechanisms

When a teen feels like there is no place to go with their stress or trauma, they can develop some negative coping mechanisms. Following are five, negative coping mechanisms that many teens find themselves engaged in.


Withdrawal and self-isolation are often ways teens deal with anxiety or stress. They can plant themselves in front of the television, immerse themselves in reading, or spend way too much time online. This is a way of avoiding the problems they are facing rather than dealing with them.

Unhealthy self-soothing

Some people eat to feel better. Others may shop to feel better. Some drink or do drugs to feel better. Lots of teens spend inordinate amounts of time online. NONE of these is a positive coping mechanism. And ultimately, these can all become addictions.


An extreme of self-soothing behaviors are numbing behaviors. When a teen engages in numbing behavior, they seek out an activity that will help them drown out or override their distress. Teens may numb their stress by eating junk food, excessive alcohol use, or using illegal drugs.


When a teen is overwhelmed by stress, they can seek an adrenaline rush through risk-taking behaviors like theft, gambling, unsafe sex, experimenting with drugs, or reckless driving.


Teens are engaging more in self-harming behaviors than ever before. Whether it’s cutting or substance abuse, they self-harm because they cannot find another way to deal with their stress or mental illness.

Parents need to be aware of all these negative coping mechanisms as they can be quite dangerous and even lead to a teen committing suicide. Coping mechanisms should be about restoring well-being, not destroying it.

Coping Mechanisms for Specific Situations

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Just like not every solution will work for every problem, there are certain coping mechanisms that work better with certain situations. Here are some examples of coping in different stressful situations.

Coping with PTSD

Start with positive coping actions: learn about trauma and PTSD, talk to another person for support, talk to your doctor about trauma and PTSD, practice relaxation methods,  call a counselor for help, take your prescribed medications.

When you help your teen find relevant information good resources, they can manage their emotions effectively. The reassurance and emotional support gained from talking to supportive people can give the teen a sense of safety.

Dealing with PTSD as a teen is a terrible, heavy burden. Help your teen by offering them coping mechanisms and accessibility to professionals who can teach them best how to manage their feelings.

Coping with Anger

We all experience anger. But teens can have trouble guiding their strong emotions into acceptable outlets. When a teen’s body, self-esteem, values, property, or sense of entitlement are threatened, anger manifests. It is often a reaction to feeling misunderstood, hurt, frustrated, ashamed, or rejected.

Teens often blame others for their anger instead of taking responsibility for it. If teens don’t learn how to manage their anger appropriately, it can explode in inappropriate ways or be internalized and damage their sense of self-worth.

Teens need to be reminded that they can understand their anger and consider the emotions of others as they develop positive social interaction skills. Teens need to realize that they are responsible for their choices and learn to express anger in ways that aren’t harmful to themselves or others.

Coping with Depression

We all like to recall our childhoods as happy-go-lucky with a birthday party around every corner. But, teens do feel deep sadness and depression. Teens don’t necessarily know how to cope with these intense feelings and need to look to their parents for guidance.

You can reassure your teen that depression is not something shameful or that he or she is crazy. We all feel deep sadness every now and again. And some of us have an illness that makes it harder for us to get rid of sadness. When it is an illness, it is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain – it is nothing that the teen did.

Make sure your teen knows they are entitled to their feelings. Society looks down on depressed individuals and teens can see that. They will often hide their feelings rather than express them to an adult. And always tell your teen the truth – never try to protect them from depression or dismiss it as a phase.

Depression is very painful, both emotionally and physically. Your teen needs positive coping mechanisms to get through it. Teach your teen that loss is a part of life and that even though their pet was just a small portion of their life, it is perfectly valid for your teen to mourn and grieve the loss of a pet.

If your teen is showing symptoms, and the symptoms are not fading away, or your teen has severe changes in personality, it may be time to seek out a therapist or psychiatrist. Severe changes in personality are a sign that your teen lacks the coping mechanisms needed to handle the stress and pressure of life.

Don’t be the parent who tries to hide a teen’s struggles. There are no perfect families and it is always okay to ask for help. Asking for help is a coping mechanism – your teen just needs to know that. Offer them a list of people they can talk to like yourself, a teacher, or therapist.

It is also easy to dismiss a teen’s feelings as an overreaction to some perceived hurt. But you should never minimize your teen’s feelings. Something that could seem small to you may be of monumental importance to your teen. Let them know it is okay to have the feelings they do and that they need to talk about them and deal with their issues.

Always be aware of the example you are setting for your teen by your own responses to the stresses of life. Your child will learn coping skills by watching you. Make it your mission to always demonstrate positive coping mechanisms and thoughtful responses to stressful situations.


It is essential that teens have healthy coping mechanisms to rely on when they are faced with tremendous stress or mental health issues. Parents can certainly give their teens advice about how to handle stress, but a licensed therapist or counselor should be consulted to help a teen build healthy coping mechanisms for their mental health issues.

Here at Beachside, we recognize how important it is that teenagers develop coping mechanisms that help them instead of harm. If you’re a parent looking for a well-rounded residential treatment facility for your teen, contact us today to learn more about our facility’s education and treatment programs!

Fight for yourself, not with yourself.

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