Tips to Help Teens Cope with Change

Life is full of changes. Teens have to deal with changing schools, peer groups, puberty, interests, as well as whatever changes are facing the family as a whole, such as moving, divorce, or loss. If your teen is headed to college, there are even more changes ahead that might feel daunting. And certainly, all of us have had to deal with a lot of uncomfortable change during the pandemic.

Change can be hard. It means a lack of certainty and predictability. Change is necessary for growth, but it is normal to fear what we don’t know. Here are some tips to give your teen to help them cope with change in a healthy way:

Acknowledge the change. Change often makes us feel out of control, and we all tend to feel vulnerable when we are not in control. Many times, our first response to change is to either deny it, fight it, or run away from it. Unfortunately, none of these strategies help us navigate change successfully. Most of the time we can’t control change, but we can control our response to it. Our attitudes about the change and the actions we take in response to the change are absolutely under our control, and taking charge of our response can help us cope. Sometimes, simply saying “things are changing, and that’s ok” can make us feel better.

Control what you can. During times of change, it helps to have other areas of our life follow a predictable schedule. Having some things that stay the same, like always walking the dog every evening after dinner, reminds us that some things are still the same and allows our brain to rest. It can also help to plan whatever is still in our control or set goals for areas we want to see improve. Useful strategies can include focusing on the problem at hand, developing a plan of action, and asking for advice.

Identify your fears. Our imaginations can get the best of us sometimes, and we might exaggerate the problem. Honestly evaluate the change and consider what the worst case scenario is. Determine what specifically is making you worried. You might realize that the worst case scenario is not as bad as you imagined.

Find the humor in the situation. Trying to find a funny moment during an otherwise unfunny situation can be a fantastic way to create the levity needed to see a frustrating problem from a new perspective. It can help us feel better as well. Research has shown that laughing increases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, all hormones that make you feel good, and decreases cortisol, a stress-producing hormone.

Don’t expect stability. Successful people chose to view all changes, whether wanted or unwanted, as an expected part of the human experience, rather than as a tragic anomaly that victimizes unlucky people. Instead of feeling personally attacked by the change, successful people look for new opportunities.

Talk about solutions more than feelings. One of the most common myths of coping with unwanted changes is the idea that we can “work through” our anger, fears, and frustrations by talking about them a lot. This isn’t always the case. In fact, research shows that repeatedly broadcasting negative emotions can make us feel worse. As you talk about the change you are facing, make sure you are focusing on the problem and possible solutions, and avoid focusing solely on your feelings.

Focus on possibilities. Being optimistic about outcomes doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be happy in the moment. Look long term and see the big picture. Look at the positives that will come out of the change.

Revisit the past. Think back to times in your past when you have coped with change. How did you cope then? Make a list of things you did or qualities you have that helped you through that change. Then trust yourself to get through this change just as you have gotten through past changes.

Take care of yourself. Our physical wellbeing has a profound effect on our mental wellbeing. When we take good care of our bodies, we are better able to stay calm, be patient, and make good decisions. Stay healthy and focus on basic needs:

  • Eat well. Try to eat as healthy as possible. Ironically, when we are stressed, we tend to overindulge in comfort foods or alcohol, but those tend to make us feel worse. Eating a healthy diet reduces your body’s stress.
  • Prioritize sleep. Adolescents should be getting around nine hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep is correlated with poor school performance, increased risk of obesity, impairment in immunity, mood shifts, and reductions in memory and concentration.
  • Exercise. Exercising two to three times a week has been found to significantly decrease symptoms of depression. Even just walking around the block releases hormones that can help you feel better.
  • Relax. Use methods of relaxation that work for you. Many people like journaling, practicing yoga, meditating, or deep breathing.

Seek support. No one gets through life alone. It is okay to ask for help! Turn to trusted friends or family who may have experienced similar situations or that might be willing to lend a helping hand.

Be kind to yourself. Change is stressful, so you don’t need to add to that stress by beating yourself up. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes, slow down, or not know your next step. New habits and routines take time to develop. Be patient with yourself, and learn to trust your own abilities. You will be able to adjust!

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