As teenagers, we are still going through changes. Subsequently so do our coping mechanisms. Our lives are filled with daily stressful situations and our brains are constantly assessing whether these stressors are a loss, threat, or challenge. This immediate assessment is called the Primary Appraisal. Based off of the judgement regarding the nature of the stressor, the brain undergoes a Secondary Appraisal, which evaluates how you should cope, taking into account your skills, resources, and general emotional capacity. Now let's talk about the top 3 coping methods and why they can work for you.
1. STAYING ACTIVE
This may seem like an obvious way to cope with stressors but staying active and continuing to do activities you enjoy or are challenging for you are great ways to handle everyday stress (this also applies to traumatic stress to a certain degree). Staying active certainly includes but is not limited to physical activity. Staying active to cope incorporates continuing hobbies, arts, sports, school, or whatever is necessary for you or keeps you motivated. Personally, I find piano extremely therapeutic, and I use it as an outlet or just when I'm bored or stressed all the time. If you don't have something parallel to what I'm describing, it's probably a good idea to start looking into different activities or things you are interested in.
Participating in various activities notably lessens feelings of anxiety or stress (located in the amygdala, which is a part of the brain belonging to the limbic system in charge of different emotions and urges). Physical exercise promotes a positive self-esteem and mindset as well as notably improved physical health, increasing blood flow to the brain, in turn helping your mind search clearly and positively for solutions for stressors or just how to deal with them if they can't be solved. Dropping your usual extracurriculars due to stressors, especially everyday ones, can lead to disorders like depression, worsened anxiety, or low self-esteem or motivation.
In reference to Yerkes and Dodson's arousal theory, your brain is always looking for something to do in order to stay motivated and keep busy, keeping a perfect balance between being too stressed and too bored. This is because if we go extended periods of time without meaningful work or activity, our psychological need of achievement is not met, leaving a miserable and gross feeling. So, whether it is trombone or cricket or sculpting, it is extremely important that you pursue your hobbies, especially in the presence of stress or anxiety. (Cite: AP Psychology Curriculum and my life)
2. MINDFUL MEDITATION
Of course, meditation makes this list, but not without good reason. Meditation is a large part of treating disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and more. True to the name "mindful" meditation, this entails simply sitting or being in a comfortable position and being aware of emotions, thoughts, bodily sensations, and letting them all come and go. This leads into a state of decentering, which allows the gain of insight, relaxation, new perspectives, and a healthy distance between emotions in the amygdala and reason or logic in the frontal lobe.
Mindfulness is an umbrella term and encapsulates many different things such as body awareness, different perspective, attention regulation, and emotional regulation. Participants in meditation find an increased attention span and usually have an easier time focusing their attention on things found in a day-to-day basis; more significant to the science of coping, however, is the increased bodily and emotional awareness mindfulness entails. Training yourself to notice how your body responds both physically and emotionally to different ideas, foods, people, or any type of stimuli by focusing both internally and externally is a great way to improve on identifying and dealing with your different emotions. Personally, my history with meditation leans towards unsuccessful but I think it's because I never really bought into the process. My sophomore chemistry teacher made us meditate for five minutes before each class, so maybe I'm associating meditation with chemistry (not great for my view in meditation), but anyways,
Being aware of what you are feeling and understanding why to a greater extent through meditation and mindfulness can likely lead to a healthy way of learning to accept and cope with stressors that cause unfamiliar emotions that can be difficult to process, and the decentering skill in mindful meditation helps with emotional regulation allowing for a more rationalized expression and a more controlled coping with trauma or stressors or stimulants. A good way to assess where you fall on the mindfulness scale is the 5 Facet Mindfulness Quiz. The PDF is linked here, and the online quiz is linked here!
Cites: Hölzel, Britta K., et al. “How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 6, no. 6, Sage Publications, Inc., 2011, pp. 537–59, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41613530.
Journaling is another great way to cope with stressors, especially low degree ones. By writing either in response to various prompts or just about the day in general, journaling is an extremely effective tool for managing emotions, thoughts, ideas, or plans throughout a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. There are many different kinds of journaling methods including but not limited to gratitude journaling, calendar journaling, bullet journaling, and meditation journaling. Writing things down about your day or what you have to do that day helps you better process events and emotions surrounding them in addition to improving organization and decreasing rumination tendencies. Rumination is when you experience recurring or obsessive thoughts about a certain event or idea. I feel like we commonly experience this and call it some degree of overthinking. Journaling is not going to stop you from overthinking, but it can certainly help if you are a journaling type of person.
Again, as another disclaimer, it is of the utmost importance to note that every person is different in every way, including how we cope with and process stress. Each person has a unique threshold at which good stress turns into excessive stress that's in turn harmful to the body. With that being said, different ways of coping will or won't work for different people, so don't feel obligated to journal every single day or meditate or workout every day (although I would recommend pursuing hobbies as an outlet or source of comfort, motivation, or general pleasure no matter what the activity is- unless it's like narcotics or something dangerous- then try to not do that; that's a maladaptive behavior) just because it works for friends or family surrounding you. All of these could work for you, or maybe just a few, or maybe none, and that is totally fine. Honestly what really matters is learning to know your emotions and capacity for stress better and through that finding a healthy way to deal with those things, which granted is a lot easier said than done. So hopefully this helps you at least get started with this journey and understand what your brain is going through. Anyways,
journaling always makes me feel super organized and in touch with myself. Honestly keeping a planner with me and writing or doodling in it, checking off to-do tasks, and just having a safe place for my APUSH notes, thoughts, and daily plans makes me feel like I have a lot more control over my day, personally reducing my stress. So, I would definitely urge you to try some form of journaling, but if it doesn't work it doesn't work and there are definitely other things to try. Some common ones include deep breathing practice, focusing on optimism or humor, engage in self-care habits or routines, and doing whatever helps you relax better for a lack of a better way to say that:)