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Four Healthy Coping Mechanisms Teens Can Use

The numbers were just released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), and American life expectancy has dropped for the first time since World War I. In fact it’s dropped for the last three years. When I first read this, I was stunned. Seriously? Isn’t science and medicine making advances to increase life expectancy? Absolutely. The trouble is—suicide rates are up, which is among the top two reasons for the decline in life spans. This is not just sad, it’s tragic.

45,000 Americans were lost to suicide over the past year. I have a sneaking suspicion if this many people were killed due to other causes, we’d address them instantly. For some reason, however, we seem perplexed about what to do. The demographics are what make this most sad. It’s often victims you wouldn’t predict:

  1. Middle school and high school students
  2. Military personnel
  3. Student athletes
  4. University students

A new survey funded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention discovered that 94 percent of us believe suicide is preventable. Scientists have established that the destructive urge to commit suicide is fleeting. If we could come up with ways to better identify potential victims and offer coping mechanisms as well, we might be able to reduce the number of young people committing suicide.

Most of us know that when young adults have suicidal thoughts, it stems from:

  • Loneliness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Being bullied
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Hopelessness

To be clear, some students suffer from extreme mental health issues and need both counseling and medication. However, most are likely kids who need to learn how to navigate life’s stresses that come to all of us. In her research on “grit” Dr. Angela Duckworth suggests that millions of teens haven’t developed the grit or resilience that our grandparents’ generation had decades ago. For many, even the smallest of setbacks makes them spiral downward emotionally. A bad grade. A breakup. An injury. A bully. Getting cut from the team or the cast. FOMO. Believe it or not, I’ve seen these very obstacles cause suicidal thoughts in students.

It is imperative we equip them to navigate these obstacles.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms Students Use

Quite predictably, many teens today migrate toward coping mechanisms that utilize technology. Our smart phones, video games and streamed content are a quick fix to distract us from our problems. Kids simply default to what brings them comfort. Unfortunately, students frequently fail to consider the negative impact of those mechanisms. Let me remind you of some of the most common ones:

  1. Scrolling on smart phones. Sadly, this can make them even more anxious.
  2. Vaping. Sadly, this can be addictive rather than liberating or strengthening.
  3. Posting selfies. Sadly, these are only distracting and make us narcissistic.
  4. Binge watching video. Sadly, this just artificially medicates our problems.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms Students Can Use

So what can we do to equip everyday students who feel this way? Are there coping skills they can employ to combat these emotions? When psychologists or therapists use the term “coping skills,” it’s a positive term. They are healthy habits to navigate stressful situations. They require hard work, but these skills are healthy and helpful:

1. Meditation and breathing.

I’ve written about this before. Often, stopping to breathe slowly and deliberately can untangle an anxious mind. Meditating on positive truths or good memories both can reduce anxiety. It enables us to focus on constructive thoughts, even our own growth, and see a larger picture. Many today call this mindfulness and I find it very helpful.

2. Calling a trusted friend.

Everyone should have at least one person in their life who they can call and gain a listening ear, an empathetic heart and a change in perspective. John Crosby said “mentors are a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and a kick in the seat of the pants.” I know many students who recovered from hopelessness by instantly calling a friend.

3. Serving others meaningfully.

Any act of service to others gets your mind off of yourself. While I know the problem may not be this simple, adding value to someone else cultivates the best in all of us. This has been proven over and over again. I am most prone to feel melancholy when I focus on myself.  Looking outward almost always helps restore hope.

4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

This term, CBT, has surfaced as a helpful coping tool for anyone who feels hopeless or anxious. It represents logical thinking, instead of emotional reasoning. Suicidal thoughts come from cognitive distortions. CBT forces us to challenge hopeless voices in our heads and exchange them for positive reasoning and true self-affirmations.

I encourage you to look these up and study them. We have to find a way to offer hope to hopeless students.


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5 Comments

  1. dadelhi on December 19, 2018 at 5:50 am

    You are so cool! I do not believe I have read through anything like that before.So wonderful to find someone with some unique thoughts on this topic.
    Seriously.. thank you for starting this up.

  2. Dianne C. Darga, MA, LPC on December 19, 2018 at 8:08 am

    Thank you for this message. As an LPC, the info you share is not surprising, but it IS alarming. And, because of the unhealthy pampering of today’s children, I fear the numbers will continue to escalate until parents recognize the importance that discipline and denial play in raising mentally strong and determined individuals. We’re into the second generation of such a permissive parenting style, so the numbers suggest that the issue will get worse before it gets better. In my day, it was called “tough love.”

  3. Bobbie Grassel on December 19, 2018 at 10:59 am

    YIKES! I am a high school teacher and I see this every day. Many students have never heard the word “no” from their parents and therefore the students will argue for 10 minutes if they are told “no”. After a few times, in my class, they
    “get it”, and stop the arguing! It isn’t fun to be the mean teacher, but it really pays off in the end with respectful students who can get through the hour without bathroom, water, and phone breaks! My classes are only 50 minutes long, so I know they can do it!

    PLEASE parents, don’t give them everything they want, it really isn’t good for them because they cannot function as adults when they grow up. You will want your children to know how to put off immediate satisfaction and they will be happier when they have EARNED something on their own!!

  4. […] post Four Healthy Coping Mechanisms Teens Can Use appeared first on Growing […]

  5. Rosalind Haley on January 10, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    Suicide is absolutely heartbreaking and avoidable. Regarding schools…… gratefully schools are implimenting mandatory programs, events and even therapy animals to calm the teenage mind, encouraging balance and acceptance. Unfortunately, my sons school and several other schools across the country have done, is implement all these truly life saving programs at the expensive of education. He attends a school in which their academic standards are mediocre all in an effort to reduce a students stress. When teachers and faculty devalue academic standards, students are at risk for never attending an education above high school unless they are an international student with decent grades, an athlete with a winning personal winning record (as these high schools teams are not encouraged to win), a student that can afford to attend 20k-50k private college or they attend a junior college in hopes of transferring at a later date. Devaluing academic standards while encouraging less stress is like asking someone to sleep more hours yet failure to set an alarm clock, getting to work late continues to get them fired at all their jobs. It’s not helpful to encourage one without setting expectations for the other. Why not encourage students to try their best, to set goals above their comfort zones. Teachers and faculty should motivate and encourage the students to reach a bit higher, while teaching them the skills, to achieve those ‘out of my comfort zone’ academic goals. He a attends a religious school that reinforces leadership and kindness. Our society needs businesss owners, politicians, fathers, men, executive officers, bankers that value ‘doing the right thing’ but they won’t get hired to those positions if they dont have the academic ability to write a correctly spelled, concise letter of intent or if they don’t have the ability to plan a budget using a number of complex variables. So in response to our countries tragic suicide rate, there are a number of factors students decide to end their life which include stress, depression and worthlessness. Why not expect students to do their very best while encouraging balance? I’d like to encourage my sons teachers and the teaching community that values balence and sanity, to evaluate what are their schools academic standards. Im encouraging them to take it upon themselves to teach above average academics within their own classroom, to set above average expectations and goals for their students and to tell them that have it within themselves to succeed.

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Four Healthy Coping Mechanisms Teens Can Use