Just like adults, many teens experience stress in their lives. But teens might not have the right tools to handle their stress. Some turn to harmful substances, as a way to help them cope.

“When I talk to young people about substance use, a lot of times they’re telling me that they’re using it as a coping tool,” says Megan Miccio, a social worker and health professional in Denver Public Schools. “So, often teens are using it because they’re feeling stressed or anxious.” 

Coping skills are things that we do in the moment when we feel a variety of negative emotions — sadness, anxiety, anger, stress or feeling overwhelmed. 

Using substances might offer temporary relief when used as a coping tool, but they end up doing more harm than good for teens. Teaching healthy coping skills is about finding activities that trigger positive feelings in the brain that bring a sense of calm.

Here are some examples of healthy coping skills:

Deep breathing exercises

  • Taking deep breaths can help slow down racing thoughts and focus on something productive.

Guided meditation

  • Teens spend a lot of time on their mobile devices. Using a meditation app can help with  positive thinking while fitting into teens’ usual activities.

Practicing art or a favorite hobby

  • Creative hobbies provide a productive activity, which can build confidence and create positive feelings, but they also give an outlet for thoughts and emotions, too.

Reading a book

  • Reading can be a way to distract from intense emotions and help teens regulate their feelings.

Calling a friend

  • Teens’ social circles can be their greatest resource. Friends can bring fresh perspectives or just a shoulder to lean on.

Using these healthy coping skills can help teens manage their stress, build their confidence or help to regulate emotion so they can continue to choose healthy ways of dealing with difficult feelings. 

Click here to find out from Megan how to encourage healthy coping skills by using them yourself.

Click here to learn about some of the signs that a teen might be using harmful substances.

Navigating the topic of substance use with teens can be challenging. Click here to find Colorado organizations and resources that can help with substance use counseling, treatment, and support.