Keeping Teen Depression at Bay: 100 Ways to Boost Your Mood

If you are in Canada or anywhere in the Northern hemisphere, the change of season is in full swing – along with the increased likelihood of falling into depression. There are less daylight hours and gone are the freedoms of summer until next year. The stress of being back to school combined with the colder dark days hits hard for many teens.

This is not always the case, some of you might be welcoming the routine, knowing what to expect, and activities and things to keep you occupied. But if you have been finding yourself feeling a little more sad, irritated, angry, or stressed, or know you could easily slip into one of these, this article is for you.

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Be sure to scroll to the bottom to get your printable version of the 100 ways to boost your mood and keep depression at bay.

Get your printable PDF here: 100 Ways to Boost Your Mood – for Teen Girls. 

The weather change and back to school routine are just some reasons you might be feeling low. Sometimes you might not even be totally aware of what’s leading to that down feeling, but you know how hard it is to get motivated to do anything. It can seem impossible to want to take action even if you know those things will make you feel better. 

When I get in a slump, it can be really hard to do my workouts even if I know in my brain how good I  will feel afterwards. I’ve come to learn that oftentimes the more I’m resisting doing something, the more I really need to be doing that thing.   

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Things can quickly spiral into that bummed out dark place. Like if you’re feeling more and more tired, your emotions might feel like they are rollercoasting or flatlining into numbness. The idea of picking yourself up and doing something to change how you feel can truly be a challenge, even down to showering, eating, reaching out to a friend, doing something fun or active, etc. 

And even though it might seem like turning around the Titanic when it comes to boosting your mood when you’re feeling depressed, there’s a reason why it’s so important to take action to lift your spirits. Because what you do is what gets set into your habits and what you think is what gets patterned into your brain. The brain loves the path of least resistance, so if you constantly give it low, sad, depressed, unmotivated energy and motions, that’s going to be your brain’s go to and what it will want to continue.

On the other hand, the more you give yourself that boost – doing and trying things that lift your mood – the more your brain and body are going to want to do those things, bringing more joy, love, excitement and contentment into your life.

It doesn’t mean you’re not ever going to feel sad, crappy, or depressed sometimes. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to be hard to get up and do that thing. However, I have compiled a list of 100 things that can help boost your mood out of feelings of depression. You can use this as a quick reference guide to go back to…

Pick 3-4 to try each week or pick your top 10 and do those consistently over this month. I really hope you will see a positive difference in your life!

  1. Move your body for 20 minutes today
  2. Hang out with someone you like
  3. Help someone out
  4. Get some more sleep – try a 20 minute nap or go to bed earlier for the next couple nights
  5. Eat something that has mood enhancing properties – like berries, bananas, nuts, etc.  
  6. Listen to something funny- funny video, song, podcast
  7. Call someone who makes you laugh 
  8. Smile- fake it til you make it – science that says boost serotonin and dopamine (feel good endorphins)

    Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

  9. Think of something you are looking forward to in the next week/month/year
  10. Remember a happy memory
  11. Try a self-compassion exercise 
  12. Spend time cuddling with an animal
  13. Go for a drive and just take in sights
  14. Sign up for something new (class, webinar, activity, club at school, etc.)
  15. Volunteer – giving back makes us feel good.
  16. Dance
  17. Eat some chocolate – Go dark for this one.
  18. Create a bucket list or a list of things you’ve never done but would like to and choose one thing to go and do
  19. Go outdoors in nature
  20. Ask a friend to make plans for a future date
  21. Make a happy or mood lifting music playlist
  22. Take an amazing selfie
  23. Go back and do something that you used to enjoy when you were younger
  24. Go see a movie – preferably something inspiring or funny
  25. Read a book 
  26. Draw something
  27. Make art (paint, sculpting, collage, etc.)
  28. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time (e.g. aunt, friend) and ask them about their day
  29. Write down some affirmations 
  30. Make your own list of mood boosting ideas
  31. Go shopping
  32. Put on your favourite outfit and go out
  33. Go to a party
  34. Organize or plan a party
  35. Play a sport
  36. Do something kind for someone else unexpectedly 
  37. Read poetry
  38. Write poetry
  39. Do something thrill seeking (e.g. roller coasters, mountain biking, ice climbing, cave diving, hot air balloon, etc.)
  40. Go to a pet store and pet the cutest furry fluffy critters you can find
  41. Write a letter to your future self
  42. Do a series of pushups, situps, squats and lunges for 90 seconds each
  43. Look in the mirror and say 3 nice things about yourself
  44. Get a spa treatment (e.g. massage, manicure, pedicure)
  45. Go to a laughter yoga class
  46. Go to a regular yoga class
  47. Do something a little extravagant (e.g. expensive dinner, rent a limo, wear something nice, splurge on something)
  48. Give/get a hug

    Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

  49. Snuggle a baby
  50. Play with a younger cousin/sibling
  51. Do something physically vigorous like a run or hike
  52. Offer yourself words of encouragement
  53. Go for ice cream or another delicious treat
  54. Give someone a compliment
  55. Make a list of things you’d things you like to do today and knock them off celebrating each one you get to
  56. Research your dream career
  57. Have a meal with people you enjoy
  58. Book a session with a therapist or teen life coach
  59. Play a game 
  60. Cook a nice meal
  61. Ask 3 people what they like about you
  62. Listen to inspiring videos
  63. Watch funny memes
  64. Make a video
  65. Set a 28 day challenge
  66. Go into a crystal shop and pick out one that speaks to you
  67. Journal your feelings, hopes, and dreams
  68. Use a mood tracking app everyday for the week
  69. Garden or do something that has you getting your hands dirty
  70. Read a book from your childhood
  71. Learn something new
  72. Run some stairs for 5 minutes
  73. Buy a inexpensive gift card to your favourite treat place and give it to the next person in line
  74. Start a gratitude journal/list 
  75. Download and start on an acts of kindness calendar
  76. Create a dance routine with a friend
  77. Write a song
  78. Make up the most outrageous touchdown celebration move
  79. Flip through a fashion magazine and snapshot your favourite outfits
  80. Find someone famous who looks like you 
  81. Check out this calendar to download all kinds of action calendars to boost happiness and download the app
  82. Watch a ted talk on happiness
  83. Clean out your closet or another space
  84. Show love to someone your care about
  85. Write a thank you letter to someone (you can send or not)
  86. Tackle a to do list
  87. Drink plenty of water

    Photo by quokkabottles on Unsplash

  88. Meditate
  89. Organize something
  90. Find, printout, write out quotes that you like and make them visible
  91. Scrapbook a favourite memory
  92. Sing
  93. Make a new friend
  94. Give something up 
  95. Try a new wellness app
  96. Play video games
  97. Write down a list of your strengths and qualities
  98. Create a vision board where you imagine your ideal self/ideal life- 
  99. Use mental vacation technique (imagine a favourite place- imaginary or real and take it in through all your senses – what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste).
  100. Use your posture to boost confidence and mood.
Boost Your Mood

Love,
Chantal

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Panic Attacks – When Anxiety Makes It Hard to Breathe

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I had my first panic attack as an adult, not as a teen –  and it was a very frightening experience. 

My heart was racing. It felt like my throat was closing; like I couldn’t breathe. My thoughts were all over the place. Not knowing what to do created more panic… Thankfully I had a wonderful support person who I was able to reach out to and she calmly stayed with me until it passed. I don’t even remember exactly what she said to me – something simple, in a calm, gentle tone.

Having a panic attack can be terrifying for your teen. They are stress and anxiety responses that spiral into a really intense physical response that can include a racing heart, quick/shallow/rapid breathing, shaking, nausea, racing thoughts, and feelings of doom (thinking they are having a heart attack or even dying).

Generally, panic attacks only last for a few minutes, with some lasting as long as 10 – 15 minutes. However, the intensity of the symptoms for your teen can make it feel like they are much longer – forever.

Panic attacks are hard on your teen emotionally, physically, and psychologically. And well hard on you as a parent, knowing your teen is paralyzed with fear in those moments. Let’s take a look at what causes them, how to work through them, and ways to prevent them.

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What causes panic attacks?

There are some potential medical causes for panic attacks – stuff going on with your teen’s thyroid, respiratory disorders, etc. The Mayo Clinic lists some of the potential medical causes HERE. If your teen has experienced more than a couple panic attacks (they are happening regularly) or there is a sudden increase in the frequency, it’s important that they see a medical physician to consider underlying physical conditions .

If there are no medical reasons for your teen’s panic attack(s), the cause is often a response to anxious thoughts and stress. Your teen may have triggering events or circumstances that they find to be extremely stressful – such as crowded areas or school hallways, if social situations increase their anxiety. Triggers could also look like performance anxiety – when an important school test is coming up, or lots of assignments and deadlines, the overall anxiety can cause a panic attack as well. I’ve had teens I work with that respond to family arguments – continuous fighting – with panic attacks.

When panic attacks need further attention.

Some of the teens I work with have anticipatory panic about having another panic attack, which can ramp up into another panic attack. They worry about having a panic attack in a public space or somewhere they don’t feel safe, where they can’t get away or escape.

Others avoid situations and experiences with fear that they will have an anxiety attack – going to school,  social situations, things they used to enjoy doing, etc.

If your teen is avoiding these things, or fearing panic attacks in the future, looking into resources and support is definitely something you’ll want to look into. At Pyramid Psychology we offer therapy, as well as a coaching program designed specifically for anxiety. You can take a look at both HERE.

Panic disorders are good to be aware of as well – recognizing when your teen may be struggling beyond a reaction to anxious thoughts. Symptoms and descriptions of some panic orders are listed HERE. Seek support from a medical physician if you feel your teen may have a panic disorder.

How to support your teen during a panic attack.

Supporting your teen during a panic attack can be frightening for you, too.

Here are six strategies that may be helpful for your teen during a panic attack:

  1. Find a calm, quiet space. Not all teens will want to leave the space where they are, so you check in with your teen on what they would prefer if another panic attack occurs. Generally speaking, a change of environment is a good option. A safe space could be their bedroom, or if they’re at school, a zen room, or quiet spot in the counsellor’s office, etc.
  2. Tap into the five senses. Ask your teen to notice things around them, using their senses. What can they hear in the room? See? Hear? Etc.
  3. Breathing techniques. There are a few breathing exercises your teen can do the moment to slow their breathing, and pull their focus from the anxiety such as five finger breathing or box breathing. You can also ask your teen to put one of their hands on their chest and one on their abdomen – breathe in for four seconds if possible, hold, and breathe out for seven (physically slowing their breathing down).

It’s important to note that breathing techniques may be too hard for your teen at the peak of a panic attack. A good rule of thumb is to revert to the five senses exercise above, if breathing is triggering your teen further.

  1. Imagery. This is a strategy you’ll want to set up before the panic occurs. It is also called a mental vacation. Encourage your teen pick a favourite place, image, or memory that brings them calm and peace. They can imagine what space is like, what they are doing, seeing, hearing, etc. To feel the emotions of that place or memory. 

One of my mental vacation pictures is camping. I picture looking at the vast sky full of stars, hearing the fire crackling and smelling the marshmallows melting. I immediately go to a state of feeling calmer. To go to that mental vacation state your teen can come up with a keyword that can remind them of their place or memory – like repeating the word “camping” over and over during the panic attack, to help pull them through it.

  1. Support person. Having someone nearby for your teen, a person that can be a calm, consistent, relaxed presence can be helpful for them. This person might be a parent, sibling, friend at school, or other safe adult. Their role is just to be there, not to say too much – keep it simple things like “I’m here, you’re going to be okay, you’re safe”. Your teen’s support person can offer a glass of water. Or,  if touch feels safe and comfortable, they can have their hand on your teen’s shoulder or lap.
  2. Grounding. Not the bad kind that your teen hates. Grounding is doing things that help your teen be in the present moment- Stopping the spiral of panic. Small things can be done to help ground your teen – drinking a glass of water, they can try rubbing their knees, tapping their feet, alternating left and right. Counting is another strategy to try – counting backwards, or slowly counting to ten. 

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

These acts will help your teen’s brain connect back to the thinking part of the brain (their prefrontal cortex) whereas in panic mode, their brain is completely hijacked by their emotions and survival mode.

It’s important to talk about these strategies with your teen, and try different ones. Every teen is different – and it’s important to find what works for them.

Reducing the chances of a panic attack.

There are things you can do – habits your teen can create – that can reduce the chances of a panic attack from occurring:

  • Limit the amount of stimulants – caffeine, drugs, alcohol (depressant with some stimulant effects), and nicotine in your teens system, as these things can contribute to panic attacks. Keeping things like vaping, cigarettes  etc. off the table as much as possible – with zero use being ideal.
  • Daily exercise and body movement is important for your teen. The release of endorphins is very beneficial and effective at reducing stress held in the body.
  • Relaxation techniques can be done on a regular basis (not just during a panic attack). Becoming a pro at practicing relaxation can go a long way to reducing the chances of a panic attack for your teen. Here are some techniques you can suggest to your teen:
    1. A little bit of yoga each day
    2. Stretching
    3. Taking a few moments to meditate
    4. Practicing calm breathing techniques.
    5. Laying down in their bed with no distractions. Just being.
    6. Progressive muscle relaxation
    7. Body scan from head to toe – what are they noticing in the different parts of their body?
  • Learning about panic attacks can bring clarity and understanding for both you and your teen; knowing what’s happening in the body.
  • Ensure your teen is connected to friends, family, support people etc. These relationships can reduce stress overall.
  • Sleep is a big one – make sure your teen is rested as much as possible. When your teen is not rested, it increases the chances of a panic attack. 

The Happiness Pill Program

As a teen life coach, I know it can take a lot out of you – and your teen – when they are experiencing intense responses to anxious thoughts, such as panic attacks. It can be exhausting, lonely, and frightening to see your teen so completely overwhelmed and stressed.

I created a 6-month coaching program for teens so they can not only survive the uncomfortable, difficult situations they experience with anxiety, but to thrive in their life. 

The parent component focuses on giving YOU the tools to navigate anxiety alongside your teen while building their resilience to create a life of joy and happiness! You have access to a community of parents like you and a place to gather tools and resources to ensure you are equipped with the very best for your teen.

Check out The Happiness Pill Program HERE. And when you’re ready to move your teen through anxiety and into joy, send us an email at info@pyramidpsychology.com

Love,

Chantal 

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Six Ways to Support Your Teen with Social Anxiety Disorder

Did you know Social Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common anxiety disorders? According to Anxiety Canada, it affects between 7 – 13% of the population.

Teens with Social Anxiety Disorder have a persistent fear of being watched and/or negatively judged by others. These fears can arise in social situations themselves, or even when thinking about them.

Photo by Katie Gerrard on Unsplash

If your teen has already been diagnosed, or is experiencing early symptoms of social anxiety, this article is for you.

There are several components to symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder that you can look out for:

Physical: Sweating, shaking, heart racing, face turning red, nausea, muscle tightness, derealization.

Cognitive: Thinking thoughts such as “everyone is judging me”, “I look stupid”, “people can tell I am nervous and think I’m weird”, “everyone is going to notice and remember if I mess up”, etc.

Emotional: Feeling nervous, isolated, sad, frustrated, upset, helpless, and/or overwhelmed with anything to do with socializing (kids at school, meeting new people, making friends, co-workers, dating, etc.)

Behavioural: Avoidance, declining situations or events that cause anxiety, choosing to not participate in class or activities, getting upset or frustrated when a social situation is approaching, etc.

Common Situations When Social Anxiety Disorder May Affect Your Teen:

Social anxiety disorder is going to show up differently for everyone. However, there are several common situations your teen may experience it:     

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  • Public speaking, presentations, and oral examinations.
  •  Activities where performance may be evaluated, such as sports, creative expression, and recitals.
  • Unfamiliar settings or situations where there are a lot of new people.
  • Ordering food at a restaurant, talking to cashiers, talking to unfamiliar teachers, asking strangers for help, etc.
  • Participating in class discussions or group projects.
  • Meeting new people at school, or making friends.

Six Ways to Support Your Teen with Social Anxiety Disorder 

Social anxiety disorder can be overwhelming as a parent. Especially if you haven’t experienced it yourself and aren’t sure how to help your teen. Here are some ways you can support your teen with Social Anxiety Disorder:

1.      Knowledge is Power !

Providing your teen with greater insight into what may be going on, recommending mental health tools or strategies, and letting them know they are not alone can be invaluable. 

Understand for yourself and for your teen that Social Anxiety Disorder is relatively common and that there is hope for change.

Check out websites such as www.anxietycanada.com to access evidence-based resources and strategies. Encourage your teen to be curious and learn about their own experiences with social anxiety, including understanding their own triggers, sensations, and related outcomes.

2.     Be Supportive

Anyone who has ever felt anxious knows that it isn’t exactly a fun feeling and it can be isolating.

If you suspect your teen may be suffering with social anxiety, prioritize being a non-judgmental, empathetic support person in their life who genuinely wants to help.

Photo by Andrés Gómez on Unsplash

As fear of judgment can be high in teens with Social Anxiety Disorder, be extra mindful of how your own words and actions may come across.

  3.     Gradual Exposure

Symptoms of anxiety are often reduced by repeated exposure to the stimulus that causes the anxiety. Your teen’s heart and mind are probably screaming “run away!”  However, avoiding the cause of your teen’s anxiety tends to make it worse.

When supporting your teen with Social Anxiety Disorder, be sure to provide a lot of choice and gentle encouragement. Gradual exposure to social situations decreases symptoms of anxiety. The key is to pick situations where the anxiety does not overwhelm your teen, but ones where your teen feels mild to moderate anxiety and comes out the other side more self-aware and confident. 

4.       Target the Physical Symptoms

Anxiety can cause your teen’s body to become stressed, tight, and sore. Encouraging your teen to engage in progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai chi, or some other gentle, physical activity can do wonders in terms of reducing the physical experience of anxiety.

If you’re comfortable with it, these activities can even be done together or as a family!

You can try a guided progressive muscle relaxation exercise here.

5.      Target the Cognitive Factors

Anxiety has a way of making your teen’s thoughts and feelings feel like facts. If you hear your teen saying something along the lines of “something bad will happen” or “other people will have certain thoughts”, there is an excellent opportunity to be curious.

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Gently ask your teen how they know that something will happen (this is a cognitive distortion known as fortune telling, by the way!), or if there are any other possible outcomes or explanations. Often when these faulty thought patterns are called out it becomes easier to notice them when they reappear. 

6.        Outside Support

Social Anxiety Disorder is an isolating path to walk when you’re alone. Sometimes having an outside perspective that isn’t emotionally attached can be a helpful outlet for your teen’s emotions.

Seek support for yourself from other like-minded parents, Facebook groups with parents who also have teens with Social Anxiety Disorder, etc.

For your teen, a therapist or coach can provide an outside perspective to plan steps for when their anxiety arises. If you’re looking for one to one support for your teen, you can book a free consultation with me here. Our company also offers group coaching here. Email us any time with questions you may have, or blog topics you would like to see: info@pyramidpsychology.com.


Jessa is a counsellor that has recently completed her master of counselling degree through Athabasca University.

She is highly passionate about helping people become the best version of themselves and it is an honour for her to work alongside teens and their parents.

A few of her favourite things are spending time with her family, friends and pets, being in nature, cooking and eating delicious food. And also, she loves plants!

Once a month, she writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.

Letting Your Teen Do That Hard Thing: 5 Ways to One Up Teen Anxiety

Parents often come to me asking for guidance with teen anxiety when their teen is facing an uncomfortable or challenging situation. Their teen suddenly wants to change class or stop doing an activity because they aren’t getting along with their peers, don’t enjoy the teacher, are falling behind or had something embarrassing happen etc.

In these situations, you then find yourself faced with a decision: ’do I help my teen fix this, or do I let them ride it out and face the challenge?’

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A while back, one of my kids was hanging out with a friend. They hit a car with their scooter. They freaked out and came back home. It was so obvious to me that something had happened.  Once we got the details, it was decided that they would go over to the house and let that person know what had happened. My kid felt so embarrassed and the thought of knocking on the door to admit the mistake and not knowing the outcome was super stressful. 

Part of me wanted to go with them, wanted to have the conversation for them, but I didn’t. It was hard not to step into rescue fix-it mode, my own anxiety flared up of what if the neighbour was rude to them, or judged my parenting decision. 

The desire to jump in and fix things for your teen may seem to be almost a reflex. Fixing the uncomfortable thing might feel like it’s setting your teen up for success, easing their anxiety and making things better. The thing is, oftentimes it isn’t what benefits them in the end. 

Allowing your teen to face challenging situations builds up their confidence and ability to figure things out- Read on to discover 5 Ways to One Up Teen Anxiety through the hard experiences.

In the end, the conversation with my neighbour went alright, and after a sigh of relief, my teen went on and had a great night with his friend….later on they even went back to the neighbors and brought over some cinnamon buns.  

Decreasing Teen Anxiety: Why Parents Want to Fix Hard Things

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As a parent, wanting to help your teen out in tough situations is natural. Learning when your help is supporting your teen’s growth and development vs. when it might be stunting that growth can be helpful to understand.

Of course there will be times when it is really helpful to step in as a parent and support your teen through a difficult situation (which we’ll talk about later). However, a lot of development opportunities come from naturally riding out something that is difficult and going through it. You may even get a lot of resistance from your teen when you try to step in and ‘fix’ difficult situations.

But why is it so tempting to jump in and resolve the problem for your teen!? Why is there often such a strong instinct to  fix problems – ex: talk to the teacher when they’re behind, let them drop that sports class, etc.?

I sometimes hear from parents “I don’t want my teen to struggle. I don’t want them to have a rough time.” I get it. It’s hard to see another person suffer. In particular if it’s someone you love very dearly. Your role when your teen was younger was based largely on protecting them and helping when needed. It can sometimes be hard to loosen that role and allow your teen to make mistakes, mess up, and face something difficult.

“I just want my teen to be happy” is another reason parents share for why they want to ‘rescue’ their teen from emotional or difficult experiences.  And of course you want your teen to feel joy and to have positive experiences in their life! In fact, it is really important for them. Something to keep in mind, though, is the importance of feeling all the emotions (including happiness). There is a broad range of them – excitement, boredom, anger, sadness, love, etc. I think if we experience the range, there can be a deeper appreciation for certain feelings and a knowing that they can get through the tougher ones.

Avoiding a fight or protesting from your teen can be another reason to enter into rescue mode; you want to avoid the stress of the ‘teen tantrum’. It seems easier to simply solve the problem; it isn’t worth it to push your teen through difficult situations. As a parent, you simply don’t want to face the argument.

I know there are lots of times with my own teen where I think to myself ‘do I stand my ground here? Or do I just let it slide?’ It can sometimes be tempting to make the problem go away ASAP!

Being judged on parenting decisions is something parents often don’t talk about, but societal pressures around parenting exist. The layers of- What would other parents think of me if my teen fails this class or loses their job? I don’t do it that way, am I doing it wrong? What does that say about me if I force my kid to stay with a teacher they can’t stand? How will this reflect on my parenting? It’s very challenging as a parent to face these judgments. Sometimes these are conscious thoughts and other times it is more in the subtext of how we parent. 

How Often Are You Rescuing From Teen Anxiety?

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If you often find yourself rescuing your teen – doing things like letting them drop their sports, cleaning up after them continuously, talking to their teachers when they struggle, bringing them a project they forgot, etc. – consider the message that sends. 

Sometimes, the message your teen takes in when they are being rescued (although unintentionally) is that they aren’t capable. They truly believe they can’t handle things; that they need someone else to do it for them.

By allowing teens to do their own thing instead, you’re giving them a different message – “you can handle difficult experiences, you’re resourceful, you can face hard situations.” And these are messages that you most likely want your teen to be carrying.

What kind of lessons are you teaching your teen around their capacity to handle hard things? Their ability to face challenges?

One Up Your Teen’s Anxiety – Make the Most of Difficult Situations

You can use conflict and undesirable situations as a way to help your teen build their capacity to handle them, build resilience, and manage their anxiety.

Here are 5 things you can do to support your teen’s growth through hard things:

  1. Allow your teen to make as many choices and decisions as possible – inside and outside the home.

Some areas for decision making:

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  • Making their school lunches 
  • Organizing their study schedule
  • Choice around clothes and fashion
  • Plan their own routines (e.g. bedtime)
  • Selecting their hobbies
  • Negotiating responsibilities and contributions in the house
  • Choosing a family activity 

You can give suggestions and guidance – but let them do the deciding. As they get older, you increase choice making opportunities. The more comfortable they get with choice making, the more confidence and resilience they build. They will have more experiences that send the message: “I can make decisions, and no matter what the outcome is I can handle it.”

Your teen may choose an outfit that someone at school comments on. Or maybe they’ll pack a lunch that is too small and come home hungry.

They will be okay. And they will learn about themselves and others from those experiences.

  1. Let your teen ride out the consequences

You don’t want your teen to fail everything of course, or to act like you don’t care what they do. Experiencing natural consequences is a way to build their resilience, so when things don’t go well or there is a negative experience they know they will be okay. They will know from experience that they can learn from mistakes and glean a lesson next time.

Let’s say they break their phone because of what you consider negligent behaviour (aka it finds itself underneath the dirty laundry piled on their bed and gets knocked off during a frantic phone search and rescue mission….just saying it could happen). The hard thing: they have to

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

earn the money to fix it and go without in the interim. 

As a parent you can use natural consequences as an opportunity to reflect with your teen – here are some questions to consider:

  • What can they do differently next time? 
  • What are the expectations around the situation going forward? 
  • How can they handle a similar situation in the future?
  • What did they learn about themselves that might help them in the future? 
  • When might they need a little help?
  1. Find the areas where your teen shines and get them to do it as often as possible. If they enjoy sports or art, encourage them to join community activities. Or they have a passion for something, consider volunteering opportunities. Or maybe, your teen is drawn to social issues, get them to organize a rally or do something at their school. 

Having your teen dial into opportunities to highlight their strengths and develop new skills will build their confidence. Then, when things come up that they struggle with, it’ll be that much easier to tackle it.

  1. Let them know about your own failures. This is a really important piece of parenting when it comes to building resilience. Share with your teen times when you faced challenging things, did things outside of your comfort zone, failed, or made mistakes. Tell them what you did to get through it and what you learned. It’s good for your teen to see that you’ve messed up and survived.
  2. Challenge your teen to do something that scares them every day. I’ve known a few people to use this as a daily practice and it can be hard at first, and then transforms into something creative and kind of fun! 

Challenging yourself to do something that scares you every day, builds that belief that “I can do hard things!”. It also minimizes the acuity of anxiety, by creating new patterns in the brain that look a little less like: I feel anxiety- I can’t handle it- I avoid the situation or default it to someone else to handle it AND a lot more like: I feel anxiety- I take action- I can handle it- I keep doing things that I want and know I am capable.

They can truly start to see that most often, regardless of the outcome, they’ll be okay. It doesn’t have to be a huge scary thing – it can be things like talking to someone next to them, wearing something eccentric or fun, trying out for the volleyball team, etc.

When to Step In

If your teen is at risk of being seriously hurt – bullying, threats (physical, emotional, psychological), or harassment of any sort, you certainly want to step in. There will be times like this when parent support will be absolutely necessary.

If none of these serious things are on the table, then step back and allow your teen to figure things out on their own. You can let them know you’re there to talk to, validate their feelings, answer questions, or provide some guidance.

The Happiness Pill Program

As a teen life coach, I know it can take a lot of practice as parents to support your teen through their anxiety. A lot of questions and concerns come up along the way. It can be a heartbreaking, lonely journey to see your teen lose their confidence, motivation, and joy as anxiety ramps up. The urge to continue fixing it for them can be strong!

I created a 6-month coaching program for teens so they can not only survive the uncomfortable, difficult situations they experience with anxiety, but to thrive in their life. 

The parent component focuses on giving YOU the tools to navigate anxiety alongside your teen while building their resilience to create a life of joy and happiness! You have access to a community of parents like you and a place to gather tools and resources to ensure you are equipped with the very best for your teen.

Check out The Happiness Pill Program here. And when you’re ready to move your teen through anxiety and into joy, send us an email at info@pyramidpsychology.com


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

How Control Can Help Your Anxious Teen

I was listening to a podcast this week and they were talking about choice and control being such an important part in helping your anxious teen manage their anxiety. And it really is!

… Technically, control is an illusion; there is very little we can truly control. But, before I send you running into despair with that thought, let me tell you how you can help your teen (and yourself) learn how to manage that aspect of their mind – and create their own sense of control.

girl in orange sweater sitting behind a couch

Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash

What is control for your anxious teen?

Having a sense of control for your teen is a big deal. It’s about having agency – choices, decision making power, actions, plans, etc. Such as things they truly have some say about.

Ever had your teen pushback when it comes to helping out around the house because you’ve “forced” them to do something they don’t like or feel like doing? If you’ve found yourself cleverly giving them options, like the time they complete the chore or which responsibility they’d like to take on, you might have noticed that resistance just fade away. Because, as soon as your brain sees choices and options, it reduces stress and anxiety around a circumstance. It also provides a sense of safety, knowing there is an action you can take- something to be done about it.

Think of when your teen is preparing for a presentation. There will be some things that aren’t in their control – their teacher’s expectations, parameters around the project rules, due date, etc.

Thus, encouraging agency and control for your anxious teen is about helping them see where they can control things… What are the elements of choice with their presentation? – the theme, who they can work with (if the teacher allows this), the time and effort they put in, the type of project delivery (creative, visual, digital), etc.

So, if your teen is experiencing social anxiety, worrying about being judged, or not liked, they can look at it like this: What is within their control? What situations they put themselves in? How they might respond? Or how often they want to challenge themselves, their perspective, their attitude, etc.

How is control related to your anxious teen?

young teen girl covering her face

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Anxiety happens when your teen believes their capacity to handle a situation is far smaller than the issue itself. It Minimizes your teen’s belief that they can handle difficult situations or the unknowns –  “I can’t handle meeting a new person” … “I can’t handle getting a bad grade”, etc.

Anxiety lives in the future, meaning a lot of the thoughts your teen has are thoughts and feelings about things that haven’t even happened yet. So it instills the uncertainty and “what ifs”. 

Therefore, creating control for your teen – showing them they have choice – is so important to counteract some of the effects of the anxious brain. If your teen has agency (choice, decision-making, actions, etc.) over their life it gives them a sense of control, which minimizes their anxiety. It reinforces the concept of, “this is my life and I can do something about this”.

Strategies for Control.

Hula Hoop

girl with hula hoop and explanations around her.

Photo from Canva

The Hula Hoop is an exercise for your anxious teen to see the control and choice they have.

Ask your teen to imagine a hula hoop all around them. Everything within the circle of the hula hoop are the things within their control; things they can change, take action on, etc. The things on the outside of your teen’s hula hoop are things they have very little influence or control over.

The more energy, time, thought and effort your teen puts into things on the outside of their hoop – the things they have little to no control over – the more it feeds the machine of their anxiety.

It is more effective for your teen to concentrate on what’s in their hula hoop – the things they have a say over, actions they can take, choices they can make, etc.

Because, mapping out a specific situation is something I often ask the teens I work with to do. I will ask them to draw an inner and outer circle and write out the things they feel are in and out of their control. It is a visual that often surprises teens. Teens will say things like “I didn’t see the things in my control”, “I didn’t realize how much I was overthinking on the things  I don’t have control over”, etc.

Thus, the  “I” or “my” stuff… I can control my thoughts – which thoughts I pay attention to- my opinions- my behaviours- these find themselves within the hula hoop. I get to choose my actions – what I am going to do (or not do) about this. I get to choose my attitude – which perspective or mindset am I going to have? My perspective. My opinion. Etc.

The stuff on the outside of the hula hoop is “other people stuff” – things others are doing that we can’t control. And then of course the usual things we have no say over – the weather, traffic, etc.

One thing that may come up for your teen is “I can’t control my feelings”. And yes, it’s true… Your teen can’t control feelings that bubble up for them. However, there is definitely a choice and say in terms of how they are going to react and respond to their feelings. They can choose what to do with them.

Is This True?

dark haired girl lying down on the grass

Photo by SHINE TANG on Unsplash

Encourage your teen to take a moment and think about the truth behind their anxious thoughts. Guide them to find the truth behind the things their anxious brain is telling them.

So, your teen can ask themselves: “how true is this thing? What is the evidence of this thing you’re afraid of/anxious about? What’s the likelihood that this will actually happen?” Invite  your teen to ask themselves these questions to challenge the anxious brain a little bit.

You can also ask how your teen can respond to the situation. What can they do about it if the fear comes up?

Some of the anxious thoughts your teen may have are considered ‘Thinking Traps’ – thoughts that play tricks on them, bend the truth, or alter reality. You can get an in-depth understanding of these different types of thoughts – and what to do about it – with my blog article ‘Thought Distortions: You Have the Power to Choose Happiness

FEAR Acronym

The FEAR stands for False Evidence (and sometimes Emotions) Appearing Real. You can use it to remind your teen  that the anxious part of their brain has all kinds of things to say, and some of the time (a LOT of the time) those  fears are based in uncertainty. They are things that have a very small likelihood of happening. Or, if they do happen, are things your teen can do or say something about. 

Brian Clark wrote a great blog article on fear and anxiety using this acronym. You can read it here.

So, in addition to these tools, you can also find opportunities to build your teen’s sense of control, choice, autonomy, and agency.

Inspirit their capacity to handle stuff through small choices every day.  Allow them to make decisions around chores, organizing their homework, choices with friendship issues, contributing to the family, etc. Encourage them even if it ends up being a non desirable outcome . Because this shows them that they can make a mistake and still be okay. It builds resilience and helps them grab onto the belief that they are in control with decisions in their life.

So, the older your teen is the more you want to get them to do this. Thus, this is a great strand of development that’s so necessary for our kids, and reduces their anxiety.

The Happiness Pill Programthe happiness pill logo

Anxiety is hard on your teen (and can be for you too). It takes away energy and motivation, stops them from enjoying friends, family, activities, etc. As a parent, it can make you feel helpless.

I developed The Happiness Pill Program – a 6-month coaching program – to give both you and your teen hope. It gets your teen from a place of stress and anxiety to a place of contentment, motivation, and confidence.

We start by mapping out what your teen desires their life to look like, and how to get there – including communication with you. Then, we practice creating agency and control with weekly calls, for both you and your teen.

The Happiness Pill Program is a community of parents and teens going through the same thing as you!

Read all about it here. Email info@pyramidpsychology.com to register or ask any questions.

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Back to School Anxiety: Coping Skills for Your Teen

If you’re noticing your teen is a little edgy lately or seems less than keen to talk about school they may be struggling with ‘back to school anxiety’. The usual pre-jitters and mix of excitement and nervousness of going back to school could be prompting thoughts like these for your teen:

  • Who will I be in class with?
  • What if I get that teacher again?
  • I can’t wait to see my friends again!
  • I hope I will get good grades.

On top of this, teens have spent  the last year and half contending with  alternative forms of schooling in response to the pandemic – online, on and off in-person (with masks, shutdown sports, etc.), hybrid between online and in-person, etc. For some teens, this adds an extra layer of worry.

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

If your teen spent the last year learning online , they may be wondering what it will be like to go back to school like “normal”. They may be thinking,  “Do I even want to go back in person??”

This year may be especially hard for teens if they struggle with social anxiety and enjoyed the online aspect of schooling. On top of the regular ‘back to school’ worries, your teen may  be thinking:

  • What if it’s really hard?
  • What if I’m behind?
  • What if it’s weird to not be wearing a mask?
  • What if we have to wear masks again?
  • What if things shutdown again? 
  • What if they do cohorts again and my friends aren’t in the same class as me?
  • What if I don’t like it?

Sometimes teens don’t have an exact grasp on the specific thoughts but their worries  manifest physically. You might notice complaints of physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, general flu like symptoms with no illness related causes, etc. You may also notice changes in behaviours – more irritability, sleep disruptions, etc. 

Worries about going back to school – especially this year – are to be expected. But that doesn’t mean your teen has to white knuckle through it. 

Here are five anxiety coping strategies you can implement to help your teen transition back to class as smoothly as possible:

Anxiety Coping Skill #1

Breathing can be a secret weapon for your teen. Dialling into their breathing can help activate their rest and relax system (parasympathetic nervous system). This sets off a domino effect of calming. 

Photo by Lutchenca Medeiros on Unsplash

There are various breathing techniques you can try. Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC shares eight different breathing exercises you can try here. Square breathing, or 4×4 breathing is one I find works well, and can be done anywhere anytime – including on the way to the school, in the hallways, and even in class. The Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto shares a really great video on how to do this exercise here.

Whichever exercise your teen chooses, I recommend going through it at least 4 times to allow their nervous system to catch up.

Breathing exercises aren’t for everyone. If your teen can’t focus on their breathing, or doesn’t enjoy it – try having them focus on some of their other senses. Here are a few ways they can do that:

  • Look around the room and (in their mind) name objects they can see
  • Pick a colour and try and spot it as much as possible
  • Listen for sounds near or far
  • Name one thing from all 5 senses – something they can see, hear, smell, feel and taste

The key is to bring awareness to the present moment and be less hyper focused on the anxiety.s.

Anxiety Coping Skill #2 

We all have objects in our lives that immediately bring comfort. They serve as relaxation prompts. It can be helpful for your teen to have an object like this with them as they begin the new school year. Here are some ideas, or things I have seen work well:

  • Favourite piece of jewelry

    Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

  • Extra comfy sweater
  • Stone/crystal around their neck, or tucked in their bag
  • A note/quote/message on their phone
  • Putty
  • Favourite playlist on their phone (if permitted)
  • Doodle a small heart on a knuckle
  • Fidget ring around their finger

Having something that reminds your teen of comfort and calm will cause their brain to put out some chill alpha waves.

Anxiety Coping Skill # 3

Photo by Rosie Sun on Unsplash

Encourage your teen to find at least one person they can rely on that has got their back – a coping buddy. They can have more than one of course! It might be a teacher, guidance counsellor, friend, sibling, etc. Someone they can seek out and connect with when needed. This person can provide a nice distraction, or some comfort.

If your teen really can’t think of anyone that is accessible at  school, see if you can find someone remote who can be available for a call or text during an anxious moment – you, their auntie, etc.

 

Anxiety Coping Skill # 4

Use the F.E.A.R. technique. This stands for False Evidence (or Emotions) Appearing Real.

Anxiety can trick your teen’s mind to make them believe they are small and incapable in the face of the problem or thing they fear. The F.E.A.R technique is a way to bring balance in the other direction – with anxiety being small and your teen being big and capable.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Step One: Identify the worry (fear) – e.g. ‘I’m worried that I won’t be in the same class as any of my friends.”

Step Two: Dig deeper – what would happen if your friends weren’t in your class? What’s anxiety telling you? – e.g. ‘I will have no one to talk to all year. I will be lonely.’

Step Three: Flip it around – what could you do if your friends aren’t in your class? How could you respond? How could you solve this? – e.g. ‘Could be a total loner and not talk to anyone all year, 

I guess I could make new friends, I could find my friends during breaks, I could join a club or something at lunch, I could ask to be switched classes, I could talk to the person sitting next to me, etc.’

This technique gives the worry clear words and takes your teen down that FEAR acronym. It lets them know that even if the scary thing does happen, they have a lot of control and choice to do something about it! 

Anxiety Coping Skill # 5

Photo by Prophsee Journals on Unsplash

Create a plan and a routine so your teen knows what to expect. It is helpful to focus on what is in your teen’s power to control (their routine) and what is not.

A routine for school starts the night before – with a good amount of sleep, taking time to relax before bed, etc.Encourage your teen to include some things in their routine they enjoy.

You can also help your teen plan ahead for when they get to school – who will they meet up with? Do they know which classes they are in? What time does school start and end?

Having a plan around things that your teen can actually control (e.g. their responses, behaviours, what thoughts they tend to, etc.) can help quell some of that anxiety. 

Things to Make Note Of

Your teen is not alone in their anxiety – going back to school can be an anxiety-inducing experience in ‘normal’ times. Never mind the times we are in now! Let them know they are not the only ones.Ask them about their back to school thoughts.

What are they most stressed/worried about? 

Another thing you can do is focus on the things they are looking forward to. Get them to pay  attention to the friends they may get to see again, the school club they will join, etc. 

Anxiety can be a big deal but it doesn’t have to take over yours or your teen’s life – Share this blog with a parent of a teen and spread the support! 

The Happiness Pill Program is a 6-month teen life coaching program that supports teens to shift beyond anxiety, depression, and overwhelm and into confidently living the life they want by providing ongoing support. There is a built-in parent program and community to support you, too. Get on the path to freedom from teen anxiety here.

Love,

Chantal 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Family Bonding Time – What To Do When Your Teen Refuses To Join

The other day a parent was sharing that their 15 year old daughter refuses to go hiking with the family on weekends; she is missing out on family bonding. Sometimes forced to go, her mood puts a damper on the hike. Recently, they were planning to take a family holiday and their teen was saying she didn’t want to go and would make it miserable for everyone the entire time.

The thought of arguing the whole time with your teen  or having them mope around in straight up objection to being there can sound painful as a parent.  You may be tempted to just abandon ship and let them stay behind so at least one of you can enjoy the adventure.

Although teens are developing independence, and that comes with a level of pushback and push away, I am still going to make a case for “dragging” them along on these family moments in the name of memories, experiences, and bonding.

family hike

Photo from Canva Pro

WHEN YOUR TEEN REFUSES TO JOIN IN

Ultimately you get to make the call that fits best for your family. I would invite you to consider your reasons for proposing family time. For me, family time is an opportunity to connect and get to know each other outside of the stresses and routines of the daily grind. It’s also an opportunity to invite us to try new things and discover likes and dislikes. The truth is, often times when my teen is in refusal, it works out to be a pretty good time in the end.

Photo from Canva Pro

You may ask yourself:

  • Why do I think family time is important?
  • What values do I hope to share and instill in my children?
  • What do I hope my children will remember most about their childhood?
  • How do I think these experiences might impact our relationship?

I know I used hiking and holidays as the example up top – but it doesn’t have to be something that requires many resources or time. Family time can be games night, walks in the park, drive-in movie night, shooting hoops together (I do this lovingly and terribly!), etc. It all counts.

 

Photo from Canva Pro

Your teen may see this as time that could be spent with friends or something that pulls them away from things they enjoy (like being on their phone). There is some truth to this and it can be helpful to acknowledge it. You may approach this lovingly with expectations. Start by understanding the refusal – What are their reasons for not wanting to do the thing? Acknowledge their reasons – “so you’d rather be hanging out with your friends, I know how important they are to you.” Lovingly state your expectation – “I love you and want to make sure we have some time doing things as a family, we are all going to try this hike on Saturday – I hope you can make the best of it”. 

​CREATE SPACE FOR COLLABORATION AND NEGOTIATION

Whatever the refusal is, there can be an opportunity for your teen to feel heard and for you as a family to come up with ideas that work for everyone (most of the time). The time you invest in this process is a part of helping your teen develop communication and perspective taking skills and it can strengthen your bond and relationship.

How?

Photo from Canva Pro

Well if your daughter says “I don’t want to go hiking, I hate walking that long!”. Acknowledge the refusal. See if you can come up with some ideas to collaborate and negotiate on the family bonding activity  – maybe it’s a shorter family hike, maybe afterwards there is a relaxing reward like stopping for a cold bevie or ice cream, maybe you leave earlier for the hike to get home early enough for her to relax with her friends afterwards, etc.  

Know that their refusal is a part of the parent-child dynamic. Teens are exploring boundaries and pushing against them. When you’re in the midst of it, it can feel infuriating – know that this is essential to their development and you are that special person that is helping them along the way. As difficult as it may be sometimes, trying to remind yourself that this is normal and healthy development that is going to get them to be independent functioning adults can help you keep perspective. 

Photo from Canva Pro

When your teen is refusing and letting their opinion be known by way of their mood- it can be so easy to get swept up in the emotions. Remember your hula hoop – this is something I’ve been really working on lately. Your hula hoop is everything that is within your control; the things you have choice around. Everything that is outside of your hula hoop is outside of your control.

The way your teen behaves during the family activity – outside of your hula hoop. Your response, thoughts, perspective? All within your hula hoop. You get to choose whether their negativity is going to take you down or if you want to take the high road. You allow somebody or something to ruin something for you – not them.

I’d love to hear what is a part of your family bonding time – send me an email so we can compile an awesome list to share with our community of parents – chantal@pyramidpsychology.com

Love,
Chantal


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Teen Mental Health Check up : How Are They Doing?

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but let’s face it – Every Day should involve mental health awareness, especially at this time. The constant unknowns, missing out on friends, grads, sports, social gatherings and changes occurring in response to Covid-19 are sending many teens into a spiral of overwhelmed and anxious emotions. As parents and adults, you may be finding yourself in a similar situation where it is hard to look on the bright side or find motivation to get yourself out of this rut.

Are you noticing your teen spending hours in their room? Do they lack energy and motivation to get their tasks done?

Let’s talk about mental health and how to know when your teen is needing more support.

Making mental health a top priority can help flip things around for your teen. You might already know that if you want to feel better physically, you figure out the gaps and make changes to things like exercise, rest, and eating habits. Just like your physical health, if you want to feel better mentally, it starts with figuring out the gaps and making changes that will support your teen feel better.

Let’s break this down into 3 sections:

  1. Your Teen’s Current Level of Functioning
  2. Red Flags That Your Teen Needs Extra Support
  3. How to Help as a Parent

Photo by Trung Thanh on Unsplash

Your Teen’s Current Functioning

How is your teen doing? There are 5 main areas that you can take stock of that will help you determine how they are doing. The first area is their current supports. Paying attention and asking questions to learn about their friend groups and their connections is the place to start. Supports may be peers, adults or even pets! Be curious about who your teen is talking to – is it you? An older sibling? A teacher? Their best friend? They don’t need to have many people, but it is important to have a few options.

The second area that influences teen mental health is current stressors. Stress is not always a bad thing – it can help your teen prepare for a test or perform in their sport. However, there’s a tipping point where stress zaps energy and motivation away. You can try checking in with your teen by asking things like:

  • What are 3 things you think about most of the time? 
  • What’s been stressing you out lately at school/with friends/at home? 
  • What’s one thing (or person) that’s been annoying you lately?
  • If you could take one thing away from your daily tasks what would it be? 
  • How would you like to spend more of your time? (The answer to this one may surprise you!)

Dialing into what kind of stressors are most impacting your teens right now will give you an idea of how they are doing.

Once you know what’s stressing them out, then you want to know how much this causes issues. In other words, how much is the problem disrupting their day to day? Is their stress keeping them up at night? Is it something they think about every day? Are there physical effects caused by the stress – like headaches or stomach aches? Stress in small doses can build your teen’s stress resilience or, in other words, their ability to deal with stress. I wrote a blog specifically on stress – Why Stress About Stress – A Teen’s Guide to Handling the Ups and Downs – which includes the different zones you can pay attention to.

Photo by Imani Bahati On Unsplash

Next, you want to have a sense of your teen’s coping strategies. How do they deal with their problems and challenges? I often talk to teens about the concept of ESD (express. soothe. distract.) Although it is important to build coping strategies in all of these areas for the best mental health outcomes, people do have a tendency to have a more dominant way of handling struggles – and that’s ok.

Express is all about finding ways to let out the thoughts, feelings, and energy behind what is troubling you. Express could be:

  • Talking to a friend
  • Going for a run
  • Listening to music
  • Painting or drawing
  • Creative writing
  • Journaling
  • Screaming into a pillow
  • Tearing paper
  • Crying

Soothe is about finding ways to calm your mind and body. It’s like helping your nervous system do a little reset. We all need a little reset sometimes. Soothe could be:

  • Crying
  • Hugging
  • Going for a walk
  • Taking a nap
  • Wearing a favourite sweater
  • Giving yourself a hug
  • Having a warm drink
  • Taking a bath
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

Distract is usually the dominant one for most teens that I first start working with. Anything that gets your mind off the problem can be considered a distraction. Some examples are:

  • Watching TV, YouTube, or social media
  • Hanging out with a friend
  • Going for a run
  • Playing video games
  • Playing with your pet
  • Finding something funny
  • Cooking/baking
  • Creating art
  • Listening to music

As you may have noticed some coping skills fit into more than one category. It depends on the outcome – what does this coping skill help me do: express myself, distract myself, soothe myself, or a bit of everything? To give your teen a whole list of coping strategies to try, download our free Mental Health Handbook for Teens (illustrations done by a teen!) here.

Last and certainly not least is whether they are asking for support. If your teen is saying they’d like to talk to someone or they’re not sure how to handle things, this is important to listen to. You can read about the different supports I offer in my blog article: Everything You Need To Know About Therapy – On And Off The Couch.

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Red Flats *Pay Attention To These!*

You may have a decent idea of your teen’s current functioning. In the above conversations, you may have even brought some of those pieces to your teen’s awareness. Teen’s are going to have ups and downs – it’s part of being human and especially part of being a teen human. Here are some red flags; things you want keep an eye out for that will let you know your teen’s mental health is suffering:

  • Your teen is feeling worthless, hopeless, helpless, or rejected
  • You notice a major lack of energy or motivation in daily activities
  • There are sudden changes like withdrawing or isolating themselves from things
  • A significant decline in school performance (e.g. super hard to concentrate or get motivated)
  • Consistent trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Trouble sleeping or eating
  • Decline in personal hygiene beyond the typical stuff (here is an article you can read on this topic)
  • Your teen has a lot of negative thoughts, or thoughts that spiral down out of control (e.g. thinking of dying or suicide)
  • Your teen says they are hearing voices or seeing things that others don’t

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How To Help as a Parent

1. Put your oxygen mask on first. I’m not a fan of “musts and shoulds” most of the time, but this one is imperative! You must take care of yourself in order to support your teen. If you are burnt out, overwhelmed, or crazy stressed, you not only don’t have the energy to help your teen, you also set a precedent on how to take care of yourself and your mental health.

Stop. I don’t want you to make yourself wrong or bad about this. Just notice. Pay attention to how you take care of your own mental health. What message do you think it is sending to your teen about how to take care of their own mental health? What is the message you would like them to pick up about their mental health? Check out this resource on avoiding parent burnout!

2. Making time to listen and check-in with your teens on a regular basis is important. It doesn’t always have to be on the topic of mental health of course, but that topic needs to be on the table for discussion. Some teens have said to me they enjoy going for drives with a parent or going for a walk and just talking. Others have check-ins with their parents just before bed or around the dinner table. You can collaborate with your teen and find ways that work in your family to have undistracted, tech free conversations on a regular basis.

3. Ask how you can help. If your teen is struggling with a specific issue like anxiety, school stress, friendship stuff, start by asking them how you can help. You can give a few ideas if that question is met with I don’t know or a dazed look. Sometimes I will ask ‘are you looking for ideas to resolve the problem or to vent and just have me listen right now’?

4. Get help from others. Hook your teen up with resources that are specific to supporting their mental health. Here are just a few:

If you decide after your mental health check-up with your teen that it would be helpful to work with someone, connect with us over at Pyramid Psychology 403.812.1716 (call or text) or email us at info@pyramidpsychology.com.

Love,
Chantal

If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook – Thanks!


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with.

If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.

Making The Most of Family Time During The Pandemic

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It can be easy to focus on the negatives, and not without reason. We are living in a pandemic; many people are stuck at home, have lost their jobs, activities of interest, or otherwise made major life adjustments. While a lot of these factors are not easily changed, we can make the most of the situations that we are facing. For some families, the pandemic means a lot more time is spent together at home. Choosing how to relate to others and ourselves can make a significant difference.

Here Are Some Ideas For How To Encourage Healthy Family Dynamics

One way to build family cohesiveness is to come together and make a list of factors that will lead to a healthier and happier family. These factors can include anything from values, such as treating each other with respect, kindness, and being honest, to more practical guidelines. Practical suggestions could be taking turns completing certain household responsibilities, or everyone cleaning up after dinner together until the job is done. It is important for everyone to pitch in, have their ideas heard, and to agree to work as a team to reach the goals.

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This list of therapeutic interventions comes from Dr Hertlein’s “recipe for success,” whereby the family comes together to agree upon shared hopes, identify ways to get there, and being sure to celebrate when progress is made. For families with teenagers, the “recipe for success” could be rephrased as the honour code or the pizza plan, with the reward for making progress being a family pizza and games night, or whatever other enjoyable activity fits best with the family.

Another way to foster family unity is through gratitude. At times, our minds like to focus on the negatives or things to improve. While there is a time and a place for that, it is not always the most productive strategy to stay in that mindset. Instead, aim for roughly five positive comments to every one negative (or constructive) one. This is a high standard, and admittedly can be difficult to achieve. If verbalizing gratitude for another family member seems like too big a leap, consider reflecting on and writing down aspects of people within the family that you are thankful for.

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Related to gratitude is taking a genuine interest in the activities of other family members. Video games, puzzles, makeup, sports, fashion, or what-have-you may not be of personal interest but being curious about these interests if they are important to a loved one shows care, support, and encourages connection.

Lastly, role-modelling desirable behaviour is a great way to move toward a preferred outcome. Loving family members even when they are at their worst, taking accountability for errors, and being vulnerable with personal thoughts and feelings set the groundwork for authentic connection. Admitting wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness sends a huge message in terms of what it means to be human – it is okay to be imperfect, to try our best, and that relationships are more important than personal pride.

A part of this role-modelling is kindness for oneself. We all make mistakes, but it is of no benefit to anyone to stay there and dwell on it. Similar to thinking of five positive factors to one constructive factor for others, take a similar approach for yourself.

What are other tips do you have to build family connection and confidence?

Love,

​Jessa


Jessa, our intern – a Masters of Counselling student – has officially started!

Jessa graduated from
the University of Calgary
in 2015 with a Bachelor
of Arts with Distinction
in psychology. and is
currently completing her
Masters of Counselling
Psychology through
Athabasca University.
Jessa loves spending
time with family and
close friends, learning
new things, and being
outside in nature. She
also enjoys food,
cooking, and trying new
recipes, and is
interested in art both
personally and as a tool
in therapy.