If your teen is struggling with a mental illness, especially anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, or addiction, providing them with relaxation techniques will be essential in their recovery. And even if a teen is not struggling with any kind of mental illness, relaxation techniques can help them function better in school, maintain positive relationships, resist peer pressure, and more. Read on for an explanation of why relaxation is so important and to learn some useful relaxation techniques and mindfulness resources for your teen.
Why is Relaxation Important?
It might be obvious why relaxation is important for teens with anxiety or ADHD. But relaxation and mindfulness are important tools for everyone, whether they have a mental illness or not. A regular practice of relaxation can help a teen learn to feel relaxed more often. Sooner or later a teen’s body knows what is feels like to be relaxed so well that when a teen becomes anxious they recognize it and can do something about it.
Sadly, what is more common is that a teen is so familiar with anxiety and stress that they don’t know the state of relaxation very well. And because they are so familiar with stress, they come to believe it is the norm.
Furthermore, relaxation can create a psychological state that can invite solutions you might not have otherwise thought of. When the mind and body are relaxed, inner resources are more easily accessible. In this state, teens might see their situation differently.
If you want your teen to learn to relax, the best way to do so is to help them create a habit of relaxation. Encourage them to breathe deeply, practice yoga, or use guided imagery videos. In fact, the best way to help them create a practice of relaxation is to relax with them. Perhaps once a week, you and your teen (and perhaps the rest of your family too), can engage in one of the following relaxation techniques together.
- Listen to guided meditations. There are many free resources online that provide a list of guided meditations that you and your teen can listen to together. One such resource is from UCLA Health. They offer meditations both in English and in Spanish.
- Listen to a relaxation audio CD. If you did a search on Amazon for teen relaxation, you’ll find a number of audio books that include information on the essentials of relaxation as well as exercises to participate in. One to look for is Relaxation and Self-Regulation Techniques for Children and Teens.
- Smell the flowers and blow out the candles. Another way of saying this is that you want to breathe in through your nose (smell the flowers) and out through your mouth (blow out the candles) as you breathe slowly and deeply. Here is a video to help you and your teen get the hang of breathing deeply – in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation. You might notice that when you’re stressed, muscles in your body tense up. Your neck and shoulders get tight. Or the muscles in your lower back begin to hurt. The point of this relaxation technique is to help your muscles relax on a regular basis. Progressive Muscle Relaxation can help lower overall tension and stress levels and help you relax when you are feeling stressful or anxious. It can also help with reducing physical problems such as stomachaches, headaches, and pain. The technique was developed in the 1920’s by American physician Edmund Jacobson.
- Keep a journal. Journaling is a great way to examine thoughts, beliefs, and patterns. For instance, journaling can help your teenager examine their self-talk, which in turn can help them become more aware of thoughts that create anxiety and stress. Often, if not always, thoughts and the inner dialogue create anxious feelings. In their journal, a teen can write down their thoughts and feelings about a particular past event and explore what happened. To encourage this sort of exploration, you might purchase a journal or sketchpad for them to use.
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of your internal and external environment. It is a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting the existing feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding activity. Mindfulness can also promote relaxation as well as self-awareness and sharpen concentration. You and your teen can utilize the following mindfulness resources:
- Set aside 20 minute a day for mindfulness. This is a way to begin incorporating mindfulness into your teen’s life. At first, encourage your teen to set aside 20 minutes of each day to practice mindfulness. This will allow them to become acquainted with the practice. Ideally, these 20 minutes should be practiced at the start of or the end of each day.
- Read a book on mindfulness. There are many books on mindfulness that help with understanding what mindfulness is and provide thorough instructions on mindfulness. One book to try is The Mindful Teen: Powerful Skills to Help You Handle Stress One Moment at a Time, by Dzung Vo MD. This book is for teens, providing them with mindfulness instructions, guided meditations, and stories from teens who practice mindfulness techniques.
- Use a mindfulness app. Apps are useful tools that are designed to make life easier. And they are primarily used on a phone which allows your teen (if they have a phone) to take their mindfulness practice into their day. While at school, before a sports competition, or with friends, a mindfulness app can remind them to stay mindful and relaxed even in the face of stress.
- Meditate. Meditation takes mindfulness a step further. Instead of being aware of your internal and external experience, meditation asks that you keep your attention on one point. It is a very calming practice that can also produce healing experiences. Essentially you and your teen can sharpen your focus and rest attention on one place (such as the breath). There are a number of physical, emotional, and psychological benefits that come with meditation.
- Take a mindfulness class together. If you really want your teen to be mindful and relaxed, give them a full experience by immersing them in a class or retreat. Inward Bound Mindfulness Education provides many opportunities to attend a class or retreat.
Seek Out Professional Support
If it appears that these relaxation techniques and mindfulness resources are not helping your teen relax and experience relief from anxiety, then you may need professional support. If necessary, have your teen work with a mental health provider. Individual therapy for your adolescent is an excellent way to help your teen work through anxiety or other mental health symptoms. Since your teenager might be breaking away from you as the parent in order to establish his or her independence, a therapist can be a role model and even mentor.
If your teen continues to display symptoms of anxiety (especially if those symptoms are debilitating) contact a mental health provider today.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.