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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

For Teens: What do you do when you’re stressed and don’t know what to do?

April 1, 2010

Life's a balancing act, so don't forget to breathe.

Life's a balancing act, so don't forget to breathe.

The sun’s back after dumping about 4 inches of rain on us yesterday. OK, maybe it was only one inch, but still, it was seriously stormy. So in the spirit of the new month and a new season I did some digital spring cleaning and stumbled across this old email from a stressed out 7th grade boy.  I decided to post his question and my answer just in case any of you can relate. I think I helped the kid. Maybe my advice will help you too.

Hey Annie,

You came to my school recently and talked to us about stress. I sometimes get stressed because I have so much to do I get that mixture of mad and sad. Then I do stuff that I don’t want to do. I also want a little more INDEPENDENCE and my parents tell me that if I do my responsibilities without being asked that will help me get more independence, but that’s really hard for me to remember to do that. Can you help me?



Hi Kevin,

It’s totally normal for you and everyone else to get stressed at times. But I’m guessing that you want to be able to get rid of the “mixture of mad and sad” when you feel it and to have more control over what you do.

Stress knocks people off-balance. Getting “back in balance” or re-centering reduces stress. It’s that simple. There’s a special kind of BREATHING called re-centering breathing.  It can help you when things get rough. When you do it, it can help you stop a stress-response before you lose control and end up doing stuff that you “don’t want to do.” This kind of breathing isn’t hard to do, but  it takes practice. The trick is to remember to do it while you’re feeling stressed.  Here’s how it goes:

1. RE-CENTER. Sit and get comfortable. Put your feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands lightly on your thighs. Relax. Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose, but with one difference…pay attention and visualize the air coming in. Then visualize the air going out. BREATHE IN SLOWLY… THEN LET IT OUT SLOWLY. (Continue with this special kind of breathing for 20 seconds)

2. ASK YOURSELF: What did I notice? Some kids say: “Things slowed down.” “I felt calmer.” “I feel more relaxed.” Some say that their thoughts got quieter. Some say, “Nothing happened.” or “I almost fell asleep!” There are no wrong answers.  It’s all good.

3. TRY IT AGAIN. Close your eyes. Relax. This time INHALE SLOWLY and evenly through your nose. Then EXHALE SLOWLY and evenly through your open mouth. When you inhale think “Breathing IN” when you exhale think “Breathing OUT.” Quiet all other thoughts. Follow your breathing. (Continue for 30 seconds)

4. ASK YOURSELF: What did I notice? What was different?

Learning to focus only on your breathing, without letting other thoughts distract you, can be very challenging. It takes practice. If you can’t focus on your breath for more than a second without thinking of other things, don’t get mad at yourself. (That’ll stress you out!) As soon as you notice your mind wandering, gently bring your focus back to your breathing.

5. TRY IT ONCE MORE, breathing at your own pace. (Continue for 45 seconds)

6. ASK YOURSELF: What happened that time?

Re-centering breathing is a great way to calm down so you can THINK more clearly and figure out what to do in stressful situations.

Try it for today. Try to remember to breathe every time you start to feel stressed about… anything. It will help you feel more in control of what you do and help you remember to keep your agreements with your parents. That’s going to show them that you’re ready for more independence.

Good luck!

In friendship,


Try the Breathing Challenge. Simply BREATHE as you feel yourself stressing and about to lose it. Then send me an email and  let me know what happened right after you took a breathing break. What changed? How’d you handle the situation after you calmed down?  This is how we all learn from each other!



  1. Hi Annie,
    As a parent of 5 children I know I need to get re-claim some calmness rather than be caught up in busy busy busy….your Breathing Challenge is a timely reminder for me.

    The thing I nocticed today was that I am completely ignorant when it comes to my breathing…I can clearly see the connection between my breathing and re-claiming the inner calm.

    Really Enjoying your blog Annie.
    Damo from Australia

    Comment by Damo — April 4, 2010 @ 1:40 am

  2. helloooo annie …. i have been felling really stressed lately at school and theres one girl whos bullying me shes older than me… is it becauuse of that girl or could it be something else and i have told the techers and that but she just keeps on doing it

    Comment by paulaaaa — June 13, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

  3. Hi Paulaaaa,

    I’m really sorry to hear that you’re feeling stressed. I’m sure the girl’s bullying is part of the cause. it’s never pleasant to feel on-edge or worried about what someone might do or say to you. You say you’ve talked with your teachers about her bullying and nothing has changed. Have you talked to your parents about it? I realize that may not be something you want to do, but here’s the thing… your parents probably have a better chance of making the school take notice of the situation. They can put pressure on the school to lay down the law to this girl. It’s not cool to be cruel and she needs to know it’s also UNACCEPTABLE.
    Talk to your parents and talk to the school counselor. Keep talking to the adults until someone pays attention and gets on this bully’s case.

    Good luck and please check out our new anti-bullying forum on Facebook Cruel’s Not Cool!

    Comment by Annie — June 13, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

  4. Hi Annie
    Been having a few problems with my pre-teen lately – she ‘seems’ to be getting out of control. The breathing is something I need to remind myself to do more often and after reading your blog (I did). It gives me time to remember that she is going through a difficult time and really doesn’t understand fully what is happening herself (there are a lot of changes in her life right now). I’m starting to realise that my reactions are part of the problem – thanks for reminding me to take time out (I should practice what I preach).
    timeoutformums- Take care x

    Comment by HoniebUK (HonieMummy) — February 17, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

  5. I have two students who need this so much. I’ve been searching for strategies to share with them. This is my plan for them first thing Monday morning!

    Comment by Pam — November 12, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

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