Helping kids and young adults manage stress and anxiety


With 2020 presenting a range of challenges to the mental health of young Australians, Kids Helpline has provided vital counselling and support to thousands of kids and young people, helping them understand why they are reacting in certain ways or feeling anxious.

The Bupa Foundation is proud to be the principal partner of Kids Helpline and support the important work they do to provide more young Australians (5-25), with access to free, quality mental health care when they need it.

Brooke, a ‘Kids Helpline @ School’ facilitator said there’s no doubt 2020 has been a difficult year for a lot of people - adults, as well as kids and teenagers.

“The uncertainty the pandemic has created may lead to a rise in emotions for some people. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions associated with all the challenges and changes 2020 has brought.

“Young people might notice they are reacting in ways that are different from how they usually would,” said Brooke.

Brooke says there are three main areas of the brain:

  1. The frontal lobe – the “smart brain” – this handles decision making and manages tricky emotions
  2. The amygdala – the “emotional brain” – where our basic, core emotions come from
  3. The brainstem – the “survival brain” – this looks after your heartbeat, movement, and all thing vital to your survival”

When our everyday emotions are under control, all parts of the brain are working well together. But when big emotions appear – like fear or anxiety or stress – our emotional and survival brains take over and our smart brain switches off. The result is we don’t make thoughtful decisions and just act on impulse.

But there are ways to help calm our brain and encourage our smart brain to switch back on. We can use strategies like exercise and deep breathing to calm the survival brain, while journaling, talking and help-seeking can help calm the emotional brain. This enables the smart brain to get to work and think through our actions and decisions.

“At Kids Helpline, we emphasise the importance of caring for yourself – reaching out for support to trusted friends and family, as well as caring for the body and brain.

“If you’re a parent, one of the best things you can do is role model to your children and show them how you care for yourself,” said Brooke.

Kids Helpline’s top tips to help kids and young adults manage stress and anxiety.

  • Having a routine – setting aside regular times for going to bed, waking and activity time can help lower anxiety and worry, adding some structure and certainty to the day.
  • Mindfulness activities – such as mindful colouring, deep breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Journaling – getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper.
  • Movement and exercise – these are a great way to engage the body and encourage the helpful ‘feel good’ hormones, like endorphins, to flow.
  • Worry jars – write down your worries and put them in the worry jar, then come up with some ways you can manage those worries in the future or even let them go.
  • ‘Help-seeking’ and connecting with people – even a little bit of support can make a big difference. Reach out to the trusted supports and people in your world. Talk things through with them, share what is going on. This helps remind us all that we’re not alone, and that there are people who care for us and who are on our side.
  • Engaging the five senses – why not try the ‘ 5,4,3,2,1’ strategy: go through each sense and find something to focus on – something you can smell; imagining a taste or flavour you like; what can you see in the room around you; what can you hear and what can you feel?
  • Visualisation exercises – engaging the imagination and the ‘smart brain’ to calm emotions and the body.

Another great idea is for parents and their children to create self-care toolboxes together. This could be a bucket or box of different things that your child will find helpful, for example, a stress ball, slime, bubbles, or a candle to smell. Your child can then reach for their toolbox when they need it.

You can read more about this topic on the Kids Helpline website:

Media reference number: 20/098