Zen Teen

40 Ways to Stay Calm When Life Gets Stressful


By Tanya Carroll Richardson

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A warm and relatable teen guide to reducing anxiety, depression, and panic while developing resilience and confidence with 40 tips and tricks that guide, support, and inspire teens to keep calm and stay mindful

In the last decade, studies have reported a drastic rise in teens who experience anxiety, panic, and an inability to cope with the pressures of daily life. As mental health challenges become less stigmatized, young people are more likely than ever before to know how to identify their feelings and ask for help. Even celebrity teen icons like Selena Gomez are “coming out” as anxiety sufferers.

Zen Teen addresses this epidemic with powerful coping mechanisms and creative tools-including two fun quizzes, tons of engaging exercises and a cool playlist-designed for the teenage mind. With topics like “The Unique Genius of You” and “Rock-Star Rituals,” Tanya Carroll Richardson prompts teens to get calm by engaging in mindful tasks like identifying gurus, tapping into warrior energy, mastering meditation, practicing realistic optimism, becoming a self-awareness samurai, learning to surrender, finding a spirit animal, expressing challenging emotions, living with loving-kindness, protecting the planet, and making vision boards that embrace “the Tao of Cool.”

Smart and fresh, Zen Teen helps teens thrive while navigating and managing the pressures of everyday life.



Hello! Tanya Carroll Richardson here, the author of this book. Although I hesitate to call myself the author because so many of the concepts in Zen Teen are drawn from ancient wisdom that has been updated, by myself and many others, to fit our modern times.

As I write this note, I’m in my early forties (I know that seems incredibly old to you right now, but when you get to be my age it won’t seem so old, and you will realize that in many ways you’re still the same person you were at seventeen). I’ve learned a couple of things for sure about the pressures and challenges of everyday life. I feel confident that when I share what I’ve learned with you, you can experience new levels of peace and lasting happiness so that when you face a setback, detour, or disappointment, you will feel more prepared to overcome it. You’re already stronger and more capable than you know. (This is a wonderful lesson life teaches us all.) My hope is that this book will help you be more open to joy during the good times and more resilient when life is (really, really) hard.

The year I turned eighteen was probably the most challenging time of my life, and I admit I felt very lost. My mother died when I was seventeen, and my last two years of high school I didn’t concentrate on schoolwork. In fact, I found out on the final day of high school that I had failed a chemistry course and wouldn’t graduate with my class. That same week, I had to get an apartment and a job and start life on my own as an “adult.” To make matters even more challenging, I had developed an eating disorder my senior year of high school and wasn’t physically or emotionally healthy. I got through it with the help of loud music and good friends, and some of the practices you’ll find in this book. By learning how to manage stress and overcome anxiety, I eventually took a summer course to finish high school, enrolled in college, and went on to get a master’s degree. I moved to London and then New York City, where I have worked as a writer for twenty years. I am married to the love of my life, and I can truly say that I am mentally and physically healthier (and happier) than I ever thought possible during my teen years.

I wish I’d had a book like Zen Teen in my life back when I was struggling with intense emotions and anxiety about the future. But since I don’t have a magic time machine to take me back so I can tell my eighteen-year-old self all these mindfulness practices (wouldn’t that be cool?), I did the next best thing: I wrote them down in a book for you.

Your life might be going great right now, and if it is, good for you! For those of you who feel the powerful pressure of everyday realities, I get it. The goal of this book is to show you how to make the most of the good times, help you find more meaning in each day, and teach you to navigate the stressful moments and challenging emotions we all sometimes experience. You can’t always change what happens to you, but you can change your reaction to what happens and learn coping skills to make the best of any situation.

Somehow life has magically sent me everything I needed to face my challenges. The tools in this book should help you meet your own challenges.

As a teen, you need extra love, gentle support, and an optimistic attitude. Most of all, you need to stay mindful. That will help you cultivate more calm and claim more confidence. Life is an adventure, and I want yours to be inspiring, exciting, and full of assurance that you are ready for whatever comes.




All the sections in this book have one thing in common—they each encourage you to be more mindful. Doctors, CEOs, athletes, actors, and teachers are always talking about how mindfulness changes health, businesses, performance, the creative process, and lives. But if you asked 100 people who practice mindfulness to tell you exactly what mindfulness means, you would probably get 100 different answers. Annoying, right? Sometimes it’s really comforting to know that 2 + 2 = 4!

It’s pretty funny that everyone has their own ideas about what mindfulness means because the whole point of mindfulness is to simplify life. Less confusion, less drama, less stress. But stick with it because when the concept becomes clear, everything else will, too. You might think of mindfulness as cleaning out the closets of your mind. Or you could picture a garden that is overrun with weeds, and think of mindfulness techniques as the tools that help you trim those weeds back.

You know that relaxed, accomplished, peaceful feeling you get when you walk into a room that used to be messy and is now clean and tidy? That’s the same feeling mindfulness brings.

Mindfulness is about creating space in our minds and our lives, some breathing room for pauses, rest, and reflection. More of the good stuff that helps us mindfully craft our lives—just like a potter crafts a wet lump of clay into a beautiful bowl—so we are happier and calmer and feel like we have some control in navigating our journey. Every exercise in this book is designed to make you more mindful. Just as you developed healthy habits when you were a kid, such as learning how to share or brushing your teeth, you can also develop the habit of mindfulness now as a teen.

If you did ask 100 people what mindfulness is, what are some of the typical answers you might receive? Mindfulness could be described as being in the moment, being purposeful, being present, being nonjudgmental, being self-reflective. It’s all those things. Most of all, though, mindfulness is about being aware—aware of what is happening right now, aware of your thoughts, aware of the possibilities, and aware of any patterns in your life you would like to change or end altogether.

Instead of being at the mercy of your thoughts, emotions, negative patterns, or life in general, mindfulness returns control to you. Of course, we can’t control everything. The weather is a great example: we can’t control whether it rains or not. But there’s a big difference between being caught outside in a thunderstorm and being caught outside in a thunderstorm with an overcoat, an umbrella, and a cool pair of rain boots. Mindfulness lets you walk through your days with all the gear you need to handle even life’s thunderstorms in relative comfort.

When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter what mindfulness means to other people. This book is about giving you the tools to decide what mindfulness means for you. And that is exciting. Because teens like you are at a magical, powerful age, an age where you finally have the freedom to:

Design your own unique life so you can live at your highest potential.

Decide what is important to you and where you want to focus your time and energy.

Figure out what it all means and discover your own personal philosophy on life.

Determine how you will approach the highs and lows, the challenges and the victories, of your journey.

Learn about what brings you peace and joy. Some of these are universal (like love), and some are specific to each individual (like which flavor of ice cream you want in your sundae—one of life’s most important questions).

These choices can come with challenges, and those challenges can bring about feelings of fear, panic, stress, depression, and anxiety. You know what I’m talking about because you’ve been there—we all have. Don’t give up or lose hope just because life becomes challenging—instead, approach the tough times with mindfulness, and you’ll find those negative feelings becoming more manageable. That makes room for fun feelings like peace and excitement.

Think of this book as your mindfulness buffet. If a concept or exercise works for you or resonates, put it on your plate. If something you read or try does not feel like a fit for you and your world, just move on. But while you are reading this book, stay open and curious. Sometimes the things you never thought you’d like on a buffet turn out to be what you go back for again and again.

Each concept in this book has its own special section. Within each section you’ll find a breakdown of why the concept works, the philosophical (or super wise and intellectual) reason this concept is special, a practical approach so you can start using this concept in everyday life, the shadow side or negative aspects of this concept to watch out for (this can stop you from misapplying a concept or taking a concept too far), and the magical (or almost unbelievably cool) parts of the concept. Each concept will come with straightforward tips and exercises to help you better understand and practice this mindfulness technique.

Have fun with this book. Some things you study you might never use again in real life. But mindfulness is a subject you can apply to any aspect of your life and use again and again.


Set Intentions

Why it works: Setting an intention—an aim, a plan, or a desire—gives you some control over your existence by choosing a direction to head in. It’s like plugging a destination into the GPS of life so it steers you toward where you want to end up: I will introduce myself to the new kid who moved in down the street. I will play a gig in public with my band. I will get a great summer job.

Intentions can also be about feelings, like: I will be brave in class. I will be patient during soccer practice. I won’t let someone else’s silly or rude behavior get to me.

An intention doesn’t guarantee you will reach your ideal destination, but it’s a powerful first step of exercising your free will instead of unconsciously letting life happen to you.

A philosophical perspective: Intentions are where everything new begins. Do you have a dream? It began with an intention. Do you have a goal? It began with an intention. The more you gently focus on an intention, by reminding yourself of it daily, the more likely you will be to manifest the outcome you desire.

Make it work for you: Intentions work best when they are flexible. When an intention faces a roadblock, don’t give up—just redefine the goal. Let’s say your crush can’t attend a concert with you. Instead of thinking “my intention to go with my crush failed,” revise your intention to a goal that you can reach: “I’ll go to the concert with a friend and have fun no matter what.” That allows you to change your approach and still get something you want—an awesome, memorable concert experience. Staying flexible is one of the mindfulness keys to success and happiness in life, so stay flexible with your intentions, too!

The magical side of intentions: Magic happens when we interact with life and become a co-creator of our destiny. Setting an intention is the simple but powerful act of putting words to what you want. And if things don’t work out exactly as planned, you will still get closer to your goal if you aim mindfully at your target with an intention.

The shadow side of intentions: To everything in life, there is a shadow side. You might think of a shadow as dark, negative, challenging, or an opposite. The shadow side of setting an intention is this: intentions do not guarantee outcomes. After all your best efforts (studying hard, working with a tutor, turning in your homework on time), you still might end up with a disappointing grade in chemistry. That’s why one of the most powerful intentions you can set is, “I will always try my best and be proud of my effort.” Or, how about: “When things don’t turn out as I hoped, I will be kind to myself.”

Give it a try: For one week, set a single positive intention each morning before you leave the house. Here are a few you can borrow:

1. “I will seek out the simple pleasures in life today.”

2. “Kindness is a gift I will give to myself and others today.”

3. “I’m going to fake it until I make it today and approach life with confidence.”

4. “Today I’ll show compassion to my favorite person and be very gentle with myself.”

5. “I’ll come up with a mini goal today to aim for in the future.”

6. “Today I will concentrate on what I like most about myself.”

7. “I want to challenge myself today to stretch in a new direction.”

8. “Today I will face one of my fears.”

9. “Being healthy is my focus today.”

10. “Today I just want to have fun and savor the moments.”

11. “I really want to chill today and not take anything too seriously or too personally.”

12. “Today I’ll see how many people I can make smile or laugh.”

13. “Today is about quiet time and recharging my batteries, so I’m avoiding unnecessary stress and drama.”

14. “Instead of concentrating on what I want to change about my life, today I’ll focus on what I’m grateful for.”

15. “I’ll try something new today, even if it’s something small.”

16. “Today I’ll tell someone I trust about what is upsetting me or ask someone supportive for help.”


Get Some Gurus

Why it works: When you focus your attention on someone you admire by observing their character traits and behaviors, you are better able to emulate the values that person embodies. But you don’t just observe their wisdom, you take it in and make it your own. The guru’s wisdom is imparted not just through the guru’s words and actions, but via their very essence.

A philosophical perspective: We all need people to look up to, people to learn from. Another word for guru is “mentor”—someone you respect and want to be more like. Mentors teach simply by setting an example you can follow with confidence. Mentors and gurus offer us collective wisdom so we can all be better people and work toward becoming the best versions of ourselves. One day, someone you know might look to you as a guru or mentor—or perhaps people already do, whether you are aware of it or not!

Make it work for you: A guru doesn’t have to be famous, just enlightened. And you don’t have to tell your guru that you look up to them. Just observe your gurus and learn by watching how they take on situations and challenges. If someone you admire is famous, you can read their books, study their career, and learn about their earlier life. It’s especially helpful to find someone to look up to who excels at something you would like to improve in your own life—like your relationships, your hobbies, or your studies.

The magical side of gurus: Gurus inspire greatness! Our hearts, minds, and souls crave fresh experiences and philosophies, and gurus give them to us by offering windows into exciting new worlds. Gurus are everywhere and easy to find: in fact, some may come onto your radar almost by magic, just when you need someone to show you a new way.

The shadow side of gurus: Gurus are still human, and therefore they can be wrong and make mistakes. No one is perfect. Look up to your gurus, but try not to idolize them. Your goal is not to become your guru, but to learn from your guru so you can be a better, more unique you. Also, no single person has all the answers, so you don’t have to be loyal to just one guru. Instead, you can have several at a time, and you will probably switch gurus many times throughout your life as you change, grow, and develop new needs and dreams.

Give it a try: You can choose as many gurus as you want, but start by selecting one. When you’ve chosen your guru, write in your journal or on a piece of scratch paper about why you admire this person. Find a picture of your guru and put it up in your room, locker, or somewhere you will see it often. Take notice of the guru’s value as a role model: What specifically can this guru inspire you to do, understand, change, or improve?

Tips and tricks:

Pick someone you like a lot, even if you don’t know why. Someone’s subtler traits can inspire you to live your best life.

Choose someone in a field or career you’re interested in pursuing, or with a talent you hope to develop. This person can be working in their field today or be someone from history.

Keep in mind that your gurus don’t have to be real people. Do you have a favorite character from a book or movie? This character can become a guru.

Expand your observation by identifying reasons you admire this person that have nothing to do with their job, talents, or skills.

Look beyond your gender, interests, and day-to-day routine to find role models you admire. You may not have much in common with a guru to begin with, which can expand your horizons or worldview.

Don’t overlook people you know well or see every day as guru candidates. Classmates, relatives, and teachers make great gurus because you can observe them up close.

Find your guru! Here are a few famous ones to consider:

Amandla Stenberg

Amy Purdy


Elizabeth Gilbert

Ellen DeGeneres

Emma Watson

Greta Gerwig

GT Dave

Janis Joplin

Jazz Jennings

John Green

Justin Trudeau

LeBron James

Mahatma Gandhi

Malala Yousafzai

Marie Curie

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Michelle Obama

Misty Copeland

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil Patrick Harris

Oprah Winfrey

Tina Fey


Journal for Answers & Wisdom

Why it works: When you get stressed, emotions build up inside that make you feel overwhelmed and confused. Journaling releases this pent-up energy and helps you mindfully process these feelings so they become more manageable and eventually pass.

Keeping a journal is not only a way to keep a record of your life, it’s also a way to express your hopes, challenges, feelings, and passions. There are no rules with journaling: You can write as much or as little as you want. You might go for weeks without picking up your journal, and then suddenly find yourself writing in it every day. Your journal is a safe place where you can be yourself with no fear and express your hidden thoughts and emotions. Looking back over old journal entries will allow you to see patterns in your life—the positive ones you will want to repeat, and the negative or self-sabotaging ones you want to change.

When you’re journaling, be sure to write down your biggest victories, recording how people congratulated you or supported and helped you achieve this win. This will solidify the victory in your mind and memory and give you faith that more triumphs will follow.

Likewise, journals are an excellent place to explore your disappointments. Writing about a missed opportunity or a friendship that didn’t turn out the way you expected can help you sort out your feelings. Emotions like anger and sadness can be hard to sit with. Putting them on paper can let you identify the lessons they have to teach you, and then move beyond them so you can feel peaceful and happy again.

A philosophical perspective: Journaling is a wonderful way to make sense of life and connect with your higher self—that part of you that’s very wise and insightful. There are many answers already inside you, but sometimes you need to go deep to find them. Writing helps you tap into that deeper, inner self, the part of you that can offer a fresh perspective.

Make it work for you: This might sound obvious, but be sure to keep your journal in a very safe place where it won’t get lost, damaged, or read by other people. Storing your journal at school or in another public area is probably a bad idea—even the idea of someone else finding it and reading your most private thoughts can keep you from being truly free with your writing. Keep your journal in a private spot—in your desk at home or a bedside drawer, where it is out of sight. Don’t tell anyone else where your journal is, so you can have peace of mind that it’s private. You can also use an online journal that is password-protected. If someone else finds and reads your journal it’s not the end of the world, but your journal is really meant to be a safe place where you can have private conversations with one of your favorite people—yourself!

The magical side of journaling: When you write in your journal, know that life is listening! If you’re mad at someone, let it out in your journal. Getting angry is healthy and natural, and your journal is a safe place to take out all that aggression. And if you want something really, really badly, write about it—when you write about your deepest wishes and those things you yearn for most, you’ll find that life will listen. It may even send you messages back, by giving you ah-ha ideas about how to reach your goals or putting you in the path of golden opportunities.

The shadow side of journaling: Over time, your journal should become a trusted confidant. But remember to share your feelings and ideas with your friends and family, too. Sometimes all you need a friend or family member to do is just listen and let you know that they care. Try not to write about things in your journal only from your perspective, but use your heart and your higher self to help you see a situation from all sides and understand other people’s true motivations.

Give it a try: Go out and buy a journal this week. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but make sure you like the way it looks on the outside. You can always decorate the cover of your journal with pictures, fun colors and patterns, inspiring words, or drawings. Inside, make sure the journal has plenty of room for you to fill it with all your memories, feelings, life lessons, hopes, and goals.

Here are some prompts to get you started:

I loved it today when…

This week was hard because…

Something I want to change about my life is…

Someone who has become very important to me is…

I got angry when…

This was a huge disappointment for me…

I’m really excited that I’m making steady progress on…

It may have happened a long time ago, but I’m still upset about…

One of my biggest victories recently was…

Something I’m afraid of that’s giving me anxiety is…

I want to do more nice things for myself, like…

I always feel calmer when…

Doing this is guaranteed to make me smile or laugh…

Right now, my most cherished dream in life is to…

Something I’ve been procrastinating about that I know I need to get started on is…

This really surprised me, and I’m not sure what to think about it or what it means…

Only recently did I figure out what my true motivation was behind…

I got mad at a friend today, but later I realized I was really upset about…

Today I realized that I have a pattern of behavior that I want to change…

Someone said something really interesting to me today…

This week I experienced some intense emotions, and I want to make sense of them…

I feel like it’s time to ask for help with…

I’ve waited long enough, and I’m finally ready to…

I discovered something I didn’t realize I was talented at…

I saw something amazing today, and it’s inspired me to…


On Sale
Sep 11, 2018
Page Count
240 pages
Seal Press

Tanya Richardson

Tanya Carroll Richardson

About the Author

Tanya Carroll Richardson is an author, professional intuitive, and regular contributor to MindBodyGreen.com. Her eight nonfiction books include Self-Care for Empaths, Are You an Earth Angel?, Angel Intuition, Forever in My Heart: A Grief Journal, and Zen Teen. Tanya is also the author of the annual page-a-day calendar A Year of Self-Love. Sign up for Tanya's free newsletter or follow her on social media by visiting tanyarichardson.com.

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