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BACKGROUND: Qualitative research is lacking on the mental well-being of adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim of this study was to explore the feelings and emotions adolescents experienced during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the coping strategies they identified and employed to manage those emotions. METHODS: Participants living in Canada aged 13-19 years were recruited through social media platforms and youth-serving organizations. Qualitative data were gathered from 2 open-ended questions included in a youth-informed cross-sectional online survey: "What feelings and emotions have you experienced around the pandemic?" and "What coping strategies have you used during the pandemic?" We collected data from June 2020 to September 2020. A summative content analysis was undertaken to analyze survey responses inductively. RESULTS: A total of 1164 open-ended responses from Canadian adolescents (n = 851; mean age 15.6, standard deviation 1.7, yr) were analyzed. We identified 3 major themes within the category of feelings and emotions associated with the pandemic: sociospatial and temporal disconnections, emotional toll of the pandemic and positives amid the pandemic. Within the category of coping strategies used during the pandemic, 2 major themes were identified: connecting online and outdoors, and leisure and health-promoting activities. INTERPRETATION: Although the emotional toll of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is evident, participants in our study adopted various positive coping strategies to mitigate their distress, including physical activity, safe peer interactions and hobbies. The results have important implications for public health policy and practice during pandemic times, emphasizing the importance of accessible mental health resources for those experiencing psychological distress.