Life is just plain stressful at times. This is true for adults, as well as adolescents. According to a new survey by the American Psychological Association, “American teens report experiences with stress that follow a similar pattern as adults”. Undergoing extremely stressful situations in the teen years can have long-term effects that may persist into adulthood.
Unfortunately, teenagers are more stressed and anxious than ever before. Many hold jobs in addition to attending high school; plus admission to post-secondary education opportunities is increasingly competitive and expensive. This means school itself can be a significant source of stress and pressure when it’s supposed to be a safe place for educational exploration.
But, school isn’t the only anxiety-inducing factor for many teens. Some other sources of stress include:
- Changes in their bodies
- Issues with friends, family, or peers at school
- Separation or divorce of their parents
- Financial problems within the family
- Death of a loved one
- Negative thoughts about themselves
- Living in an unstable environment
- Taking on too many activities or extracurriculars
- Moving and changing schools
- Chronic illness of a family member
Teen stress is real and only becoming increasingly worse with each generation. Experiencing just one of the many sources of stress listed above can have a serious impact on a young adult’s mental health. This can lead to severe anxiety, aggression, addiction, or an overall inability to cope with stress.
Signs of Teen Stress
These mental health problems should be taken seriously and addressed at an early age. To help your child cope with stress, it’s important to first recognize the symptoms that indicate adolescent stress.
The signs of stress seen in many teens are similar to the ones seen in adults, including:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Withdrawal from sports or activities
- Anxiety and worry that is out of proportion with the situation
- Poor management skills
- Difficulty coping with feelings of worry
- Restlessness and difficulty concentrating
- Binge eating or stress eating
How Teen Stress Can Affect the Body
Like adults, when teens come across something that’s perceived as overwhelming or alarming – such as high-pressure school demands or at-home frustrations – the brain is automatically signaled to begin emotional processing. When this response begins, stress hormones and adrenaline flood throughout the body. This can cause the individual’s heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure to go up. Additionally, they may start to breathe more rapidly, causing the body to send more oxygen to the brain. This will increase alertness in what is perceived as a threatening situation.
Essentially, the nervous system is triggering a “fight-or-flight response”. When this level of emotional and hormonal change is constantly activated, it can cause significant physical and mental distress. For example, teens could experience physiological changes that contribute to severe anxiety and depression over time. The long-term health problems initiated when this process occurs repeatedly cannot be understated.
How Parents Can Help Their Children Manage Stress
If you notice any of these signs of stress, it’s important to help your child manage it. While it’s not always possible to change the circumstance, there are ways to help your teen cope with that stressful situation.
- Monitor the stress and whether it’s affecting your teen’s mental health, feelings, or behavior
- Learn more about stress management skills and be an example for your teen
- Listen to your teen’s thoughts and feelings, and provide meaningful solutions
- Be the support system your teen needs, with school, sports, and other activities
How Teens can Reduce Stress
Life at any age is full of challenges, resulting in some unavoidable stress. The ability to cope with that stress and have a positive outlook will be beneficial to one’s emotional, mental, and physical health. Of course, in a world that’s widely overwhelming, doing so is easier said than done.
Below we’ve listed some stress reduction tips and strategies that can help teens reframe the uncontrollable things happening around them and set a path towards forming a healthy response.
Tip #1: Mindfulness Meditation
One technique for managing stress is to practice mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is the ability to remain fully engaged in the present moment, regardless of everything happening in the background.
This practice allows one to take a step back during a challenging circumstance by focusing on breathing. Mindfulness meditation can be extremely helpful with teens and young adults who want to reduce stress – whether it’s stemming from school, family issues, etc.
Someone who incorporates mindful meditation will be able to put things into perspective more easily.
Other benefits include more patience, acceptance, and an overall positive outlook of the world. It will calm the mind, get in touch with the body’s current state, and lower feelings of stress, frustration, and sadness.
Tip #2: Exercise and Stretching
When teenagers carry a lot of stress, it can create significant muscle tension within the body. Exercising and moving the body will stimulate endorphins, resulting in an elevated mood and a reduction of stress hormones.
Stretching and yoga, especially, will help to relieve this physical strain and provide a release. Though, any type of exercise will do the trick – like jogging, stretching, weight training, pilates, etc. Even a short 10-minute walk can help to ease the mind of negative thoughts.
Tip #3: Listen to Music
Sometimes a walk outdoors with a soothing playlist is the best remedy to stress. Luckily, there’s no denying that teens love their music. It provides a sense of belonging when they feel like everyone and everything is against them.
Listening to music will facilitate positive thoughts, social skills, and a sense of peace when stressed. When that “fight-or-flight” response is about to kick in, music can help an increased heart rate sync to the beat of the song. Essentially, chill songs with a gentle melody will help to slow down a racing mind and heartbeat.
Tip #4: Talk to Someone
Believe it or not, complaining can have a positive impact on mental health. A good-ole vent session can help teens get out their feelings and ultimately process them. For parents, it can even help them bond with their teens.
Of course, parents aren’t the only people they can confide in. Teens can choose to talk to a close friend, teacher, or another family member. As long as they’re talking about what’s on their mind and what’s stressing them out, chances are, they will feel like a load was lifted off their shoulders afterward.
Another great resource is seeking professional help from a therapist. Processing stress with an outside third party can help teens work through whatever they are going through without feelings of pressure or bias.
Tip #5: Get 8 Hours of Sleep Every Night
Sleep and stress are directly related. When dealing with a particularly difficult situation, it can get in the way of a good night’s sleep. People who tend to internalize emotions may struggle to unwind, resulting in increased stress and sleeplessness. Whatever the reason for feeling stressed – whether it’s an upcoming test or an overwhelming to-do list – that mounting anxiety can keep a teen up at night.
Learning to relax and ease a racing mind can help to manage stress at night. Replacing a never-ending frustration of tossing and turning with quality rest will give the mind space to properly calm down and the body space to recover.
Tip #6: Maintain Healthy Eating Habits
Stress or emotional eating is a behavior a teen may experience during times of increased stress. During a jam-packed, hectic day, food may be used as a coping mechanism. While stress eating may relieve those anxious feelings at the moment, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s contributing to a greater detrimental cycle.
Overeating to deal with feelings of stress can lead to guilt or shame afterward. This can cause a teen to develop a negative relationship with food, which can last a lifetime.
Instead, kids should focus on enjoying food and eating because they’re hungry, not because they’re stressed or overwhelmed. Fueling the body with nutrient-dense, healthy foods can have a substantial impact on overall mood and physical well-being. And if the body feels good, there will be a broader effect that spans across mental and emotional health.
Tip #7: Confront the Problem
Sometimes stress is caused by a specific problem or challenge that’s heavily weighing on someone. If this is the case, confronting the issue can be an empowering act within itself.
For a teen, a lack of confidence during a difficult situation is more common than not. But, worrying about what happened or what might happen, will only make the stress worse. To feel better and reduce signs of stress, it’s important to identify the cause, come up with some solutions, and take control of the situation. This will contribute to greater self-esteem, which can do the trick to manage stress.
Kids, teenagers, and adults should all live happy and healthy lives. Unfortunately, life is a tricky thing with plenty of bumps in the road. Feelings of stress and anxiety are unavoidable at times. That’s why it’s vital to teach your children how to deal with stress at an early age. It will set them up for that happy, healthy life.
The information on this page is not intended to be a replacement for treatment, diagnosis, or professional clinical advice. We do not recommend taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger - don't use this site. These resources can provide you with immediate help.