Studies show that teens and adults experience similar amounts of stress. The difference is that teens do not have the skills acquired through time, or the resources that adults do for managing their stress, setting the stage for unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle choices that could increase the risk of developing stress-related health problems down the road.
Is Your Teen Stressed Out?
At times, you might question whether your child’s actions is he or she ‘just being a typical teen’, or something you need delve deeper into. When inadequately managed, stress can lead to:
- Irritability, aggression, anxiety or sadness
- Lack of interest in friends and previously enjoyed activities
- Drastic changes in appetite
- Difficulty sleeping at night
- Persistent lack of energy or feeling tired
- Being self-critical – feeling that “no one likes me”
- Learning, behavioral, or social problems in school
- Physical illness, such as headaches or stomach pains
- Poor coping skills such as cutting and self-harm, or drug and/or alcohol use
What’s Stressing Out Teens So Much?
Worried parents, who are struggling to have quality conversations with their kids, want to know what their teens are getting the most stressed over.
No doubt, school is tough. For some, it’s the worry of being able to get enough credits to graduate high school, while for others it’s being able to get a 4.0+ GPA and get into Stanford. There is a range of academic pressure teens feel, derived from a need for perfection, worry over grades, parental pressure, competition, sports, or a tough class load.
When it comes to social media, it plays the role of a double-edged sword in the lives of our teens. While it has its academic and social benefits, it does also contribute to a lot of anxiety and stress for teens.
Our kids don’t realize they are comparing their internal experience with everyone else’s external presentation of themselves on social media. Such a comparison can never match up! Trying to equate our reality to someone else’s fiction is a dangerous road for teenagers to embark upon.
Some teens feel that their bodies are not developing as fast as some of their peers, while others may feel their bodies are developing way too fast! Locker room confrontations or hearing a snarky comment on their looks, can give many teenagers intense anxiety and stress.
Stress Management Tips for Teens
As a teenager, you need to learn how to manage your stress. These tips will help reduce tension if you’re already feeling the pressure, and set up good habits even if you aren’t feeling stress yet.
Discuss your problems, don’t hold on to them. You’re not alone with your problem – chances are good that other people feel the same way, too. Ask for help. If you feel like your stress is just too much, talk with your parents, siblings, a trusted friend, or a counselor.
Be careful of overscheduling. If you’re feeling stretched to the limit, consider cutting out an activity or two, choosing just the ones that are most important to you.
Move your body. Physical activity is one of the most effective stress busters. That doesn’t mean you have to go for a jog if you hate running. Find activities you enjoy and build them into your routine such as yoga, hiking, biking, skateboarding or walking.
Get enough shut-eye. Between homework, activities and hanging with friends, it can be hard to get enough sleep, especially during the school week. To maximize your chance of sleeping soundly, cut back on your caffeine intake, watching TV or a lot of screen time in the late evening hours.
Schedule some time to simply enjoy yourself! Besides physical activities, find other hobbies or activities that bring you joy, like listening to music, going to the movies or drawing. Make a point to keep doing these things even when you’re stressed and busy.
How Parents Can Help Teens Manage Stress
Have a conversation with your child about the stress he or she may be experiencing. Provide a safe space for them to vent. At this moment, it’s more important for a parent to listen, rather than trying to jump in and immediately fix the problem, which is the usual impulse. This can be a long and hard journey for teenagers and their families, but the message to parents, and to pediatricians, is that we have to keep asking the right questions.
Open up about your stress. When you are feeling stressed, talk about these feelings and the stress management skill(s) you are using to deal with them. Help your child identify these feeling within themselves and appropriate ways they can respond to feeling stressed.
Encourage your child to practice the stress management tips above. Help your child find a balance between the demands of their life and taking time for their emotional health and well-being…whether that’s get a little more shut eye, taking a bike ride, or just relaxing and doing nothing.
Additional Resources on Stress and Teens
Gregory V. Mallis, PsyD practices at Pine Rest’s Christian Counseling Center. He attended the University of Indianapolis, where he received his Masters and Doctorate degrees in Clinical Psychology. Gregory enjoys providing therapy for young adults, adults, and couples. His clinical interests include relational issues, couples and marital therapy, depression and anxiety concerns, men’s issues, identity issues, stress management, and the integration of mindfulness practices for anxiety reduction.