Teen Stress: Signs to Recognize and Ways to Handle It
You may think that teenagers shouldn’t be stressed. After all, they don’t have to worry about a career, bills, insurance, parenting, or maintaining a house. However, while a teen’s issues may not seem as difficult as an adult’s, they still deal with very stressful problems, such as peer pressure, social relationships, academics, bullying, crammed schedules, and making major decisions about their future. All teens feel the impact of stress during their young lives. Problems can develop when the stress feels too intense, lasts too long, or is shouldered alone.
Signs Your Teen Is Stressed
- Headaches and Stomachaches. Stress often leads to complaints about physical health, particularly frequent headaches or stomachaches.
- Sleep Issues. Stress can lead to difficulty sleeping. Your teen may have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night worrying. Pay attention if your teen complains of being overtired during the day.
- Academic Problems. Stress can result in issues at school. If your teen’s grades have declined, or if your teen’s attendance is poor, try to determine the root cause.
- Increased Irritability. All teens struggle with moodiness and irritability, but if they seem to overreact to the situation, or react more frequently than normal, they may be dealing with stress.
- Frequent Illness. Stressed-out teens are more likely to get colds and to complain of not feeling well. They may miss school or social events due to illness.
- Negative Changes in Behavior. Youth can find it hard to recognize and verbalize their emotions, so many times, stress can appear through poor behavior. You might see your teen begin to skip school, break curfew, be disrespectful, or lie. Some teens, who don’t know how to cope with stress, turn to drugs, alcohol or sex to deal with their emotions and problems.
- Difficulty Concentrating. Teens who are easily distracted, unable to stay on tasks, or are routinely bringing up worries are showing that they have a lot on their mind.
- Negative Talk. Sometimes teens express their feelings of stress by saying negative comments about themselves. If you are hearing your teen say things like, “No one likes me,” “I’m stupid,” or “Nothing ever seems to go right,” it is important that you try to figure out why your teen is saying them and whether they seem to indicate a source or sources of stress.
If you see any of these signs of stress, it’s a good idea to introduce your teen to some positive ways to manage their stress.
Ways to Handle Stress
It’s very important that we provide our teens with positive ways of dealing with stress. Here are a few things to teach your teen:
Coach self-awareness. The first step in reducing stress is actually recognizing what stress feels like for you, because everyone experiences tension differently. However, most teens may not even recognize that they are stressed – it takes practice to be self-aware. As a parent, you may need to notice when your teen is acting differently and help your teen realize that their behavior might be stress-induced. If your teen recognizes they are stressed, then you can ask them what reactions they are feeling physically (stomachaches, tense muscles, etc.) and emotionally (angry, worried, irritable, etc.).
Find stress-management techniques. Once you know how your teen experiences stress, you can better suggest relaxation exercises that will work best for them. For example, if your teen gets hyped up when stressed, then you can recommend soothing activities. If they withdraw or become sad when stressed, they might need a more energizing activity. Here are some relaxation techniques that might help your teen manage stress:
- Exercise. Exercising releases tension and energizes. Your teen could jog, lift weights, or ride a bike. One of the most effective exercises for stress management is yoga. Yoga can provide a sense of inner calm and also improves flexibility, posture, and strength. If your teen is interested in trying yoga, you could sign them up for a class or look for yoga videos.
- Breathe. This might sound silly, but the way we breathe can significantly impact how we feel. When we are anxious, we tend to take shallow, rapid breaths. Therefore, teach your teen to take deep, slow breaths when they feel stressed for an instant calming effect. Breathing exercises are a great way to relieve stress anytime and anywhere. They’re simple to learn, simple to use, and can be done on the spot when you feel tension, immediately helping you to feel better. One effective exercise is to ‘inhale peace’ and ‘exhale your stress.’
- Meditation. Meditation is about calming the mind by slowing down and focusing on the present. The idea is to relax by stopping our tendencies to worry or be “busy.”
- Imagine. If your teen is a visual person, you might want to encourage them to envision a “happy place” or a really good memory. Sometimes imagining a happier place or time when we are stressed can give our brains a “vacation” from our stress. The key here is to have lots of details – how it looks, feels, smells, and sounds – to help imagine the scene.
- Relax. If your teen is one of those people who holds tension in their muscles whenever stressed, teach them the art of muscle relaxation. Encourage your teen to start tensing and relaxing each muscle group—moving from the toes all the way up to the head. There are audio clips online that describe how to tense and relax each muscle group.
- Do a favorite activity. Sometimes the best way to reduce stress is to take a break from life, and do something you absolutely love. For someone who needs soothing, it might be spending time with the family pet or listening to wind chimes. For someone who feels angry, perhaps dancing or journaling will release the frustration. Help your teen identify an activity that really makes them feel happy, and remind them to take a break and enjoy their activity when they need a little stress relief.
Some people seem to handle difficult situations better than others. If your teen is not one of them, let them know the qualities that make some people more resilient can be learned. Encourage your teen to develop these attitudes:
- Think of change as a challenging and normal part of life.
- See setbacks and problems as temporary and solvable.
- Believe that you will succeed, if you keep working toward your goals.
- Remember past accomplishments and how you overcame previous obstacles.
- Build strong relationships, and ask for help when you need it.
- Participate regularly in fun activities.
The holiday season is a particularly stressful time for almost everyone. Use the tips above to help your teen (and perhaps even yourself!) relax over the holidays.