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Stress Management for Teens

Stress can be a positive feeling that protects and motivates you to take action. However, it can also get out of hand, causing negative impacts on both physical and mental health. There are many factors influencing teens today, here we will look at some teen stress management activities.

Research has shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated stress across the country. Additionally, teenagers have grown up in a world of social media and easily accessible information on the internet. While there are many positives to this, there are also problems. Those aged fifteen to twenty-one, also known as, Generation Z, have reported feeling stressed about social issues in the news.

The mental health crisis is particularly affecting teens with a thirty-one percent increase in mental health-related emergency department visits for people aged twelve to seventeen from 2019 to 2020.

What is Stress?

What is Stress?

The stress response is a reaction to change or feeling under pressure. This can be a normal and even helpful response, making us feel motivated and energized to get things done. For example, stress may motivate your teenager to practice their instrument or get their homework done. It can also warn us of danger and keep us alert and awake so that we are prepared.

This could help if your teen comes across danger, for example, if they are on a night out and there is a risk of violence or assault. Short-term everyday stress can therefore be positive in protecting us from harm.

However, stress can become a problem when it is very intense or lasts for a long time. Healthcare professionals often refer to these types of stress as acute and chronic stress.

Acute stress occurs soon after an event and usually lasts for a few weeks. It is very intense and can occur after sudden bereavement, assault, or natural disaster among other events.

Chronic stress lasts for a long time or keeps returning. This could occur if you are under continuous pressure for example if you are a carer or live in poverty.

How Does the Stress Response Work?

When you experience stress an area of your brain called the hypothalamus activates your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These trigger the fight-or-flight response by working on the autonomic nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating functions such as your heart rate, breathing, and digestion.

Stress causes your heart rate to increase and blood vessels to dilate or contract depending on which organ they provide with blood. For example, they dilate to allow blood to reach your muscles and heart and constrict to prevent blood from going to your digestive system and sex organs. Your breathing will also increase in order to provide more oxygen in your blood.

Causes of Stress

There are many potential causes of stress. The teen years are a particularly challenging time in life when you and your surroundings are changing rapidly. You experience unpredictable and intense emotions, deal with making new friends, and experience peer pressure and potentially bullying. Some causes of stress for teens include:

  • Problems at home such as divorce, fighting among parents or siblings, or loss – even apparently positive change such as a new sibling or moving home can cause stress
  • Difficulties at school such as making new friends and dealing with bullies
  • Issues in the news such as rising suicide rates, gun violence, school shootings, climate change, sexual harassment, and treatment of minorities
  • Stress about fitting in such as in romantic relationships, and peer pressure particularly surrounding alcohol and substance use and sex
  • Having more responsibilities than you can cope with such as an overwhelming amount of schoolwork or extracurricular activities
  • Facing discrimination for example racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia
  • Large-scale events such as natural disasters, conflict, or the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Mental health problems including anxiety disorders

Signs of Stress

Too much stress can affect your psychological and physical health. Knowing the signs of stress could help you recognize if your teen needs support.

Psychological symptoms of stress include:

  • Irritability and anger
  • Changes in behavior such as suddenly acting out or not leaving the house
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Neglecting responsibilities such as homework

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Chest pain or racing heart
  • Aches and pains
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Dizziness
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Shaking
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomach problems
  • A weak immune system, which you can notice from getting sick often
  • Weight gain or loss due to eating changes

When stress levels decrease, the body returns to normal. But if you experience long-term stress this can cause more permanent damage. Long-term stress can cause damage to blood vessels and arteries, increase blood pressure, and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Common Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Common Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Managing stress can be difficult, especially as a teenager. It is already difficult to navigate what is happening within and around you. Stress makes this more intense. Some teenagers will find unhealthy coping mechanisms to relieve stress. These include:

  • Drinking
  • Smoking
  • Drug use
  • Gambling
  • Overeating (some may even develop an eating disorder)
  • Compulsively seeking sex, shopping, internet browsing, smoking, drug use

These can often make the stress worse. For example, substance use can increase stress by leading to financial and legal worries and exacerbating or causing mental health problems.

Stress Management for Teens

Stress Management for Teens

It is impossible to avoid stress entirely since it is a normal part of life, however, it is possible to prevent it from taking over. We will discuss a few ways that teens can manage stress by incorporating healthy coping skills and stress management activities in their lives. We will then discuss what you can do as parents to support them.

Physical Activity and Time Outdoors

The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that six- to seventeen-year-olds get at least sixty minutes of activity per day. There is evidence that physical activity is an effective technique for stress relief. Study as an example. As little as 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or seventy-five minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week reduces stress.

Spending time outside has also been shown to reduce stress and improve well-being. This is particularly the case for sending time in green spaces but does not only apply to this.

Relaxation Techniques

There are plenty of relaxation techniques that may help with stress. Making time for fun and relaxation is important. For example, playing musical instruments or doing fun activities. There are also more structured relaxation techniques such as tai chi, yoga, and breathing exercises.

Stress can be held in the body. You might notice that when you are consistently stressed, you get a sore back or shoulders, and your muscles feel tight. Tai chi and yoga help both your mind and body relax.

Mindfulness is also a way to reduce stress a 2014 study with thirteen to eighteen-year-olds found that those who learned mindfulness techniques experienced less distress than those who did not.

Journaling and Setting Goals

Journaling has also been shown to help people deal with stress. It allows you to write about and process what you are going through, recognize patterns, and identify your emotions by putting them into words. You can also incorporate gratefulness journalling. This involves focussing on what you have achieved and what you are grateful for rather than what you have not done.

It may also help to set short- and long-term goals. Focussing on specific goals can prevent you from becoming overwhelmed by too many things to do. It is important to set realistic goals, since setting too many goals and failing to meet them could increase stress.

Healthy Living and Relationships

Taking care of your body and mind is important for dealing with stress. This includes your diet and sleep. Eating a balanced diet and avoiding too much sugar can help with stress. Getting enough sleep is also important. Teens should get eight to ten hours of sleep a night.

Another part of healthy living is making sure that you maintain relationships that are good for you. Relationships that make you happy, help you to stay calm, and give you emotional support can be beneficial when you are dealing with stress.

Professional Help

If your stress is particularly intense you may wish to seek help from a mental health professional. Therapy can help you to work through your feelings, hopes, and fears. It allows you to set goals in a safe environment and work on them in collaboration with your therapist. If you are using unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol or drugs, or if you are having suicidal thoughts, therapy may be particularly important. However, you should not feel like you need to be doing “bad enough” to seek therapy.

How Can I Help My Teen?

How Can I Help My Teen?

If you are the parent of a teenager who is experiencing acute or chronic stress, there are things you can do to help support them.

Do Not Always Try to Fix Their Problems

If your teen is feeling stressed, it may feel helpful to fix their problems for them. However, this can create a downwards spiral, where they continue to believe that they cannot manage stressful situations themselves. Rather than fixing their problems, you can help them to develop skills for dealing with them themselves. Perhaps start small by letting them solve small, low-risk problems, assisting them in their issues but not taking the decisions and actions out of their hands.

For example, your teenager may think that they are bad at maths. Rather than doing their homework for them, sit with them and help them while they do it. Encourage and remind them of previous achievements in the subject so that they gain confidence in themselves. It is important that the positive things you say about your child are true and believable so that they can recognize their own strengths.

Internet Literacy

Teens have grown up in a different world than their parents. They have had access to the internet since they were young and are generally very internet savvy in terms of finding what they want. While this can be positive, it also has a dark side. There is a lot of information online, not all good.

Additionally, they may experience cyberbullying and feel pressure from social media about how they should look and the way their life should be. It is important to speak with your teenagers about internet literacy and perhaps even limit screen time, particularly when they are young. Limiting screen time before bed also helps to improve sleep quality.

Encouraging a Healthy Lifestyle

If your teenager is living at home you are in a great position to make sure they are practicing some of the techniques we spoke about earlier. Particularly if they are younger, try to make sure that they are getting to sleep early and not using screens for at least one hour before they go to bed. Making sure they are getting a balanced diet will also help.

Getting External Support When Needed

Sometimes, no matter how much you focus on healthy habits, exercising, sleeping enough, and eating healthy, your teenager will still experience chronic stress. They may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, or they may be under pressure that they cannot avoid. In this case, you may want to consider encouraging them to get therapy.

Although it is difficult to think that this would ever happen to your child. It is also important to understand that some teenagers will turn to drugs or alcohol when they are experiencing chronic stress. If your teenager is in this situation and has developed an alcohol or drug problem, you should encourage them to get professional help as well as get support for yourself so that you can understand what they are going through. It is important to note that forcing teenagers into rehab is unlikely to work, so it is more helpful to encourage them to choose it for themselves.

Get Help Today

At Clearfork Academy we focus on supporting teenagers. We are a residential treatment center that focuses on substance abuse and addiction and co-occurring mental health and behavioral issues. We provide a family-style environment and allow families to join at the weekend to take part in therapeutic activities.

If your teenager is suffering from a substance use problem due to chronic stress we are here to help. We understand that seeking support is difficult and make the recovery process as easy as possible. We focus on peer learning so that those who come to us feel they are understood and supported by their peers.

If you would like more information or are ready to seek support, please visit our website or call us on (817) 259-2597.

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