Tips to Reduce Teenage Stress
Studies have shown that not only is teenage stress extremely common, but their stress levels continue to increase. Today’s adolescent stress is higher than the average millennial’s stress of a decade ago. But more alarming is that USA statistics reveal teenage stress now exceeds that of adult stress levels.
Much adolescent stress is being attributed towards increased demands of technological dependency with decreased human connectivity and interaction, creating social anxiety, isolation, depression, and higher suicide rates. This should raise warning bells for both parents and teenagers alike. Creating balance is essential.
May the following tips to reduce teenage stress be beneficial not only for you as a parent, but most especially your teenager, and of course, the entire family too …
Understandably the transition from childhood to adulthood is a difficult phase for adolescences to navigate often resulting in uncomfortable, self conscious anxiety and turmoil. Teenagers are no longer children, but not yet adults either, and must progress through a series of transitional stages.
Each of these fundamental and developmental stages can be tricky because of the changes triggered in all aspects of the teen’s core being viz., physical, emotional, behavioural, cognitive and social.
Each stage can affect the individual as to how they relate to and make sense of themselves within their inner world, as well as the outer world in relationship to parents, siblings, peers and society too. Although these stages vary according to the individual, adolescence is always awkward because of a teen’s internal struggle to seek independence, define their identity, body image issues while learning about intimacy and sexuality too. There is no doubt that these transitory adolescent years can be challenging and confusing resulting in varying levels of stress.
Cause of Teenage Stress
Today there are far greater demands and expectations on a young teenager’s shoulders than ever before. Pressures to make early career decisions because of far greater competition for both university and job market availability. Ever expanding growth of information and technology adds further burdens of having to constantly stay connected, informed and keep up, with the FOMO (fear of missing out) adding further pressures. Also tech provides an overwhelming number of available options, making career choices difficult. Additionally, parents and teens often find themselves at odds because the generational gap of understanding tech is vast.
In addition, the following situations can trigger stress in teenagers – family conflicts, friendships, peer pressures, fitting in and keeping up, high expectations of parents, teachers or friends, study worries and exams problems, classroom and sports competition, discrimination, bullying, crammed schedules, after school chores to earn pocket money, tech over stimulation and not switching off enough, excessive social media, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, exposure to alcohol, cigarettes and drug use, and sexual abuse.
An observant parent can usually spot what stresses their teenager. Where possible, respond immediately to early warning signals and then try reducing unnecessary stress. Early intervention can prevent stress from becoming anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Signs of stress in teenagers can show up in their behaviour, emotions, body and thinking.
Changes in your teen’s behaviour might include:
- withdrawing from friendship groups or activities they usually enjoy
- seeming nervous or anxious
- sleeping too little or too much
- eating more ‘comfort food’ or eating less
- wanting to be by themselves more than usual
- having emotional ‘ups and downs’ for no obvious reason
- having less energy than usual
- refusing to go to school
- drinking more caffeine products or taking over-the-counter painkillers
- aggressive tendencies
- decrease in schoolwork or results
- not caring about their appearance
- behaving differently in their relationship with you, i.e. suddenly not talking to you
Changes in your teen’s emotions, might include:
- being cranky or moody
- feeling sad, depressed or hopeless
- feeling worthless
- finding it hard to relax or switch off
- getting more angry more than usual
- feeling that ‘nothing is going right’
- feeling like they’re on an emotional rollercoaster ride
Sometimes you might notice physical signs of stress, such as:
- feeling sick, i.e. headaches, shoulder pain, stomach aches, jaw pain
- having panic attacks, dizzy spells, fast breathing or pins and needles
- frequent colds, infections or illness
- more tired than usual, even if they are getting enough sleep
- not being hungry
- losing or gaining weight
- changes in daughter’s menstrual cycles
Finally, stress can affect your teen’s thinking, for example:
- finding it hard to concentrate and stay focused
- losing the thread of thoughts or conversations
- having trouble remembering things
- making snap decisions or errors in judgment
- having trouble organising, planning or making decisions
- getting confused or irrational
- continual procrastination
How to reduce stress in teenagers
In general, you can help your teen deal with their stress by consistent and effective communication – especially listening, spending quality time together and doing things that make your teenager feel uplifted. You can also help reduce stress by working together on two key areas – helpful thinking and healthy lifestyles.
Helpful thinking to reduce stress in teenagers
Dealing with stress is a learnt skill. How you think about things affects how stressed you can become as a result. Like adults, teenagers can develop unhelpful thinking that makes it harder to deal with stressful situations. Unhelpful thinking can get out of control, particularly if this becomes the normal way you think about things.
Some common unhelpful thought patterns are:
- Mind-reading, or expecting other people to have a bad opinion of you, i.e. ‘They think I’m stupid’ or ‘The teacher (or sports coach) thinks I’m no good at anything’
- Thinking things will always go wrong, i.e. ‘Things never work out for me’, ‘Everyone is always against me’ or ‘I’ll never be able to …’
- Negative labelling of self, i.e. ‘I’m no good’, ‘I’m stupid’ or ‘I’m hopeless’
- Absolute thinking, i.e. ‘I have to do it this way’ or ‘This will never work’
- Expecting the worst, i.e. ‘I’m sure to mess this up’, ‘It’s not going to work out anyway’ or ‘I’m going to feel awful when it doesn’t happen’
- All-or-nothing thinking, i.e. ‘He does everything right, and I always get it wrong’, ‘It has to be perfect’ or ‘If only I had done it that way, it would be okay’.
Changing unhelpful thinking
Speaking to a professional can help your teenager to see that there are other ways of thinking about situations. You and your teen could try these techniques to change unhelpful thinking patterns:
- Together work out what’s causing the stress, i.e. your teen receives a last-minute text from a friend to cancel going out.
- Encourage your teenager to list the thoughts connected to this situation or event, i.e. ‘He doesn’t really like me’, ‘She should have told me sooner’ or ‘My day’s ruined’.
- Help your teen decide if these thoughts are helpful, i.e. how does your child know her friend doesn’t like her? Is it possible the friend couldn’t have told her sooner? Are there other good things your child could now do with the day?
- Encourage your teen to suggest some other thoughts, i.e. ‘I don’t really know why he cancelled – there could be an emergency’, ‘Life has its ups and downs’, ‘I can go out anyway’, ‘This gives me time to do other things’, ‘I’m disappointed but I can cope’, or ‘We can go out together another day’.
- Help your teen notice that when he/she changes their thinking, their feelings also change – usually for the better. Teaching teenagers these simple but positive reframing statements is a great way to reduce and cope with stress far more effectively.
Healthy lifestyle changes to reduce stress in teenagers
When your teenager feels stressed, it’s easy to forget to do everyday healthy things. Here are some healthy family lifestyle changes to reduce stress:
- Physical activity: the stress chemicals of adrenaline and cortisol can leave one feeling tense. Exercise burns off these chemicals, helping the body to relax.
- Stay connected to family and friends: plan some special time with your teen when you know they’re feeling stressed. Positive, supportive relationships are the building blocks of emotional and mental well being.
- Get enough sleep: one of the biggest causes of stress in teenagers is not getting enough sleep. Your child still needs about 8-9 hours of sleep a night, every night.
- Eat good food: aim for a family diet with plenty of nutritious fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
- Relax and unwind: this might be going for a walk, reading a book, having a relaxing bath, listening to soothing music, appreciating nature, sunsets etc
- Stimulate conversation and healthy discussions: switch off social media, TV and all forms of tech daily for at least an hour to enjoy each other’s company.
- Eat meals together as a family.
If you’re concerned your teenager isn’t coping sufficiently, seek professional help. Early intervention provides great coping skills, and most importantly avoids unnecessary long term anxiety, stress, worry, and even depression.
Should you or your teenager require assistance, please don’t hesitate to seek professional help. I offer a FREE 20 minute evaluation.
*Article adapted from ‘Raising Children’
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