Teens Get Stressed Too

Kathryn Cooney, LICSW

We live in a busy world. Many of us feel stress, and teens are no exceptions.

Why am I so stressed out?

Teens have talked to me about many reasons why they feel pressure and stress, but four common themes arise.

  1. Peers.  Teens are often trying to figure out how they fit in with others, which social group is right for them. They are also sorting through issues of sexual identity and sexual preference. 
  2. Future. What am I going to do after high school? Am I really going to be able to take care of myself someday?  The worries of what comes next in life can often be a source of stress.
  3. Competing priorities. There are a lot of demands on teens’ time and energy. They find themselves juggling academics, sports, work, home life and social life. 
  4. Parents. Adolescence is a time when teens are figuring out what they can handle independently. At the same time, parents are figuring out how much responsibility and independence their teen is ready for. These ideas often don't match up, leading to a lot of conflict.

What happens when I get stressed out?

Stress can have a negative impact on anyone regardless of their age. Some symptoms of high stress include:

  • irritability
  • poor concentration
  • depressed mood and/or anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping
  • increased or decreased appetite
  • low energy

These symptoms alone can increase a teen’s sense of stress and can affect so many areas of a teen’s life, including relationships, academics, athletics, and even overall health. 

What do I do about all this stress?

Stressful events and relationships can’t be eliminated completely but we do have some control over how we respond to these stressful events.  Our response can reduce the impact on our health and well-being.  Here are some strategies to help manage stress and develop skills to respond differently to stress.

  • Prioritize sleep and eat healthy foods. Getting enough sleep is hard for teens but cutting down on caffeine and sugar can help.  While these are not easy changes, they can make a world of difference in how a teen reacts to his or her environment.
  • Share big worries. Finding a friend, family member or a counselor at school to talk to can really help with stress. Teens can have worries or problems that they don’t share because they think no one will understand. It's important for teens to realize having problems and worries is part of being human. Sharing with someone may not change the problem but it may be easier to cope if they are not facing it alone. 
  • Find quiet time. Teens and adults are becoming more addicted to stimulation from phones, games, tv, radio, music. It has almost become uncomfortable to just sit or walk quietly for even five minutes. However, scientists are finding that the brain does not function well with constant stimulation (remember the coffee and sugar!).  Taking 15 minutes a day to sit or walk in silence, let the mind relax and quiet down, and focus on the present moment, can decrease stress and improve mood and concentration. There are all sorts of apps available to help with this "mindfulness" practice.  
  • Exercise. Just 20 minutes a day helps the mind to calm down and de-stress. It’s also good for overall health.

Remember: stress is a normal part of life!

It’s important for parents and teens to recognize that stress is a normal part of life. We can’t eliminate all stressful events, relationships, or responsibilities but there are things we can do to decrease the negative impact stress has on our mental and physical health.

For more information on ways to manage stress and be more mindful, visit the Being section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

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