Stress has always been a big part of the teenage experience. Early in the teen years, there are a lot of changes and new experiences to deal with, in addition to relationship changes, demands at school or in sports, family issues, or even safety in their communities.
Now teens are experiencing stress more than ever before, growing up into a divided political landscape, facing global warming as the reality of their adult experience, and the endless battle with Covid-19.
In fact, a recent survey by the APA confirms that high-profile public issues are significant stressors for Gen Z. This generation reports higher levels of stress than all other adult groups with 81% of Gen Z teens reporting increased stress over the last year.
A stress reaction is a physical response to perceived danger, meant to hone the body and mind in order to focus on protecting itself.
Good stress, or stress that is managed with healthy coping skills, can actually help teens focus on their work or provide that bit of pressure needed to do their best in a challenging situation.
Bad stress, however, happens when the stress response lasts for too long or isn’t met with the proper coping skills. Bad stress can cause distress or even physical and emotional harm.
At a time when they are most susceptible to stress, it is important for teens to learn effective stress coping skills in order to prevent bad stress or turn bad stress into good stress.
Deep or patterned breathing exercises can turn off the “fight or flight” reaction the body has to stressors. Combining breathing exercises with positive affirmations can be helpful, too. Try saying things like, “I am safe,” “I can do this,” or “It will be ok,” in between breath patterns.
This involves a practice of tension and relaxation of different parts of the body. There are many guides online for progressive muscle relaxation, or you can simply start at your toes and work your way up, while reclining in a comfortable position.
Sometimes, when things feel overwhelming, it can help to break down a larger task into smaller, more manageable pieces. Take things one small step at a time rather than trying to figure out how you will reach the end goal in one leap.
Body movement is proven to be effective at reducing stress by increasing good-feelings enhanced by endorphins. Eating regular, healthy meals cuts stress by keeping your brain supplied with glucose which helps it perform at its best.
As teens are dealing heavily with self-development and learning to identify what they are and are not good at, it’s important to practice accepting themselves just as they are. Find those strengths and build on them, identifying how their strengths can help them during stressful times.
Run through scary or stressful scenarios and develop a plan for what you will do when they come up. Practice again and again until the situation becomes less intimidating.
So many of the things that teens are stressed about these days are out of their personal control. Making a list of stressors and identifying what you can or cannot control about each thing can be beneficial.
Rest is not a reward for working hard. Rest is an important part of preparing to work hard and do your best. Active rest is a way to get the rest you need while keeping your brain actively engaged.
Teens are typically very highly connected to each other, but it might be helpful for your teen to have a trusted adult in their life they can talk through these things with.
If your teen needs help managing stress or working through difficult situations, we can help. Our experienced teen counselors are here for your family.
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