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Methods of relieving stress among young adults

FFFStress Management and Teens

Stress Management and Teens

No. 66; Updated January 2019

Teenagers, like adults, may experience stress every day and can benefit from learning stress management skills. Most teens experience more stress when they perceive a situation as dangerous, difficult, or painful and they do not have the resources to cope. Some sources of stress for teens include:

  • School demands and frustrations
  • Negative thoughts or feelings about themselves
  • Changes in their bodies
  • Problems with friends and/or peers at school
  • Unsafe living environment/neighborhood
  • Separation or divorce of parents
  • Chronic illness or severe problems in the family
  • Death of a loved one
  • Moving or changing schools
  • Taking on too many activities or having too high expectations
  • Family financial problems

Some teens become overloaded with stress. When this happens, it can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or poor coping skills such as drug and/or alcohol use.

When we perceive a situation as difficult or painful, changes occur in our minds and bodies to prepare us to respond to danger. This “fight, flight, or freeze” response includes faster heart and breathing rate, increased blood to muscles of arms and legs, cold or clammy hands and feet, upset stomach and/or a sense of dread.

The same mechanism that turns on the stress response can turn it off. As soon as we decide that a situation is no longer dangerous, changes can occur in our minds and bodies to help us relax and calm down. This “relaxation response” includes decreased heart and breathing rate and a sense of well-being. Teens that develop a “relaxation response” and other stress management skills feel less helpless and have more choices when responding to stress.

Parents can help their teen in following ways:

  • Monitor if stress is affecting their teen’s health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings
  • Listen carefully to teens and watch for overloading
  • Learn and model stress management skills
  • Support involvement in sports and other pro-social activities

Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:

  • Exercise and eat regularly.
  • Get enough sleep and have a good sleep routine.
  • Avoid excess caffeine which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation.
  • Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
  • Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques).
  • Develop assertiveness training skills. For example, state feelings in polite, firm, and not overly aggressive or passive ways: (“I feel angry when you yell at me.” “Please stop yelling.”)
  • Rehearse and practice situations which cause stress. One example is taking a speech class if talking in front of a class makes you anxious.
  • Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks.
  • Decrease negative self-talk: challenge negative thoughts – with alternative, neutral, or positive thoughts. “My life will never get better” can be transformed into “I may feel hopeless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help.”
  • Learn to feel good about doing a competent or “good enough” job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others.
  • Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress.
  • Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way.

By using these and other techniques, teenagers can begin to manage stress. If a teen talks about or shows signs of being overly stressed, a consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional may be helpful.

When teenagers report experiencing stress, adults have a tendency to be dismissive. Some adults don’t believe a young person can feel the same overwhelming emotions as an adult. But this is not the reality. Stress management techniques for teens and young adults don’t get enough recognition and support for stress that is all too real. 

A survey by the American Psychological Association revealed that stress levels present in today’s teens may rival those of adults. Stress comes from different sources compared to what used to concern older generations when teens. Teens today are faced with mounting pressure of perfection (or the image of such) on social media. When they fail to achieve it, it can lead to depression, anxiety, illness, and even substance abuse. These behaviors are especially damaging to a young person in their formative years.

So what can you do as the parent, guardian or teacher to help a stressed-out teen? If you aren’t sure how to help their stress, we reveal seven effective stress management skills for teens. 

What Causes Stress in Teens?

Before we get to these stress relief techniques, it’s important to note that many factors could be stressing out teens. Not only do they have social media demands on their life, but they may also be facing:

  • Bullying

  • A changing body

  • A lack of friends at school

  • Family financial or relational problems

  • Excessive extracurricular expectations

  • Adjustment of a new school

  • Demands of a rigorous course load

  • The pressure to know what comes next in life

One of these stressors alone is a lot to deal with, let alone a combination of some or all. Most teens face a number of these at once. This may manifest as unhealthy habits such as withdrawal, sadness, aggression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. If you talk openly and regularly with your teen, you may know the reasons your teen feels stressed out already. However, you may have no idea just how many things are causing him or her to feel overwhelmed. For example, if they are burdened down and anxious it’s time to open up a line of communication about teen stress. You can provide them with the following solutions:

Stress Management Activities for Teens and Young Adults

Get Enough Sleep

Some teenagers have so many demands on their time and energy that they don’t even have room in their schedule for sleep. If your child has been up into the late hours of the night consistently to work on research papers and study for exams, it’s no wonder that he or she is so stressed out! 

While young people can admittedly function with less sleep than adults, it’s not without consequence; Stanford Medicine reports that sleep deprivation increases their chances of poor grades, anxiety, depression, concentration problems, and even suicidal thoughts. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that those between the ages of 13 and 18 should sleep 8 to 10 hours every 24 hours. So, make sure your son or daughter is managing their time efficiently during the day so they can get to bed at a reasonable time and get sufficient sleep.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise is one of the best ways to achieve natural stress relief. Cardio, circuit training, strength training, and interval training will keep your heart rate high, helping to release all the stored up tension in the body to promote post-workout relaxation. If your teen isn’t one for going to the gym, perhaps yoga for stress relief would be an enjoyable alternative. This practice puts the participant in tune with their body, helping them get their thoughts and breathing under control, alleviating excess muscle tension through stretching and meditation. 

Take Time to Practice Breathing Techniques

We’re constantly breathing throughout the day, but when we’re stressed out, breaths become fast and shallow, and we start using our shoulders instead of our diaphragm to move air through the lungs. This disrupts the balance of gas in the body. Guided breathing and meditation techniques can help to slow your breath and alleviate stress in just a few minutes by lowering the heart rate and delivering more oxygen to the brain. 

Make sure your stressed-out teen is taking a few minutes during the day to focus on their breathing. It may help to supplement these breathing exercises with relaxing music for stress relief.

Keep a Journal

Journaling can be an excellent outlet for emotions. Writing in a journal about trauma not only provides release, it also helps them process negative events and heal from them. Research shows that journaling can strengthen the immune response, improve mental function, and counteract negative stress responses. Making this a habit can provide your teen with clarity about their thoughts, feelings, and emotions and help them make changes that will alleviate the stress in their life. 

Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

People underestimate the impact of food on their ability to cope with stress. Teens are notorious for having poor eating habits, such as skipping meals or opting for sugary foods of no nutritional value. These food choices can lead to poor concentration, fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, and more. Teenagers, in particular, need nutrient-dense foods to support their changing bodies, fluctuating hormones, and developing brains. Do what you can at home to make sure your teen begins and ends the day with a well-rounded meal, and if you can, pack them a lunch with plenty of fruits and vegetables, making sure they also take a water bottle to school.

Practice Positive Affirmations

Your teen might seem happy and self-assured on the outside, yet be struggling with heavy self doubts on the inside that are causing them stress. Positive affirmations can help them counteract those negative thoughts and feelings. These are essentially sayings they can repeat to themselves to assume a more positive mindset and boost their confidence. Examples of positive affirmations for teens sound like “I AM”:

  • “loved by my parents, teachers, and friends.”

  • “smart and capable of succeeding in all of my classes.”

  • “okay to feel scared. I don’t always have to be strong. This doesn’t mean I am weak.”

  •  “empowered to change my life for the better. I believe in myself.”

Work with your teen to pinpoint his or her fears, strengths, and weaknesses to craft custom affirmations that will give them strength each day.

Stay Organized

Nothing creates feelings of stress faster than a disorganized backpack, bedroom, or desk. If your teen doesn’t have inherent organizational skills, it’s time to intervene. Organization is an easy means of stress management for teenagers.

First and foremost, supply them with a planner to help them remember due dates and important events. Make sure there’s a designated study space at home where school supplies can be easily located. Consider helping them organize papers into different folders for their backpack or a filing cabinet at home where notes, graded papers, and more can be easily retrieved. This will go a long way toward helping students feel more positive about homework, with much less stress. 

Find Additional Resources for Your Teen

Choose Mental Health offers an abundance of resources for parents of struggling teenagers and young adults. Check out our support articles and help videos for other useful information on stress management for teens. You can also talk to our mental health professionals about a free assessment for your child.