cope with stress

What are Strategies for Helping A Teen Cope with Stress?

April 22, 2022

Stress management is an essential life skill. Without adequate coping tools, teens and adults alike are bound to experience difficulties managing aspects of day-to-day life. Whether struggling with challenges at school, at home, or with peers in social environments, today’s teens have had to learn how to cope with stress more than generations past. There are many “new” sources of teen stress, especially given the popularity and presence of social media and technology-based communication opportunities. For many teens, the stressors they face each day differ significantly from those of adult family members, teachers, or other adult influences. 


It is important to address the root causes of teen stress and remember that what causes stress for teens is not the same as for adults. Therefore, their coping tools differ slightly. It is also crucial to remember that for some teens, sources of stress include their home environments, and finding adequate and safe ways to reduce these stressors is vital to improving your teen’s overall health and well-being. 


Understanding Teen Stress Statistics

It is widely known that teens face high stress levels, but many do not realize how high. Research into teen stress and the impacts of stressful interactions on teen health indicate that teens today face vastly higher levels of stress than many adults. A recent study by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) on the prevalence of teen stress highlights how severe the impact of unmanaged stress is in America. 


The report shows that teens frequently face statistically higher levels of stress than many adults, especially during the school year (primarily high school and college). Teens surveyed reported stress levels of 6 on a 10 point scale during the academic year. Unfortunately, stress levels did not reflect a notable decline during the summer months. Throughout the summer, teens face different stressors, and their stress levels ranked 4.6 on the same 10 point scale. 


Many teens surveyed report stress profoundly influenced their physical and emotional health. The survey data showed teens reported feeling depressed (30%) or overwhelmed (31%) due to life stressors. More than 1/3 of teens report feeling tired and excessive fatigue, and nearly 25% report skipping meals due to stress. Teens are more likely to underreport the impact stress has on their physical and emotional health, meaning many of the above statistics underrepresent the true impact of unmanaged stress on teens. 


Suggestions for Helping Your Teen Cope with Stress

Unfortunately, stress will happen, and there is little that anyone can do to avoid it. The best way to cope with stress and reduce its impact on your teen’s emotional and physical health is to develop coping techniques they can use when faced with triggers or when feeling particularly uneasy. Many different coping strategies are available, and some will inevitably work better than others. The best idea is to give some of the options below a try and see what works best for your teen. 


Set and stick to a sleep schedule

Sleep is crucial to physical and mental health. The hours we sleep allow the body and brain to rejuvenate and recover from the day’s activities and prepare for tomorrow. Unfortunately, many of today’s teens do not get adequate sleep. For some, it is because academic obligations or social responsibilities push homework and other commitments late into the evening, pushing time for rest off as well. For others, a reduced sleeping schedule is a matter of personal preference. They prefer to stay up later and sleep later into the morning, which is not feasible during the week. When the teen body does not get the rest it needs, it is easy to succumb to the emotional and physical effects of stress. 


Parents can help teens adhere to a sleeping schedule by reducing screen time in the evening by setting “screen time” schedules. This practice can help ensure your teen is offline before going to bed, allowing enough time for their mind to unwind and healthy sleep to occur. It may help to encourage your teen to leave their phone and other communication devices in another room, so they are not encouraged to check social media or messages late at night. 


Help your teen create a healthy schedule

There are only so many hours in the day and many teens today struggle to juggle their obligations in a way that fits into each day. Between academics, sports, social activities, personal commitments, after-school employment, and family obligations, many teens find there simply is not enough time to accomplish everything. The inability to manage everything and perform tasks successfully can quickly lead to stress for teens. Many teens struggle to develop a schedule that meets their needs but does not lead to being spread too thin overall. 


You can help your teen guard against scheduling challenges by helping develop a schedule that addresses their necessities while still allowing for downtime to decompress. In some cases, this may require cutting out an activity or restricting certain activities to the weekends. Although restructuring your teen’s schedule may be difficult at first, especially because many teens feel pressure to “do it all,” it is a crucial step in providing your teen opportunities for relaxation and self-care. Sometimes even an hour or two of calm without responsibilities can work wonders for stress reduction. 


Help your teen learn about self-care and stress reduction skills

When we experience negative stress, our bodies engage in a natural response called the “fight or flight” response. This reaction causes notable physical changes throughout the body, including elevated blood pressure, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and increased blood flow to the muscles. The fight or flight reaction is designed to ensure one can flee if possible or defend themselves if necessary in the face of danger. While these two specific reactions are not always necessary when faced with stress, the body doesn’t know any better and will react as it needs to protect us. 


The physical and psychological impacts of fight or flight can quickly lead to panic and stress. This is especially true in situations where one does not know how to react or why they feel as they do. It is crucial to learn how to slow this response and manage stress in a healthy way. Using coping aimed at stress reduction can reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response and help calm the mind allowing your teen to look at a stressful situation with a logical view. 


There are many effective relation skills your teen can try, including breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation. In addition to these, self-care tools are another calming and beneficial practice to reduce stress. In short, self-care means taking the time to focus on the “self.” This can be accomplished by reading a book, taking a bath, going for a walk, or learning a new hobby. For some teens, watching a movie, listening to music, or taking a nap are effective self-care tools. The most important thing is not the activity but more so taking time to relax, calm the mind and reduce the impact of stress. 


Encourage a healthy lifestyle

Stress eating (regardless of age) can be problematic. Although grabbing take-out or a bag of chips is notably easier when our schedules are busy, junk food is not a healthy option and can lead to physical challenges in the long run. In time, the physical effects of a poor diet can lead to emotional and mental health struggles, including eating disorders. A healthy, balanced diet and regular activity are crucial to helping your teen’s body and mind perform their best. 


Some teens participate in athletic hobbies, which ensures they get an adequate level of physical activity. For teens who do not, encourage your teen to take a walk or find a way to get at least 30 minutes of activity each day. In addition, encourage and model healthy eating behaviors. Be sure to keep a supply of healthy snacks on hand for moments when the urge to snack arises. Talk to your teen about how a healthy diet and exercise can help manage and reduce the impacts of stress. 


Get Help When You Teen To

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. In some cases, stressors are positive and lead to beneficial outcomes, but this is not always the case. Negative and potentially harmful stressors occur with frequency and, without the right tools, can be difficult to manage. If you are concerned that your teen’s stress may interfere with their day-to-day life or could have an effect on their physical and emotional health, consider contacting a member of our treatment team at Hillcrest. Several therapeutic options are available to help your teen learn more about effective stress management and coping skills. 


By participating in therapy, your teen can learn and practice healthier coping skills they can use in the future to reduce the impact of various triggers. Therapy models such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and family therapy allow your teen to learn how to apply coping skills to triggering situations in a safe and supported environment.   Although some stressful experiences are managed without help, some may be too overwhelming for your teen to manage alone. In these cases, without treatment and support, ongoing stress may worsen (or at least contribute to) various mental and medical health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 


Stress affects the mind and body. In addition to potential emotional health challenges, chronic stress can lead to sleeping problems, weight changes, appetite changes, and other medical difficulties. Seeking help at a treatment center like Hillcrest, where our programs specialize in teen-focused therapy, can be an invaluable step toward your teen’s recovery. 


If you are concerned about the impact of stress on your teen, consider reaching out to our Los Angeles area treatment center for help. Contact our admissions team today to learn more about how our range of teen treatment programs can help your teen put the impacts of stress in the past.

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