stressed teen

Teen Stress: The Triggers and How to Keep It in Check

October 24, 2018

The teen years are fraught with emotional highs and lows that can be overwhelming for both teens and their parents. According to the American Psychology Association (APA), 40% of individuals surveyed in a recent study reported feeling angry or irritable due to teen stress, while over 30% felt anxious, sad, or depressed.

It can be difficult to spot the signs of teen stress if your child has become withdrawn or secretive. However, there are some things you can do to help your child cope, and it starts with being able to identify these common stress triggers.

Top Teen Stress Triggers


Not surprisingly, many of the teenagers in the APA’s study indicated that school is a top stressor. Whether it’s pressure to perform well, trouble with teachers, or navigating the complex social structure of schools, kids often feel overwhelmed.

Older teens have added concerns over future education plans. Worries include choosing a college, getting scholarships, or if they should even bother seeking higher education after high school.

Social Pressure

Outside of school, social pressure from peers can send stress levels through the roof. A constant need to be accepted and admired by peers can drive an adolescent to make choices they would not normally make. Those choices often result in negative consequences that just further their stress.

Seeking social acceptance, dealing with bullies, and navigating the new expectations of romance all work to push stress levels higher.

Family Dynamics

Stress from family situations can go both ways. Teens are sensitive to anything that affects the family unit as a whole. Death of a relative, parents’ job worries, sibling rivalry, and simple day to day inconveniences can impact teens in different ways.

On the flip side, the teenager’s behavior toward family can often spark a cycle of stress. Whether it’s a standoffish attitude, direct opposition to parental requests, or overreacting to normal household squabbles, teens can trigger stress in others, which then triggers their own distress responses. Without timely, proper intervention, this cycle can escalate to dangerous levels.

Physical Changes 

Along with all the academic, family, and social challenges that can spike your teen’s stress, they also must deal with the physical changes of growing up. Drastic hormonal shifts can wreak havoc on a teenager’s sense of self-worth and body image. Adolescence is also a time of immense strain on their bodies which can leave them confused and frightened.

Signs of Stress in Teens

If you notice any of these signs in your teen, they may be suffering from increased stress and need your help.

  • Lack of focus
  • Irritability
  • Negativity
  • Poor judgment
  • Mood swings
  • Melancholy and extended sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Nervous habits: nail-biting, pacing, fidgeting

How to Help Teens Cope with Stress

While these stress triggers and symptoms can seem scary to read about, there is some good news. Helping teens cope with stress can come in many forms.

Encourage Physical Activity

Staying active is an effective way to relieve stress, but don’t force your teen to do things they hate. Look for activities they enjoy and that also include a social aspect. Things like family basketball, a walk or jog around the neighborhood together, or organized sports at a local gym or teen center can help teens cope with stress.

Help Them Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is a key ingredient in stress reduction, so help your teen find ways to get more shut-eye. Reduce screen time, encourage them to stop drinking caffeinated drinks a few hours before bedtime, and help them choose an appropriate amount of activities each week that will also leave plenty of time for rest.

Encourage Teens to Talk

One of the best ways to relieve stress is to simply talk about it. Be present at the moment and offer support, encouragement, and love when your teenager tries to share their thoughts with you. Try to ask questions and stay interested in their ideas.

Teenagers sometimes need more help than parents alone can provide. Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center offers just what teens need during this trying time. Our caring and experienced staff will listen and help your teen gain the tools essential for managing stress.