Mental health issues are at an all-time high in America, particularly for young people. According to a new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 3 out of every 10 teenagers have experienced “poor mental health” – feelings of stress, anxiety, depression – in the last 30 days.
It’s no wonder why teenagers today are feeling so stressed. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered lasting traumas for many youth, but other, contemporary circumstances are contributing to these trends. Increased social media usage, violence in schools and society, injustices due to race, gender, and sexuality are just a few examples of factors hurting teens’ mental health. These are listed on top of the typical stressors experienced by teens, like going through puberty, discovering one’s identity, fitting in with friends, and doing well in school or sports.
So, in a time when the stress can feel overwhelming, what can teenagers do? Whether you are a teenager feeling stressed out, or a parent who is trying to establish good stress management techniques at home, this guide is for you. Below we outline some of the best ways to relieve stress as a teenager, as well as offer tips for parents and caregivers.
How a Teenager Can Relieve Stress
There are many changes you can make in your everyday life that can significantly help reduce stress. While some of these might be easier said than done, implementing just a few of these tactics at a time can bring you some relief. Here are some of our favorite, evidence-based methods for relieving stress:
- Get good sleep.
Experts suggest that teenagers need between eight to 10 hours of sleep peer night. Without adequate sleep, teens might struggle with problem-solving, decision-making, paying attention, and handling stressful situations. In fact, research has found a link between lack of sleep and increased risk of mental health issues (as well as problems with attention and behavior) in adolescents.
- Get outside.
During daylight hours, make a point to get outside in nature. Spending time in the great outdoors can boost your endorphins and naturally help you de-stress. On top of lowering your stress hormones and boosting your feel-good hormones, getting outside can also improve your mood, strengthen your immune system, and provide essential vitamin D.
Moving your body is another great way to relieve stress. For teenagers, it is recommended that you get at least 60 minutes of activity per day. This might be walking, dancing, climbing trees, playing a game of soccer, or even lifting weights. Think about healthy activities that get your heart pumping but also that make you feel good—those will be the best for stress relief.
- Carve out time for yourself during the day.
Everyday, take a little bit of time for yourself. This might mean some uninterrupted quiet time before bed, to practice your guitar or draw in your sketchbook. It might mean painting your nails or reading a book, playing a video game or preparing a meal. Try to do one thing that brings you joy each day. Avoid overpacking your day with school, sports, homework assignments, extracurriculars, family obligations – while being busy can be a good thing, you need a little bit of time for yourself, too. You may use this to relax, wind down, or simply let out some steam doing an activity you enjoy. Managing stress is all about finding balance in your day-to-day life.
- Talk to someone.
When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it’s easy to shut down. You may want to lock yourself in your room and avoid your parents at all costs. While a little “me time” is good, it’s also important to talk to someone you trust when you’re feeling stressed out. Talking with a trusted adult, such as a parent or teacher, can help you look at stressful situations from a different angle. Communicating with another person can also help you come up with solutions to reduce stress.
If you are unsure where to turn, consider talking to a professional. Teenagers can benefit from speaking with a therapist, counselor, or other type of mental health provider who specializes in stress response and management. This professional can help you identify the root of your stress and build an action plan for tackling it.
- Try journaling.
Journaling is an incredible way to cope with stressful situations and work through any emotions you are struggling with. In fact, research has found that writing things down can significantly reduce mental distress and improve well-being. And you can write about anything! You might write about a difficult situation or about your feelings. You might write a letter to a loved one or yourself. In treatment, we often encourage teens to write about things they are grateful for and proud of, too. This can help you develop more positive feelings and in turn reduce stress.
- Practice meditation or mindfulness.
Meditation and mindfulness are helpful practices for reducing stress and, importantly, reducing negative responses to stress. These practices allow you to focus on the present and all that is happening in your thoughts, your feelings, and your body. Studies show that teens who learn mindfulness are likely to experience less mental distress.
How Parents Can Help Teens Mitigate Stress
If you are a parent of a stressed-out teenager, you may feel at a loss for how to help. Although it may seem like your child wants to be alone, or doesn’t want your guidance, know that parents can have an incredible influence on their teenager’s ability to cope with stress (and their overall mental health).
The American Psychology Association recommends parents act as role models for their child, exhibiting healthy coping mechanisms and stress management techniques at home. When you are dealing with stress in your own life, think about your behaviors and how you handle it. Think about it as though as your teen is watching – what would you want them to see? If you are not handling stress, talk to your teenager about how you’ve historically thought about, and coped with, stressful situations.
You can also help your teenager deal with feelings of stress and anxiety by modeling positivity. When your teenager says, frustratingly, that they are “terrible” at something or that they “hate” the way they look, help them change their perspective. Ask your teenager if they really feel that way, or if they are simply frustrated and stressed in the moment. Then, remind them of their good qualities: they are hard-working, smart, curious, resilient, strong. Help them to see things positively, even under stress, and avoid negative self-talk.
Other ways you can help your teenager mitigate stress is to:
- Encourage open and honest conversations about their challenges
- Teach your teenager about healthy use of social media
- Set boundaries around screen time at home
- Push for the same bedtime – with no screens – each night to promote a sleep schedule
- Provide opportunities for your teen to problem-solve and make healthy decisions
- Encourage self-care practices at home
- Be a shoulder to lean on, someone to talk to, when your teen needs it
- Have a therapist on deck, if your teen needs professional support
Why It’s Important to Manage Stress in Teenagers
It is normal for teenagers to experience every now and then. After all, they are undergoing a lot of changes in their lives and learning how to live independently. They are establishing their own identity, as well as friend groups, on top of maintaining performance at school.
However, just because stress is normal doesn’t mean it’s healthy. In fact, stress can have numerous, negative effects on a person’s life. Over time, chronic stress can increase one’s risk for a variety of physical and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, obesity, sleep problems, digestive issues, impaired memory, substance addiction, and more. Chronic stress can also suppress a person’s immune system and make it hard for them to recover from illness.
Do not let your (or your teenager’s) stress become “too much.” When stress becomes overwhelming, it becomes more difficult to find ways to cope. Teenagers who feel overly stressed, or who are in a constant state of stress, might turn to drinking or drug use to cope. These teens may also begin to develop other mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, when stress is not addressed.
Look for these signs of stress in teenagers—and know when to get help:
- Irritability and anger
- Rebellion or “acting out”
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Sudden, odd changes in behavior
- Trouble sleeping at night
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Avoiding once-loved activities
- Drops in grades or academic performance (or skipping school altogether)
- Changes in eating patterns (eating too much, or too little)
- Physical sickness (such as headaches, stomachaches, etc.)
If you or your teenager is exhibiting any of the signs above, consider seeking help. You may also explore other ways to improve your teen’s mental health, here.
Turnbridge is a mental health treatment provider with programs dedicated to helping teenagers and young adults. If you would like a mental health screening or simply guidance for your loved one, do not hesitate to reach out. Contact us at 877-581-1793 or explore our programs for teens online.