By: Lisa Meade, PA-C
A recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA) confirms what I see weekly in my practice: Teens feel a great deal of stress and anxiety, but often don’t have the proper coping strategies to deal with these feelings.
The APA report “Stress in America” included data on American youth (teens ages 13-17) for the first time this year. The report found that teens feel higher levels of stress than they think is healthy, but don’t necessarily try to adopt healthy coping strategies, or don’t know what those strategies are.
When I talk to my teen patients, they say trying to juggle school, their social life, and home life can be overwhelming. Expectations and pressure about college are particularly tough for older teens. Plus, we can all remember how important friends and “fitting-in” are at this age– which makes all of the social media and online chatter an extra stressor.
Parents can be a huge help in teaching teens healthy coping strategies and how to keep things in perspective. Here are some suggestions:
1. Know the signs of stress overload in your child. Common results of teen stress can be: Increased physical illness (headaches, stomachaches, chronic fatigue, muscle pain); “shutting down” or withdraw from people and activities; increased anger or irritability; difficulty sleeping or eating; increased tearfulness or feelings of worry; difficulty concentrating.
2. Be willing to listen and model stress coping skills. It’s important for teens to know that stress is part of life and sometimes admitting you are “stressed out” helps. Try to help your child identify what’s really giving them anxiety and then come up with some coping strategies together.
3. Encourage healthy lifestyle habits and reinforce those at home. Here are the things I tell my teen patients to try:
– Get enough sleep! Teens still need 8-10 hours of sleep a night, especially during the school week. Prioritize homework, social or sports activities, phone/TV time. You may not be able to do it all.
– Focus on your strengths. Think about the things you are really good at- or that make you happy- and find ways to spend time doing those things. It will build your confidence and you will find people with like interests.
– Get some exercise. Physical activity is a proven stress reducer. If you’re not on a sports team, find any activity that you enjoy and try to do it at least 30 minutes a day.
– Eat right! Skipping meals or drinking energy drinks will make you feel more stressed in the long run. Try to eat three healthy meals a day and don’t rely on caffeine to keep you going.
– Don’t try to be perfect! Remember that we all make mistakes and a bad choice now and then. Try to keep things in perspective and not focus on the negative. The ability to learn from mistakes and move on is a sign of maturity.
– Talk to someone. It’s much easier to manage stress with a helping hand. Talk to a parent, teacher, doctor, or other trusted adult. They may be able to help you find a way to manage a problem, such as practicing a response to a social situation, getting a tutor in a class, or dealing with a difficult transition such as moving or divorce.
If you feel that your stress is making you depressed, or you find yourself using drugs or alcohol to cope, please tell someone. It might be time to talk to a psychologist or trained professional.
Helping your teen learn healthy ways to cope with stress now will prepare them for a healthier adulthood. Part of the great challenge- and reward- of parenting!