The teen years are some of the most stressful. However, with a little insight and some careful management there is no reason why stress should escalate and become debilitating. These tips may be useful for parents, caregivers, teachers, friends, relatives and of course, teens.
- Know the Enemy: Stress is the feeling that you can’t properly cope with a task, event or situation. It’s the sense of being overwhelmed. This is frequently accompanied by a fear of what may happen as a result of not being able to cope. Stress is demanding both physically and emotionally. So, getting to know the enemy is about identifying the things that make you stressed so that you can learn to adapt your responses to them and, if necessary, seek help from others.
- Fatigue: The teen years are frequently accompanied by the desire for sleep. Many teens have cat-naps at the drop of a hat. This is quite normal and is part of the developmental process that teens go through. It is important not to confuse this with fatigue. Fatigue is the sense of being tired all the time and it is accompanied by a discouraging mood and negative emotions. This is a sign of stress and relates back to tip 1, ‘know your enemy.’
- Symptoms: A cold manifests itself by a runny nose and sore throat. Stress has no such clear cut symptoms. It can and does however manifest itself by a number of symptoms such as vague bodily pains, headache, stomach ache, muscle cramps and a general sense of feeling unwell. These are commonly associated with situations the person wants to avoid. The person isn’t shamming. Symptoms feel very real, but tend to be relieved once the stressful moment is avoided or has passed.
- Body Language: When someone is under stress the body is constantly communicating the fact. It doesn’t mean we hear or see the signs. It’s true that we have learned to mask the outward signs of stress, but masking stress does not mean it doesn’t exist. Masking is itself a fairly demanding task. Our body communicates in many different ways. Our blood pressure goes up, we may get stomach upsets and a variety of other symptoms (see tip 3). Outward signs can’t all be covered over. For a start there are too many of them. Irritability, anger, fidgeting, difficulty sleeping, pen chewing, lip biting, hair pulling, nail chewing - the list goes on. So, if someone alerts you to any of these, or you see them in yourself, it’s time to take stock.
- Motivational Slump: Pulling an all-nighter as a one off may not do you much harm but if this is a pattern of behavior it means you are over-stretched and you must be paying some price. The most obvious of these will hit the day after when you feel tired, preoccupied with getting your head down, lacking in concentration and prone to making mistakes. This commonly relates to the tip number 6.
- Procrastinating: The teen years make an art form of procrastination. It’s a well known parental button-pusher and says something about the desire for resistance and independence. Of course it also provides the means to avoid dull demands and obligations. Procrastination is simply stress in the making. Because everything becomes last minute, quality often suffers and the consequences are often negative. To be charitable, procrastination is almost a rite of passage during teen years so maybe the solution is for a bit of give and take where this is possible.
- Exercise: More and more evidence points towards a little regular exercise as a safe and natural means of stress reduction and builder of resilience. Just a little exercise can be fun and doesn’t need to be expensive.
- Diet: A well rounded diet isn’t just about doing what people think is good for you. Well, in fact it is, but that’s because a diet of processed foods and sweet drinks has a profound effect on mood. Fruit, fiber and avoidance of junk foods will quite simply make you feel better.
- Sleep: Not much guidance required here you may be thinking. And you may be correct. However the pattern of sleep with many teens is really disrupted and can have a powerful and negative effect on mood. Sleep is restorative but it needs to be regular and not alcohol fueled.
- Self regulation: My final tip is about finding your limits and staying within them. If you experience stress it means something is out of kilter and whatever that is has stepped outside your comfort zone. We can learn to cope with stress as we get older and your limits can adjust accordingly. Take the example of an over-ambitious teen. They may set goals they are able to achieve, but at a cost. The cost may simply be set against some other activity or it may be chipping away at their wellbeing. Kids often do things to please others rather than themselves, so it can be important for parents not to set the bar too high and to encourage a rounded life. To feel a little stretched is good but to be stretched to breaking point is good for nothing.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.