Are you (or if you’re a parent, your teen) feeling stressed? You’re not alone. All people experience some sort of stress, but teen stress is reaching an all time high. From school to social media, our friends to our parents…the pressures of every day life just keep on growing. And while some level of stress can be healthy, high levels of stress can interfere with our abilities to learn, to create and sustain relationships, and even to manage our own emotions and overall mood.
Teens who feel such high levels of stress end up exhausted: physically, emotionally, and mentally. This is the trickiest part of teen stress because once exhaustion settles in, both our mental states and physical bodies naturally become dysregulated. Dysregulation manifests differently for everyone, but might include:
Feeling Irritable or Restless
Being Unable to Concentrate
Isolation From Social Activities, Friends, and/or Family
Frequent Headaches or an Upset Stomach
Feeling Tired All the Time
Being Unable to Fall Asleep
Procrastination and/or Academic Frustrations
A Rapid Heartbeat
And Many Others…
The more dysregulated we become, the more likely we’ll experience some form of anxiety or panic. Together, they then create what seems like a never-ending cycle:
The good news is that teen stress is manageable with a little bit of skill and support. Here are 5 concrete ways to help reduce and manage teen stress and anxiety:
01. Understand the Causes.
Like I said, a little bit of stress can be healthy. But when your stress starts to become unmanageable, you may begin to feel exhausted or anxious. These are warning signs that your stress could be evolving into something unhealthy. The very last thing you want to do in this moment is ignore your stress, even though it naturally feels exactly like what you want to do. Instead, when these warning signs start to pop up, stop and identify what is causing you to feel stressed. Homework? Household chores? A fight with your parents (or friends)? All of the above?
Once you know, list out which of your stressors you can manage by yourself (i.e. your chores, maybe your homework) and which of your stressors involve participation from others (i.e. your parents, your friends). Start by tackling the stressors you can do by yourself and break them into smaller pieces, then do one small piece at a time while taking breaks as you see necessary. When you get through the stressors that you can do by yourself, you’ll feel both productive and a little more clear-minded. And then, you’ll have an easier time approaching the stressors that involve others.
02. Determine What Can Be Controlled.
One of the hardest parts about teen stress and teen anxiety is that even the tiniest of tasks seems impossible. If your schedule includes extracurriculars, homework, helping around the house, and more, things might not just seem overwhelming, they are overwhelming. Which means that there is validity in the fact that teens are managing impossible schedules. When faced with the impossible teen schedule, it is important to step back and actually ask, “Is what I’m trying to do an impossible task?” Because it might very well be so.
Determine what can actually be controlled (and parents, use your authority here): Prioritize your tasks and your schedule. Sleep is more important than a change in grades, you can quit an extracurricular if you want, and it is okay to half-ass your homework. Really, I promise.
03. Find Help, Like Seeing a Therapist (or Joining Our Teen Chat Group).
As stress and anxiety unfold, connecting with people who understand what you’re going through it vital. The problem is - not everyone goes around advertising their stress or anxiety. In fact, our use of social media has made it easier than ever to hide it. This is where individual counseling or group therapy can create a safe haven for you to share your stress, normalize it, and even make changes to help eliminate it. Both types of therapy have their pros and cons, and you might find that you like one over the other, or that you want to have both at the same time. Regardless of where you land, find a therapist or a therapy group, like our Teen Chat Group, that can provide you with some additional support around your stress. You’ll be happy that you did.
04. Create a Stress & Anxiety Plan
Take the time to know what you want to do to manage your stress so that you can help prevent your own cycle of anxiety. My personal favorite is using a Bubble Map and listing out all the ways you might want to identify and tackle your stress. Things you may want to list could include:
Any warning signs that you are starting to feel stressed or anxious
People, places, things, or even memories you want to avoid
Things you can let go of and/or what you want to prioritize so that your brain can stop worrying
Ways to take care of your body and relax (sleeping, exercising, deep breaths, taking a bath, prayer, etc.)
Who you can talk to about feeling stressed and/or handling your workload
05. Check-up on Your Stress & Anxiety.
And most importantly, check-up on your stress, anxiety, and any plans you made involving them. The more you learn how to manage your stress and anxiety, the more you will realize what will work for you and what won’t work for you. In fact, you might learn that something that has been working for you may stop working for you down the road. It is okay to change your plan and to let your stress unfold in different ways. After all, you are only human and you are doing the best with what you know.
If you (or your teen) feel like you’re struggling with stress or anxiety, you are far from alone. Both stress and anxiety are manageable, and most teens can learn to cope with both stress and anxiety with a little bit of skill and support.
Until Next Time,
Lena McCain, MA | Teen & Young Adult Therapist, Founder
About Lena McCain, MA
Lena McCain is our Tween, Teen, and Twenty-Somethings Therapist as well as Founder here at Interfaith Bridge Counseling. She holds a Masters in Clinical Mental Health: Mindfulness-based Transpersonal Counseling Psychology from Naropa University and is an LPC candidate. Her drive and passions lie in the realm of Interfaith Relations and Youth Collaboration, which she brings to Interfaith Bridge Counseling with over 12 years of experience and with an emphasis on one’s discovery of self, spirituality, and multicultural diversity. Lena’s expertise in spirituality and the therapeutic world acts as a reminder to our community, teens, and young adults that they are not alone in their experience of life.