Teen Stress and Anxiety

Teenagers experience stress every day and can benefit from learning stress management skills. School demands and social relationships are UNLIKE anything we as parents have ever imagined. Technology, blurred boundaries, academic expectations, and the daily bombardment of hypersexualized media are just some of the stressors facing teens today. Most teens do not have the skills needed to cope with teen anxiety and these stressors. Unchecked stress can lead to anxiety, depression, aggression, physical illness, and drug and/or alcohol use. The Partnership for a Drug Free America states that 73% of teenagers reported that school stress was the primary reason for drug use. Some sources of stress for teens might include:

    • negative thoughts and feelings about themselves
    • school demands and frustrations
    • changes in their bodies
    • problems with friends and/or peers at school
    • unsafe living environment/neighborhood
    • separation or divorce of parents
    • chronic illness or severe problems in the family
    • death of a loved one
    • moving or changing schools
    • taking on too many activities or having too high expectations
    • family financial problems

(American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)

When humans react to stress or danger a physiological response occurs in our minds and bodies to prepare us to respond to danger. This “fight, flight, or freeze” response includes faster heart and breathing rate, increased blood to muscles of arms and legs, cold or clammy hands and feet, upset stomach and/or a sense of dread.

The same is true for a relaxation response. As soon as we decide that a situation is no longer dangerous, changes can occur in our minds and bodies to help us relax and calm down. This relaxation response was studied by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Mind Body Institute. It includes decreased heart and breathing rate and a sense of well-being. Teens that develop a relaxation response with the use of stress management skills become healthier, happier, more balanced individuals giving them more choices when responding to stress. Simply taking a deep breath before reacting can change the course of a teens life.

Parents can help their teen in these ways:

  • Monitor if stress is affecting their teen’s health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings
  • Listen carefully to teens and watch for overloading
  • Learn and model stress management skills
  • Support involvement in sports and other pro-social activities

Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:

  • Exercise and eat regularly
  • Avoid excess caffeine intake which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation
  • Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco
  • Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques)
  • Develop assertiveness training skills. For example, state feelings in polite firm and not overly aggressive or passive ways: (“I feel angry when you yell at me” “Please stop yelling.”)
  • Rehearse and practice situations which cause stress. One example is taking a speech class if talking in front of a class makes you anxious
  • Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks
  • Decrease negative self talk: challenge negative thoughts about yourself with alternative neutral or positive thoughts. “My life will never get better” can be transformed into “My life will get better if I work at it and get some help”
  • Learn to feel good about doing a competent or “good enough” job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others
  • Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress
  • Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way

By using these and other techniques, teenagers can begin to manage stress. If a teen talks about or shows signs of being overly stressed, a consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or qualified mental health professional may be helpful.

(American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)

Quick Fact: Teenagers need as much sleep as small children (about 10 hrs) while those over 65 need the least of all (about six hours). For the average adult aged 25-55, eight hours is considered optimal.

Indigo Dreams: Teen Relaxation Music helps teens fall asleep quicker and sleep more peacefully. Now available in mp3 downloads for iPods or other devices. Warning: This is not your Mother’s music!

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Stress Free Kids founder Lori Lite has created a line of books and CDs designed to help children, teens, and adults decrease stress, anxiety, and anger. Ms. Lite’s books, CDs, and lesson plans are considered a resource for parents, psychologists, therapists, child life specialists, teachers, and yoga instructors. Lori is a certified children’s meditation facilitator and  Sears’ Manage My Life parenting expert. For more information visit  Stress Free Kids and for daily advice follow Lori on Twitter and  Facebook .