Stress is often uncomfortable, but good stress is completely necessary. A healthy amount of stress helps us navigate difficult situations, identify potential emergencies and keeps us alert, focused and task oriented.
Negative or excessive stress can wreak havoc on the body and mind. Like adults, teens experience stress when they perceive situations as dangerous, painful and overwhelming. When these situations occur, immediate chemical and physical changes occur.
Stress in Teens
To protect themselves, your teen will likely go into “fight, flight or freeze.” Physically, this occurs as an increased heart rate and breathing, clammy hands and feet, upset stomach, headaches, low energy, ringing in ears and trouble breathing. What can be even more overwhelming are the changes that happen in your child’s brain. During “fight, flight or freeze,” your child’s ability to access the decision-making part of the brain is impaired, making it almost impossible to use logic and reasoning to process the situation they are experiencing. A prolonged exposure to this overload of stress can cause mental and physical symptoms such as anxiety, depression, withdrawal, aggressive behavior, stomach ulcers, changes in sleep patterns or dependence on unhealthy coping strategies such as drugs and alcohol.
How You Can Help
As a parent, it can be very difficult to watch your child suffer with anxiety and stress. Helping your child name the trigger and develop coping skills and relaxation techniques can help break the vicious cycle. The first step is helping your teen assess their current level of stress and identifying the cause of activation. The most crucial part is then to validate their feelings by empathizing and providing support. Listen to your teen and do your best to help create a space that they feel safe and supported. One way to help provide this support is helping them create a stress management plan.
Steps for a Stress Management Plan
Step 1: Have your teen write down everything that is currently bothering them or what they feel could be causing their negative stress.
- Common Triggers
- Grades/Test Anxiety
- Family Needs
- Fear of Failure
- Performance Pressure
- World Events
- Peer Rejection/Acceptance
Step 2: Help Identify what from their list is actually in their control by highlighting those triggers and crossing off the rest. This step provides a visual that allows your teen to see where they are focusing.
Step 3: Design the plan around the things highlighted or circled, shifting the focus on what is in their control like thoughts, feelings, choices and behaviors.
Step 4: Help your child find activities and practical coping mechanisms that help control their emotional response to the designated triggering event. Specifically label which coping skill will be used for a particular event, reducing any potential ambiguity.
- Monitoring mental chatter for negative thoughts and/or all or nothing thinking
- Focus on solutions rather than how unfair the current situation seems
- Take a mental break
- Deep breathing, meditation and/or yoga
- Regular Exercise and spending time outside
- Participation in extracurricular events
- Making time for hobbies and interests
- Seeking social supports
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 qualified mental health professional may be helpful. PPCD is here to help. Contact one of our mental health professionals today to Get Started.