When I think about stress, I reflect on the significant amount of teens that come into my office tearfully saying they can’t take it anymore. They are upset about the daily pressures of life and that no one appears to be listening to them. Many teens complain about the amount of homework they have, feeling alone, feeling misunderstood, feeling stressed, depressed, anxious, and or not having the support they need from their parents and teachers. The American Psychological Association, 2013, Stress in America study, reveals that teens experiences with stress follow similar patterns as adults. “In fact during the school year, teens say their stress level is higher than levels reported by adults.” Teens suffering from stress feel the same level of anxiety that adults feel and often have the same symptoms like, lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and withdrawing from activities like sports, or socializing with their peers. Another concerning factor according to the study American Psychological Association Survey; http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/02/teen-stress.aspx, is that teens feel "overwhelmed (31 percent) and depressed or sad (30 percent) as a result of this stress. The study also reports that “more than one-third of teens report fatigue or feeling tired (36 percent) and nearly one-quarter of teens (23 percent) indicate skipping a meal." Since more than 1 in 10 teens (13 percent) never set aside time to manage their stress according to the American Psychological Association study what can we do?
1) Set aside a quiet time in classrooms to help students relax and unwind just from the transition of walking through the hallways. Give teens soft music to help them refocus their energies and get prepared to do classwork. Be supportive when teens tell you about their struggles and listen for times when you need to send the teen to the counselor for more support.
2) Develop a sense of humor. We have all heard the adage that laughter is good medicine or good for the soul. Laughter can help teens relax and feel less depressed.
3) Help teens learn effective ways to manage their thoughts through psycho-education which will result in calming behaviors and decreased negative self-talk. Psycho-education involves looking at four parameters; describing the situation, listening to ideas that come to mind, understanding the feelings behind the encounter, and changing behavior to decrease stress. Everyone can learn to manage their behavior and understanding how a situation produces thoughts, leading to feelings, leading to action, is a positive step in learning how to deal with stress effectively.
4) Help teens learn to balance all of their activities. Teens should have balanced activities and learn to find their true passions whether its sports, music, science or the arts. Being a busy person does not mean that you are a successful person, you may just be wearing yourself out. Many teens have no idea what they like because they follow their peers without thinking until it is too late. Help teens learn to find their unique voice through activities they love.
5) Have teens seek support through the school counseling office where trained professionals can help them process their feelings and provide them with individual counseling for those stressful events at school.
6) Learn to breathe and help teens learn to manage their stress by taking some deep breaths. In counseling, we help teens learn how to be more mindful by putting into perspective what their priorities are and learning to deal with the current event. When students come to my office upset, I get them to focus on the here and now and complete a series of breathing exercises. Mindfulness practice help them relax and understand the situation at the moment. It also helps them to reduce the negative thoughts they are having about past events.
7) Decrease the amount of screen time (television, gaming, and social media) that teens experience daily. It is hard to set this boundary sometimes for parents, but teens are using the technology to compare themselves to others, get into conflict with others, bully others, and notify others of their intent to harm or commit suicide.
8) Model healthy ways to cope with stress. Remember teens learn what they see modeled in front of them. So as adults we have to learn to practice practical coping skills. We have to model effective communication, problem-solving, setting priorities, balance, and breathing.