Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Back to Basics

Teaching teens to cope with stress and anxiety.

Igor Yaruta/Deposit Photos
Source: Igor Yaruta/Deposit Photos

Our nation is filled with stressed out teens. Did you know that anxiety affects about one third of youth in the U.S.? According to the Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report, anxiety is the most common childhood disorder among teens ages 13–18. Sadly, 80 percent of youth do not receive treatment for their condition. What’s more concerning is teens are experiencing anxiety levels that mirror or extend beyond the level adults report. During a school year, teens actually report higher stress levels than adults!

What is contributing to such high levels of teen stress? Ask any teen and you'll most likely hear one of the following things on their top list of stressors.

Top 5 Things that Stress Out Teens

  1. School/Homework
  2. Parents/Family
  3. Social Life/Friendships
  4. Time
  5. Extracurricular Activities/Sports

With the go-go-go and race to the top mentality, it’s no wonder today’s teens are more stressed than adults. Unfortunately, many teens lack the coping skills to deal with the amount of stress they face. Youth who are not taught healthy coping techniques may resort to unhealthy and destructive behaviors such as drug use, self-injury, promiscuity and other impulsive and risky behaviors. How do we help teens reduce stress? The answer doesn’t come from any academician, nor scholarly source. The answer is as simple as going back to the basics.

Three Basic Ways to Combat Stress and Anxiety

Oksana Kuzmina/Deposit Photos
Source: Oksana Kuzmina/Deposit Photos

Basic #1 – Nutrition

The body needs fuel to survive and bad fuel leads to poor performance. Research shows that when teens are stressed they often opt for ease and convenience which often translates to unhealthy foods. In looking at obesity statistics, our teens are unhealthier today than ever before. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970's. Currently, nearly one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity. Aside from choosing unhealthy options, many of the foods teens opt to eat can contribute to and exacerbate their level of stress, such as caffeine and sugar. On the flip side, no fuel is bad fuel. Some teens don’t eat at all when they’re stressed. According to the American Psychological Association nearly 23 percent of teens report skipping a meal in the past month because of stress. Equally concerning is that 39 percent admit to skipping meals weekly.

Leung Cho Pan/Deposit Photos
Source: Leung Cho Pan/Deposit Photos

Basic #2 – Sleep

Sleep is another great way to neutralize anxiety and stress. Unfortunately, teens aren’t getting enough sleep and report sleeping less than the recommended 8 to 10 hours per night (National Sleep Foundation). About two-thirds of 17-year-olds report sleeping less than seven hours a night. About one in five teens report that when they don't get enough sleep, they feel more stressed. So bottom line, in order to unwind, it’s important to get plenty of “ZZZ” time.

Inara Prusakova/Deposit Photos
Source: Inara Prusakova/Deposit Photos

Basic #3 – Exercise

Exercise has so many great benefits, such as improving mood, increasing energy, and decreasing stress. With benefits like those, it’s a mystery why so many people report that they don’t do it regularly. In fact, a survey found that only 20 percent of youth exercise once a week, if at all. What do stressed out teens do to chill? According to research, it’s not physical, that’s for sure. When teens were polled about how they cope with stress, their responses were listen to music, play electronic games, or watch TV. Teens who report high stress during the past school year report spending an average of 3.2 hours online each day, compared with 2 hours among those reporting low stress levels. According to the American Psychological Association, using sedentary behaviors to cope with life stress can lead to serious health problems.

José Manuel Gelpi Díaz/Deposit Photos
Source: José Manuel Gelpi Díaz/Deposit Photos

Today’s teens are stressed to the max. Many lack the necessary coping skills they need to deal with stress. With hormonal changes, academic pressure, peer relationships, increased responsibility, and an over scheduled life, is it any wonder why teens are overwhelmed? In order to help this young population, we have to go back to the basics: nutrition, sleep and exercise. Without these bare necessities, it’s difficult to counteract stress and anxiety. The key to healthy coping is going back to the basics of self-care.


American Psychological Association:

Child Mind Institute. 2015 Children’s Mental Health Report.

Merikangas, K.R., He, J., Burstein, M., Swanson, S.A., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., Benjet, C., Georgiades, K., Swendsen, J., (2010). Lifetime Prevalence of Mental Disorders in US Adolescents: Results from the National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 49(10): 980-989. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2010.05.017

National Sleep Foundation:…

More from Raychelle Cassada Lohmann Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Raychelle Cassada Lohmann Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today