5 Tips for Helping Teens Cope with Stress
Teens suffer high stress and need your help to cope.
Posted Feb 22, 2014
The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released its Stress in America report (the full report can be found here). This year the report highlighted the stress experienced by American youth (ages 13-17) stating "high stress and ineffective coping mechanisms appear to be ingrained in our culture." Since the survey has begun, it has continued to find that American adults report higher stress levels than what they believe to be healthy. For example, recent results indicated that adults report that stress impacts their physical health (30 percent) and mental health (33 percent). This APA report continues to drive home one important message, “We need to improve our health system to equally address both physical and mental health.”
The Stress in America report found that American teens report stress levels higher than what they believe is healthy (5.8 on a 10-point scale, a healthy level is 3.9). As you may imagine, school was rated the most common source of stress for American teens. Some 83 percent reported school as a significant source of stress. As a clinical psychologist, I often work with teens and their families to combat this stress. Stress that is related to school has a significant negative impact on teens’ mental health. Additionally, it often makes home life difficult for the entire family.
Although teens reported significant stress, they appear to be poor judges of the impact stress has on their health and mental health. According to the survey, 54 percent reported that stress has no impact on their physical health and 52 percent reported it has no impact on their mental health. "Stress affects teens' health and well-being whether or not they know it," states the APA survey. Despite teens reporting that stress has little or no impact on their mental health, the following symptoms were noted over the past month: irritability or anger (40 percent), feeling nervous or anxious (36 percent), feeling like crying (32 percent), and being depressed or sad (30 percent).
Coping with Stress
According to the APA Stress in America report, 42 percent of teens indicated not doing anything to cope with their stress or not knowing what to do to manage it. This is a significant concern given the impact stress can have on our lives. The Stress in America report also noted that physical activity is a great way to manage stress and "teens who engaged in physical activity for stress management reported lower stress levels." In a recent post, I discussed many ways to increase physical activity to manage stress. Parents can also play a vital role in modeling healthy lifestyles and promoting physical activity by encouraging their kids to join sports teams, engaging in activities as a family such as dancing, or finding ways to exercise that don’t cost money, walking or going to the park.
Here are additional suggestions for coping with stress from the APA (2014).
Get some sleep
Between homework, activities and hanging with friends, it can be hard to get enough sleep, especially during the school week. Ideally, adolescents should get nine hours a night. To maximize the chance of sleeping soundly, cut back on watching TV or engaging in a lot of screen time in the late evening hours. Don’t drink caffeine late in the day and try not to do stimulating activities too close to bedtime.
Focus on your strengths
Spend some time really thinking about the things you’re good at, and find ways to do more of those things. If you’re a math ace, you might tutor a younger neighbor who’s having trouble with the subject. If you are a spiritual person, you might volunteer at your church. If you’re artistic, take a photography class. Focusing on your strengths will help you keep your stress in perspective.
Engage in physical activity
Physical activity is one of the most effective stress busters. That doesn’t mean you have to go for a jog if you hate running. Find activities you enjoy and build them into your routine such as yoga, hiking, biking, skateboarding, or walking. The best types of physical activities are those that have a social component. Whether you’re into team sports, or prefer kayaking or rollerblading with a friend or two, you’re more likely to have fun — and keep at it — if you’re being active with friends.
Do things that make you happy
Besides physical activities, find other hobbies or activities that bring you joy. That might be listening to music, going to the movies, or drawing. Keep doing these things even when you’re stressed and busy.
Talk to someone
It’s so much easier to manage stress when you let others lend a hand. Talk to a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult. They may be able to help you find new ways to manage stress. Or they may help put you in touch with a psychologist who is trained in helping people make healthy choices and manage stress.
Copyright Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D. 2014
The following resources may be helpful to you and your family to locate services to manage stressMental Health Treatment Locator Locate a Psychologist
American Psychological Association (2014). Teens and Stress: How to keep stress in check. Retrieved February 2014 from apa.org/helpcenter/stress-teens