Teens and Stress: Practical Coping Skills

Practical strategies to cope with stress

Posted Jan 30, 2015

We all experience stress at some point in our lives. No matter your age, gender, ethnicity, or cultural background, stress can cause you to feel over-emotional or lead to health difficulties. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), stress is the brain's response to any demand. Stress may result from a number of life situations that becoming overwhelming.

Possible causes of stress include:

  • Moving to a new home
  • Preparing for an important test
  • Changing schools
  • Dealing with life transitions (e.g., parent’s divorce, ending a relationship)

How does stress affect your overall health?

Our bodies respond to stress in various ways and these stress responses differ for each individual. Research reports that stress may lead to sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger and irritability (NIMH, 2015). People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold, and vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them (NIMH, 2015). Over time, continued stress may lead to serious health problems (e.g., heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety disorder). Therefore, it is important to recognize when you become stress and to find ways to cope with your stress to prevent further difficulties.

Suggestions for teens to cope with stress

Below are a few practical steps to maintain your health and decrease stress:

  • Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional and other support. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations to reduce stress due to work burdens or family issues, such as caring for a loved one.
  • Recognize signs of your body's response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Set priorities-decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload.
  • Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Avoid dwelling on problems. If you can't do this on your own, seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can guide you.
  • Exercise regularly-just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress.
  • Schedule regular times for healthy and relaxing activities.
  • Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises.
  • Seek help from a qualified mental health care provider if you are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, have suicidal thoughts, or are using drugs or alcohol to cope.

Additional resources for professional help:

You can visit the sites below for resources or to find a psychologist or therapist in your community.

  • American Psychological Association http://locator.apa.org
  • National Register of Health Service Psychologist http://www.findapsychologist.org
  • If you or someone close to you is in crisis, call the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Copyright 2015 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.

About the Author

Erlanger Turner, Ph.D. – often referred to by his clients as Dr. Earl – is a Clinical Psychologist in Houston, Texas. He is also an Assistant Professor of Psychology and teaches courses on clinical psychology and multicultural issues. Dr. Turner specializes in child and adolescent disorders, parenting, and psychological assessment. His research interests focus on psychotherapy use, mental health equity, access to behavioral health services for youth. He has published articles in scholarly journals and in national media sources such as New York Times, and Washington’s Top News (http://wtop.com/).

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National Institute of Mental Health (2015). Fact sheet on stress. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml