Teens and Stress: Learning to Cope in a Demanding World
Adults know first hand the demands and stress of being a productive member of society, while trying to maintain some sort of a social life. While some of us are better than others at managing stress and keeping our lives in order, enough to keep it at bay, those who aren’t as organized or don’t know how to properly manage stress, can suffer daily.
Though being young may seem miles easier, many teens often feel a great amount of stress in their young lives on an almost daily basis. Teens in high school often face the greatest amount of stress as they deal with the pressures of school, home life, social pressures, and doing their best to get into a good college or university.
Just like many adults, however, coping with stress is not a skill often taught to teens. Simply growing up and accepting a changing body often doesn’t help either. Many teens may not have to deal with a full time job, children, or mounting bills, but their lives are far from the fun and games many adults believe come with young age.
The Dangers of Unchecked Stress
The physical damage caused by stress has been well documented by medical science. According to an article from webmd.com, 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
Some of the common ailments from stress include headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common forms of anxiety disorders found in teenagers. The disorder can start as early as six years old but generally begins around the age of 11. Some of the symptoms of associated with this type of anxiety include:
- Uncontrollable Worry or Stress
- Difficulty Concentrating or Focusing
- Muscle Tension
- Sleep Problems
Because of the many stresses in life we must all deal with on a daily basis, an inability to properly manage stress could lead to significant medical problems. In the same article from webmd.com, 75%-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
Stress, however, is an unavoidable fact of life. At any given point of the day or the week, something may not go our way or an unexpected event may cause us worry, doubt, or feel depressed. It is only when stress becomes a daily experience, when it begins to affect how you work, study, or sleep, that it becomes a hindrance to our quality of life that it must be dealt with in a responsible manner. Adults and teens can both benefit techniques geared towards managing stress levels. While life experiences and circumstances may be different for an adult or teen, the effects from stress affect everyone equally.
The Usual Suspects of Stress
Part of learning how to deal with stress is recognizing the things in life causing the stress in the first place.
For teens, the second largest cause of stress is school. The prospect of the future after high school, the stress of trying to get into the right college or university, and rush to make sure everything is in place for graduation can be incredibly overwhelming. Post high school plans are just a segment of worries when considering studying, exams, extra curricular activities, volunteering responsibilities, home life, and perhaps a part time job. When all these extras are taken into consideration, it’s easy to understand how the life of a teen can be incredibly stressful.
Without proper planning and stress management, all of the everyday responsibilities in life can become overwhelming. Life will end up feeling like the world is crashing down without any relief in sight. Many teens, just like adults, may turn to alcohol or drugs or anything that may temporarily relieve the stresses of life even if just for a few moments.
Taking Stress Down a Few Notches
Though stress is a natural part of life and some is always to be expected, it doesn’t have to control us mentally and physically. Only when adults and teens fail to do something constructive about the amount of stress in their lives is when it begins to take its toll on the mind and body. Stress often makes teens retreat to the solitude of their bedroom where they can be alone to process their thoughts. However, this often does more harm than good as dwelling on stress causes more stress, and could ultimately lead to depressive thoughts of things never getting better.
Thankfully, there are many ways to combat stress that are suitable for both adults and teens. Dealing with stress requires taking care of both the mind and body equally. A combination of physical activities and mental exercises can help keep control stress and even keep it at bay.
Get Up and Start Moving
One of the easiest ways to start moving, is to simply get up. Sitting around and doing nothing allows us to dwell on our stress and let it consume us mentally. But getting out and expelling energy doing something is a great way to begin to get a handle on stress.
Practically anything that involves exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Common exercises such as walking, running, jogging, yoga, or weight lifting are more than adequate. Sports are another great example such as football, baseball, golf, swimming, or cycling. Hiking, backpacking, and camping also take us away from the regular world for a little while and help the mind relax.
Turn Off Your Brain and Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers require between eight and ten hours of sleep per night to be able to function properly. Unfortunately, only approximately 18% of teenagers stated they were able to get eight hours of sleep at night.
One of the main reasons why teens aren’t sleeping as well as they could is because of the ever increasing dependency on technology. Both adults and teens often take cell phones, laptops, or tablets to bed with them, increasing their exposure to harmful blue light. Blue light, according to Harvard Medical School, is often responsible for poor quality sleep as it interrupts a person’s natural circadian rhythm.
To get better sleep at night, take an hour to relax before you’re ready to sleep. Avoid television and video games as they’ll stimulate your mind. Instead, read a book with soft lighting or do a bit of meditation to calm your mind for the night. Don’t drink sugary drinks or anything containing caffeine at least two hours before bed, as it could keep you up longer.
Enjoy Life By Enjoying Life
Instead of using free time by allowing your mind to wander about stressful things, do the things you enjoy instead. Find the time in your schedule to relax and do something that brings you happiness, whether it’s listening to music, playing video games, visiting with friends, or being creative.
Artistic people often use their stress or emotions as the basis for their creative works like painting, sculpture, or drawing. Because creativity requires a level of concentration, focusing on being creative will keep you from worrying about the stresses of everyday life.
Planning and Finding Balance
Teens tend to deal with things as they come and often don’t understand the benefits of dealing with life one problem at a time. Instead, they become overwhelmed with so many responsibilities and either lose track or give up trying to do everything that needs done.
This is easily avoidable by some simple planning. Make a calendar of all the tasks needing done by a certain time, whether they’re tests, assignments, events, or a work schedule. Tasks are much easier to handle when they’re visible.
Schedule time to work on each task until it’s completed, making sure to schedule time to do the things you want to do so there is an equal amount of work and play time. By looking at a schedule, it’s easier to make a determination on how time you actually have to do things. Don’t overschedule your week when you know it will be impossible to make time for many more things, especially if it means sacrificing time for yourself.
Remember, it’s always alright to say no to a friend if you simply don’t have the time in your schedule to hang out or do things. Part of being an adult means knowing your limitations and when to say “no,” even when you don’t want to.
You’re More than Just Your Stress
Each and every person has good qualities about themselves. Perhaps, you’re great at playing an instrument, good with numbers, or great at working with your hands. Determine what your special qualities or talents are and show them off a bit.
For example, if you’re great at doing math, consider making some time to tutor someone who isn’t. Great at playing an instrument? Teach someone to play or join someone who plays a great complimentary instrument and have a jam session. If you’re an artist, create something awesome. Art is always best shared, so never be afraid to show off your creations.
Volunteering and helping others with something you’re good at will often make you happy because it doesn’t feel stressful. Bringing your best qualities forward and sharing them with others will make you and everyone around you happy. It’s hard to be stressed out when you’re feeling happy. Often, in moments of happiness, we can experience a moment of clarity and see that many of the things stressing us out can be overcome.
Always Make Time to Talk
Bottling up your emotions and deciding to deal with your stress and problems on your own isn’t usually the best decision. Instead of closing off yourself to friends and family, let someone know you’re under a lot of stress. Talk about all of the things bothering you and ask them to let you vent for a while. Sometimes, just being able to talk about your stress out loud is enough to deal with it for a little while.
Pretending to be fine when you’re not can lead to troubles later. While it’s fine to be strong for others in their time of need, it’s perfectly alright to admit sometimes you have your own struggles. Absolutely no one is perfect and it’s more than alright to ask for help.
If you’re not comfortable talking to a parent or friend, consider talking to a counselor at school about what you’re feeling. Let them know how you’re feeling and get advice from them on ways you can better deal with the issues causing you stress, whether it’s school, home life, financial struggles, or post high school decisions. When help is offered, always take advantage of it when you need it and never feel too ashamed or proud to admit you sometimes need help.
And Finally… Relax
It might seem easier said than done, but it’s a mantra to replay in your head when life seems to be getting out of hand. Life is always going to have stressful moments that can’t be avoided. Whether it’s a surprise bad grade, sickness, family emergency, or anything that changes your plans significantly, panicking and overstressing will not make the situation any better. Take a deep breath, assess the situation calmly, and figure out the best way to deal with it if you have to deal with it at all.
There’s no reason to take on the world all on your own. Whether you’re dealing with your stress by working out, being creative and letting your emotions flow through your art instead, or simply sitting down with someone and talking about all of the things bothering you, never feel as though you’re on your own. Find happiness in dealing with one problem at a time and removing the pile of things causing you stress.
Remember to take time for yourself when you can get it and do the things that make you happy. School may be a big part of life, but it’s not the center of the universe. Take one problem at a time and work through everything in a planned way so you can see how you can tackle everything easier.
And most importantly: relax. Everything will be alright.