By Jen Stolka, Certified Prevention Specialist
“My chest feels tight. My mind bounces from one thought to another. My palms are sweating, and I cannot seem to shake these feelings of being overwhelmed,” shared a local teen when asked what happens when she is stressed out. “Make good decisions.” “Do not fail that test on Friday.” “Do not be late for work.” “Pick up your little sister after school.” “Beat the Warriors on Friday.” “You are coming to my party on Saturday, right?” “Do you like my new outfit?” These are just a few phrases that teens hear on any given day. Our youth are pulled in so many directions, they often feel themselves coming, going, and never truly enjoying the moment. Over the years, youth have taken on all sorts of extras, and they are not allowing for “down time” in their lives. They run on fumes until they break. Teens are taking on multiple activities like sports, drama, band, chorus, and even a job. Then add in time for family, friends, homework, and home life. One Fayette County teen said,“We do not have any ‘me time’ because we feel like we have to be involved and make time for our friends. We do not want to miss out on anything, and we want to make sure we fit in.” Another teen laughed and said, “I wish I could have a pause button some days, just so I could sit a minute and do nothing without feeling guilty.” When I asked why she feels guilty for taking time for herself, she responded, “Because I should either be helping out at home, or I should be hanging with my friends so they do not get mad.”
Teens misunderstand the impact stress has.
In 2014, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a study showing that although teens reported significant stress, they appear to be poor judges of the impact stress has on their physical and mental health. According to the survey, 54% reported that stress has no impact on their physical health, and 52% reported it has no impact on their mental health. “Stress affects teens’ health and well-being whether or not they know it,” states APA. Despite the teens’ responses about stress, the survey also showed that teens experienced the following symptoms during the past month: 40% showed irritability or anger, 36% experienced feelings of nervousness or anxiety, 32% felt like crying, and 30% reported being depressed or sad (E. Turner).
It is vital to teach teens stress management.
Teens can have difficulty managing their stress levels because they are not skilled at recognizing stress or have not been taught how to manage it. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that teens who do not adequately manage their stress are more prone to anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or poor coping skills such as drug and/or alcohol use. As adults, we need to teach and model healthy stress management:
- Monitor and step in when a youth seems to be on overload. Help them prioritize their schedules, and make sure they include activities that make them happy.
- Ask them where the pressure is coming from: themselves, parents, friends?
- Help them set their own practical boundaries, allowing them to have downtime and to get enough sleep. Nine hours is recommended.
- Listen to what they are saying. Be available. Just talking it out often helps.
- Support their involvement in activities so they do not feel alone.
- Talk to them about their self-worth and encourage positive self-talk. Help them find and focus on their strengths.
- Model healthy stress management yourself. Evaluate how you recognize and handle stress. How does it affect you?
Everyone needs an outlet in order to vent, share feelings and thoughts, or just have a good cry. Teens are no exception. They are not superhumans who can give 110% every day to everyone. As parents, grandparents, friends’ parents, aunts, and uncles, we need to be present in the lives of our youth and assist them as they travel the roads of their teenage years. When they become adults, they will have built a skill set that allows them to navigate the roads of adulthood. They can then pass along important skills for managing stress to future teens.