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Stress in Teenagers – What is it ?

Teenagers undergo various types of stress at home, school and outside. Stress is the way our body responds to challenges. Stress gets us ready to face challenge. When we feel that we can cope with these challenges, stress gives us the motivation to get things done or it may create problem when we are not capable to handle or cope up with stress. Finally,  stress is going to take a toll on our health.

Signs of stress in teenagers

Signs of stress in teenagers can show up in their behavior, emotions, body and thinking. Changes in your child’s behavior might include:

  • withdrawing from friendship groups or activities she usually enjoys
  • seeming nervous or anxious
  • sleeping too little or too much
  • eating more ‘comfort food’ / eating less
  • wanting to be by herself more than usual
  • crying
  • refusing to go to school
  • having emotional ‘ups and downs’ for no obvious reason
  • having less energy than usual
  • being aggressive and rude
  • going down in schoolwork or results
  • not caring about her appearance
  • behaving differently in her relationship with you – for example, suddenly not talking to you.

You might also see some changes in your child’s emotions, such as:

  • being cranky or moody
  • feeling sad, down or hopeless
  • feeling worthless
  • finding it hard to relax or switch off
  • getting more angry more than usual
  • feeling that ‘nothing is going right’
  • feeling like he’s on an ‘emotional rollercoaster ride’.

Sometimes you might see physical signs of stress. Your child might be:

  • feeling sick – for example, headaches, shoulder pain, stomach aches, jaw pain
  • not being hungry
  • saying she feels more tired than usual, even if she’s getting enough sleep
  • losing or gaining weight
  • getting frequent colds or infections
  • having panic attacks, dizzy spells, fast breathing or pins and needles
  • having changes in her period.

Finally stress can affect your child’s thinking. You might notice that he or she is:

  • finding it hard to concentrate and stay focused
  • losing the thread of thoughts or conversations
  • having trouble remembering things
  • making snap decisions or errors in judgment
  • having trouble organizing and planning or making decisions
  • getting confused or irrational.

Other causes of stress in teenagers

Some of the things that cause stress in teenagers include study worries, looking after other family members, friendships, family conflict, body image, work, bullying, discrimination, alcohol and other drug use, tension between cultural worlds, high personal expectations or high expectations from parents, teachers and friends.

  • school demands and frustrations
  • negative thoughts and feelings about themselves
  • changes in their bodies
  • problems with friends and/or peers at school
  • unsafe living environment/neighborhood
  • separation or divorce of parents
  • chronic illness or severe problems in the family
  • death of a loved one
  • moving or changing schools
  • taking on too many activities or having too high expectations
  • family financial problems

Watch carefully how your child is doing and behaving, try to reduce those things and also respond early to signs of stress in teenagers, you might be able to prevent stress tipping over into anxiety and depression.

Stress and your body

When we face challenge body either  says fight or flight. Whatever may be the reason -real or imagined, our brain responds in the same way to both.

Body reacts to adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones in following different ways:

  • speed up your reflexes so you can react quickly to threats
  • raise heart rate and blood pressure
  • raise  blood sugar and body functioning to increase the performance of your big muscle groups and lungs
  • burn energy quickly for fast physical activity
  • shut down the digestive system
  • divert blood away from your skin – therefore people under deep stress can have pale skin
  • produce high-oxygenated blood – this can lead to blackouts and an irregular heartbeat
  • thicken your blood, making your heart work harder.

Cortisol, which has been called the ‘stress hormone’, is also released and cautions the body. Regular release of cortisol over a long time can weaken the immune system. Increased release of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol as a reaction to hard-to-manage stress puts strain on your body and mind. Over time it damages overall health and well-being.

How to reduce stress in teenagers

In general, you can help your child with stress by listening, spending time together and doing things that make your child feel good. You can also help your child reduce stress by working together on two key areas – helpful thinking and healthy lifestyle.

Like adults, teenagers can develop unhelpful thinking that makes it harder to deal with stressful things. Unhelpful thinking can get out of control, particularly if it becomes the normal way you think about things.

Some common unhelpful thought patterns are:

  • mind-reading, or expecting other people to have a bad opinion of you – for example, ‘They think I’m stupid’, ‘She thinks I’m no good at anything’
  • thinking things will always go wrong – for example, ‘Things never work out for me’, ‘Everyone is always against me’, ‘I’ll never be able to …’
  • labeling yourself – for example, ‘I’m no good’, ‘I’m stupid’, ‘I’m hopeless’
  • absolute thinking – for example, ‘I have to do it this way’, ‘This will never work’
  • fortune-telling or expecting the worst – for example, ‘I’m sure to mess this up’, ‘It’s not going to work out anyway’, ‘I’m going to feel awful when it doesn’t happen’
  • all-or-nothing thinking – for example, ‘He does everything right, and I always get it wrong’, ‘It has to be perfect’, ‘If only I had done it that way, it would be okay’

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Tips to Reduce Your Child’s Stress and Anxiety

1) Changing unhelpful thinking

  • With your child, talk and understand what is that causing the stress.
  • Encourage your child to list the thoughts connected to stress causing event – someone not liking, my studies ruined, I did not do well in test, my day is ruined are some examples.
  • Help your child decide if the thoughts are helpful – for example, how does your child know her friend doesn’t like her? Is it possible the friend couldn’t have told her sooner? Are there other good things your child could do with the day?
  • Encourage your child to suggest some other thoughts – It does not matter, may be something has come up, hope all is well with my friend, it can happen, day will pass and nothing is going to happen, it is not end of the world
  • Help your child notice that when she changes her thinking, her feelings also change – usually for the better.

2) Healthy lifestyle changes to reduce stress in teenagers

  • Do some physical activity:. Exercise burns off cortisol and helps the body relax.
  • Stay connected to family and friends: Positive relationships are the building blocks of mental health.
  • Get enough sleep: Good sleep helps to refresh. Depending on growing age recommended sleep hours for children are ; 7-12 years:10-11, 13-18 year: 8-9 hours sleep.
  • Eat good food: aim for a family diet with plenty of fresh fruit and veggies, dairy foods and whole grains.
  • Relax and unwind: this might be going for a walk, reading a book, having a relaxing bath or listening to some music.

3) Other important tips:

  • Exercise and eat regularly
  • Avoid excess caffeine intake which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation
  • Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco
  • Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques)
  • Develop assertiveness training skills. For example, state feelings in polite firm and not overly aggressive or passive ways: (“I feel angry when you yell at me” “Please stop yelling.”)
  • Rehearse and practice situations which cause stress. One example is taking a speech class if talking in front of a class makes you anxious
  • Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks
  • Decrease negative self talk: challenge negative thoughts about yourself with alternative neutral or positive thoughts. “My life will never get better” can be transformed into “I may feel hopeless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help”
  • Learn to feel good about doing a competent or “good enough” job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others
  • Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress
  • Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way

Nutrition for teenagers to relief stress:

Foods can help to reduce stress in several ways. That too, comfort foods boost serotonin – the chemical that calms the mind. Good breakfast, fresh oranges, almond and almond milk, spinach, drinking good amount of water and milk, simple carbohydrates – all will fall into this category that boosts serotonin. Avoid – pizza, French fries and heavy fat snacks. When you eat healthy food your weight will be under control and you will be confident when you talk and walk. It means you will be ready to take up any challenge. There won’t be more stress – it will be secretion of more serotonin in presence of good food.