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How to Help Stressed Teens: Causes, Signs & Solutions


April is Stress Awareness Month. This article dives into why teens experience stress, how that stress manifests, and what adults can do to help.

Teens and Stress – What We Need to Know:

Adolescence is inherently stressful. Young people are experiencing the most development they will ever experience in life, including puberty and hormonal shifts, cognitive maturation, identity formation, burgeoning independence, and exposure to social dynamics.

A 2018 study showed Americans aged 15-29 and 30-49 have the highest stress levels at 64% and 65%, respectively. Research indicates that stress and anxiety continue to increase in our youngest populations.

Recent Trends Show Teen Stress is Increasing:

In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health – in large part due to ramifications from the pandemic.

A study published in 2022 in JAMA Pediatrics showed that the number of children between the ages of 3-17 diagnosed with anxiety grew by 29% and with depression by 27% over the course of four years (2016 to 2020).

Not only are teens worried about school, homework, friends, developing identity – they also have to learn how to navigate the world post-pandemic and grow-up amidst larger social and global issues like climate change, mass shootings, and economic instability.

The Impact of Stress on Teens:

Teens, like adults, experience stress when they perceive situations as being difficult, dangerous, painful and they feel like they don’t have the ability to cope. Stress can overload teens and impact their long-term health and wellbeing. They can experience psychological and physical comorbidities such as anxiety, depression, aggression, withdrawal, and physical illness. If teens don’t have the knowledge or resources to cope, they become at-risk for engaging in anti-social behavior such as drug and alcohol use or other high-risk activities.

Common Stressors Teens Face:

  • Academic demands and frustrations
  • Exploring identity and social perspective
  • Puberty, physical maturation, hormone reactivity
  • Navigating problems with friends or peers
  • Negative self-esteem, self-image, or self-talk
  • Unsafe living environments/schools/communities
  • Physical or emotional disturbances at home
  • Changing schools
  • Lack of money or access to resources
  • Family stress (conflict, illness, economic hardship, divorce)
  • Discrimination and ostracization due to race/class/financial status/sexuality and gender/ability
  • And many, many more.

Distressed Teens May Show These Signs:

  • Increased irritability and moodiness
  • Oppositional or defiant behavior at home or in school
  • Increased anxiety or worry
  • Self-isolation
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities that once brought joy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Academic decline
  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Physical signs: headaches, upset stomach, jaw tightness, appetite changes, getting sick easily

4 Ways Adults Can Help Teens Cope with Stress:

  1. Lead by Example

Teens need role-models in their life, especially when it comes to handling stress and adversity. It is natural for young people to mimic the behavior the adults around them display – which can be a good or bad thing. For more tips on how to set a great example, here’s our blog on being a positive role model.

  1. Encourage Open Communication

You may be able to sense an adolescent’s stress – but you won’t know for sure unless they tell you. That’s why it is critical to foster open, safe, non-judgmental, and consistent communication with the young people in your life. The more frequently you communicate, the more they will be willing to engage in conversation. Check out our blog on conversation starters for more tips on how to open up the lines of communication between you and your teen.

  1. Prioritize Self-Care

Self-care is critical for stress-relief. It is important for adults to help teens manage mental and physical well-being through enforcing regular sleep, physical activity, a balanced diet, tech-free time, quiet time, and fun time. Adults can also support their teen’s involvement in pro-social hobbies and activities like sports, arts, volunteering, etc.

  1. Develop Relaxation Techniques

Help your teen learn to respond to stress on the spot by turning off the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) through deep belly breathing, grounding, meditation, and mindfulness.

**If your teen does not respond to any of these stress interventions, and their stress is persistent, increasing, and inhibiting their ability to function in their day-to-day life, consider reaching out to their pediatrician or a mental health counselor for professional help.

If you are interested in learning more about how to help teens handle stress, check out our accredited youth life coach programs and trainings.

Change the lives of youth. Starting today.