Teenagers with stress
Do you remember when you were a teen? Then you remember the social pressures, the anxiety associated with school, and the constant changes happening in your life. Teenagers are going through a turbulent, stressful time in their lives.
If you were lucky, you had someone to help you with stress management. Teenagers need caring adults to help them fight teen depression, stress, and anxiety. Teenagers, like adults, may experience stress everyday and can benefit from learning stress management skills. Most teens experience more stress when they perceive a situation as dangerous, difficult, or painful and they do not have the resources to cope and some sources of stress for teens might include:
- 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
Some teens become overloaded with stress. When it happens and inadequately managed, stress can cause many serious problems such as:
· Teen Depression
· Anxiety Disorder
· Low Self-Esteem
· Eating Disorders
· Physical illness
· Poor coping skills such as drug and/or alcohol use.
When we perceive a situation as difficult or painful, changes occur in our minds and bodies to prepare us to respond to danger. This "fight, flight, or freeze” response includes faster heart and breathing rate, increased blood to muscles of arms and legs, cold or clammy hands and feet, upset stomach and/or a sense of dread.
The same mechanism that turns on the stress response can turn it off. As soon as we decide that a situation is no longer dangerous, changes can occur in our minds and bodies to help us relax and calm down. This "relaxation response” includes decreased heart and breathing rate and a sense of well being. Teens that develop a "relaxation response” and other stress management skills feel less helpless and have more choices when responding to stress.
Parents can help their teen in these ways:
- Monitor if stress is affecting their teen’s health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings
- Listen carefully to teens and watch for overloading
- Learn and model stress management skills
- Support involvement in sports and other pro-social activities
Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:
- 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
- Rehearse and practice situations which cause stress.
- 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.
- 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
By using these and other techniques, teenagers can begin to manage stress.
When to Seek Help for Your Child
Parents are usually the first to recognize that their child has a problem with emotions or behavior. Still, the decision to seek professional help can be difficult and painful for a parent. The first step is to gently try to talk to the child and an honest open talk about feelings can often help or parents may choose to consult with the child’s physicians.
The following are a few signs which may indicate that a child and adolescent psychiatric evaluation will be useful:
- Marked fall in school performance.
- Poor grades in school despite trying very hard.
- Severe worry or anxiety, as shown by regular refusal to go to school, go to sleep or take part in activities that are normal for the child’s age.
- Hyperactivity; fidgeting; constant movement beyond regular playing.
- Persistent nightmares.
- Persistent disobedience or aggression (longer than 6 months) and provocative opposition to authority figures.
- Frequent, unexplainable temper tantrums.
PRE-ADOLESCENTS AND ADOLESCENTS:
- Marked change in school performance.
- Inability to cope with problems and daily activities.
- Marked changes in sleeping and/or eating habits.
- Frequent physical complaints.
- Sexual acting out.
- Depression shown by sustained, prolonged negative mood and attitude
- Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
- Intense fear of becoming obese with no relationship to actual body weight
- Persistent nightmares.
- Threats of self-harm or harm to others.
- Self-injury or self destructive behavior.
- Frequent outbursts of anger, aggression.
- Threats to run away.
- Aggressive or non-aggressive consistent violation of rights of others; opposition to authority, truancy, thefts, or vandalism.
- Strange thoughts, beliefs, feelings, or unusual behaviors.
If problems persist over an extended period of time and especially if others involved in the child’s life are concerned, consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other clinician specifically trained to work with children may be helpful.