The subject of stress among our teenagers continues to be one of the most frequently asked about topics I encounter during my presentations. While adult women tend to be more aware of how stress is effecting them and are more likely to engage in stress-busting activities such a yoga, meditation or taking a walk, teenagers often do little in the way of helping themselves reduce or eliminate stress.
The American Psychological Association’s annual survey Stress in America™ revealed just how serious a problem teenage stress is for this generation. This report should serve as a wake-up call for every parent to start a discussion with their teen about what’s causing their stress and to encourage them to try strategies to manage it.
Let’s face it. Today’s kids are going non-stop. Technology keeps them “plugged in” even when they do have down time. Indeed, the Stress in America™ survey found that teens are more likely to engage in sedentary activities like playing video games (46%) and surfing the internet (43%) rather than physical activities like playing a sport (28%) to cope with stress.
Why is this of concern? Stress is linked to depression and anxiety. It’s also problematic because chronic levels of stress keep levels of cortisol, our “fight or flight” hormone, elevated. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to weight gain and stimulate appetite and cravings. Overeating and weight gain are often associated with the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
Teaching teenagers how to handle stress more effectively can be simple. As with anything, it takes some effort and practice, but these are skills and tools that they will carry with them into adulthood. One of the easiest ways to help your teen reduce stress is to work with them to re-prioritize their activities and obligations so that they aren’t so busy. But if cutting back isn’t an option, here are some helpful tools.
Tool #1 Express gratitude. Every night at the dinner table, we take turns with “3 Good Things,” a practice in gratitude taken from Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage.” Each person has to express three things they are grateful for or describe three good things that happened to them that day. This exercise shifts everyone away-even if only for a few moments-from the demands and pressures of the day and gets them to focus on elements of their day which brought them joy or happiness. Not sitting together for a family dinner most nights? Leave a stack of post-its in the center of the table and have everyone leave their post-it on their chair for the rest of the family to read.
Tool #2 Catch some zzz’s. Most teens are not getting enough sleep according to National Sleep Foundation. Only 15% of teenagers report getting eight and one-half hours of sleep on a school night, the minimum amount recommended for teens. Lights out and screens off at a reasonable hour help keep stress levels in check.
Tool #3 Exercise. Remember the elevated stress-induced cortisol levels mentioned above? Take a quick walk to get the mail, spend 15 minutes playing actively with the dog or run 10 to 20 sets of stairs in the house. You don’t need a gym or equipment to lower cortisol levels and to release endorphins (feel good hormones)!
Tool #4 Mindfulness. Whether it’s meditation, deep breathing or mindful eating, becoming more mindful is a great way to combat stress. And the best part of this tool is that it can be done anywhere and thanks to the internet, finding a great how-to article or instruction video is just a click away.
Tool #5 Talk it out. Having someone to share concerns with and alleviate anxieties with goes a long way in making teens feel they’re not alone when dealing with a stressful situation or relationship. Whether it’s a parent, older sibling, teacher or qualified professional, make sure your teen knows that there are people and resources available to help them through stressful times.