Teens, Their Brains & Coping With Stress

Have you noticed that your teen is on edge, has become physically violent or shows signs of depression? Teenagers, like adults, experience stress everyday and can benefit from learning stress management skills. Teens experience more stress when they perceive a situation as difficult, dangerous, or painful and they do not always have the resources to cope. Sources of stress for teens include:
  • School demands
  • Changes in their bodies
  • Problems with friends and/or peers at school
  • Separation or divorce of parents
  • Moving or changing schools
Teens become overcome with stress easier than adults because their brains are not fully developed and they have not learned the skills necessary to cope with it. When adults perceive a situation as difficult or painful, change occurs in our brains and bodies to prepare us. This "fight, flight, or freeze” response includes faster heart and breathing rate, increased blood to the muscles in our arms and legs, cold or clammy hands and feet, upset stomach and/or an internal sense of dread. (1) Parents Play an Important Role Since teens don't always understand their bodies' reaction to stress, it can be confusing to them and they may show signs of change that parents will recognize. Spotting these signs are an important first step for helping teens find the coping skills necessary to manage stress and reduce mental and physical side  effects. Here is what you can do if you think that stress may be having an overly negative impact on your teen:
  • Be mindful of changes to health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings
  • Listen carefully and monitor your teen's workload
  • Set an example of positive stress management skills
  • Support involvement in sports and other pro-social activities
Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:(2)
  • Exercise and eat regularly
  • 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.”)
  • Learn practical coping skills. For example, break large tasks into smaller, more attainable tasks
  • Decrease negative self talk: challenge negative thoughts about yourself with alternative neutral or positive thoughts.
  • Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way
NPR recently did a story entitled Why Saying Is Believing — The Science Of Self-Talk that explores how self-talk can improve one's self-image and how best to practice this exercise. You can listen to the story by click play below. [audio mp3="http://www.bettyeastman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/20141007_me_why_saying_is_believing_the_science_of_self-talk.mp3"][/audio]   By using these and other techniques, teenagers and their parents can begin to better manage stress. According to the APA Stress in America report, 42 percent of teens indicated not doing anything to cope with their stress or not knowing what to do to manage it. This is a significant concern given the impact stress can have on our lives. If you would like to discuss the stress that you your teens is experiencing, we encourage you to contact us to schedule an appointment. There are many effective treatments to help teens and adults develop better coping skills, establish stress management techniques and find a more positive outlook on life. For more information regarding our teen counseling program, click here.