Young People & Stress
From the age of ten, throughout the teenage years, young people go through a hugely formative time. Physical, psychological, and emotional changes pulse – wave-after-wave – through the body.
A crucial period for developing and maintaining social and emotional habits important for mental wellbeing, there are many things we as adults can do to help young people and teenagers establish a considered approach. These include adopting healthy sleep patterns; taking regular exercise; developing coping, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills; and learning to manage emotions.
Supportive environments in the family, at school and in the wider community are vital in order to nurture this development. Especially given that an estimated 10-20% of adolescents globally experience mental health conditions, yet these remain underdiagnosed and undertreated. With half of all those conditions presenting by 14 years of age but most cases undetected and untreated.
As with adults and children, when it comes to stress in young people it isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. Some stress can act as a motivator, getting you ready for action. That said, it can be a huge struggle during teenage years with signs showing up in behaviour, emotions, body and thinking.
There are countless things going on at that period of life that can contribute to and be the cause of stress. From schoolwork and exam pressure – especially after a year spent home-schooling – to relationships, huge life changes such as leaving school and going to college or university.
If young people are stressed, according to Fortis associate therapist, Gemma Baker, they may show signs of:
- Anxiety or worry
- Inability to relax, leading to issues at school
- Anger or crying
- Struggling to regulate and control their emotions
Gemma also explains that there are physical symptoms, remarkably similar to those you’d see in children, which can include:
- Lose or gain weight
- Decreased appetite or comfort eating
- Trouble staying focused
- Social isolation – being withdrawn in situations they’d usually thrive
While young people have a greater understanding of ‘stress’ than children, the language they may use about it tends not to be direct. Instead you may notice their language becoming more negative and dismissive with phrases such as, ‘I’m not doing anything right’, ‘no one likes me’ – they won’t always use words we as adults would relate to stress.
If you can be aware of the things that causes a stress response in your child, reduce them, and respond to early signs of stress, you can avoid stress tipping over into anxiety and depression. So, what can you do?
Start by listening, spend time connecting with your child and talk about things you can do to make them feel good – together, or by themselves. Together you can work on two key areas – healthy lifestyle and helpful thinking.
- Do some exercise – when we do physical activity it burns off the stress hormone cortisol, helping the body to relax.
- Build positive relationships – stay connected with family and friends.
- Get enough sleep – Not getting enough quality sleep is believed to be one of the biggest causes of stress in teenager – they are believed to still need between 8 and 10 hours sleep during the teenage years.
- Eat well – and by well we mean a balanced diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, and dairy.
- Relax – Try and unwind by going for a walk, reading a book, having a bath, listening to some music, or doing some yoga.
Very much like us adults, how young people think about things has a direct link to how stressed they get by them. This unhelpful thinking can get out of control, making it hard to deal with stress. Typical unhelpful thinking behaviours include negativity – expecting everyone to have a bad opinion about you and what you do; thinking things will always go wrong; restrictive thinking, believing things can only be done one way; and expecting the worst.
To change unhelpful thinking, we need to encourage young people to try and take a step back and see things from a different perspective. One method we have found really helpful is writing a letter to a best friend. Encourage your child to pen a letter to their best friend, talking about the problems they’re struggling with. The language and tone they use when trying to help and advise a best friend will significantly differ to how they speak to themselves – try and discuss the question of, if you wouldn’t say it to your bet friend why are you saying it to yourself?
Further things you can do to help young people suffering with stress:
- Count down backwards from 100
- Pant it out – get jumping, skipping, hopping, make a living room or outdoor obstacle course – anything to get your heart rate up and endorphin’s flowing
- Help them create their own affirmations, their own mantras – I am calm, I can do this
- Scaling the stress level, 0 being low 10 being high – and discussing how we’re going to get you from 8 back down to 0.
- Singing or drama – they’re both a great way to release.
- Arts and crafts
- Practising mindfulness
- Establishing a good pre-bed routine to aide quality sleep
- Make time for fun and quiet