10 Ways Teens Can Manage Their Stress
Being a teenager comes with its own set of stressors. School, friends, after-school activities, maybe a job or prepping for college. There’s a lot to think about and it can be overwhelming. But when you have the right tools, managing it all can be a little easier.
Instead of thinking about all you have to accomplish today or this week, it’s important to break it down one item at a time. That way you can really identify each stressor and tackle it individually.
Although these are stress management tips designed for teens, this is something you can take with you for life. Stress doesn’t go away as you get older. Don’t let that scare you, though. Because after you’re finished reading this, you’ll feel more equipped to deal with whatever life throws at you. It’s not an answer to everything but even implementing just a few of these suggestions will make your life a little less stressful.
We’re breaking down stress management into 4 categories. From there, we’ll include our suggestions in each category so you can deal with stress in a more effective way.
Tackling the problem
1. Identify and address the problem. What is the issue causing you stress? Is it studying for a test? Is it an argument with a friend? Or the fact that you currently have too much on your plate? It’s important to not only identify the problem but address it as well. We too often ignore or avoid our problems and unfortunately that doesn’t make them go away. It can actually make things worse.
If you’re overwhelmed with the amount of work you have, break it down and finish one piece at a time. Don’t think about it as a whole, just take it one part at a time. The best way to do this is by making a list. Write down what you have to do today and even this week. Writing things down is extremely helpful, as once you have your to-do list in one place, you don’t need to obsess over it in your head. Taking this one step further, you can identify which items to prioritize so you finish high priority items first and low priority items last.
2. Avoid stress when possible. Of course, stress is part of life and it’s something we’ll always encounter. However, there are particularly stressful situations we can avoid. If there are people who are a negative influence or places you’re more likely to get in trouble, save yourself the stress and avoid those situations altogether. There might be times that you know something isn’t the best idea but you end up doing it anyway. The next time this happens, listen to your initial reaction and avoid these situations so things don’t get worse.
3. Learn to let some things go. There are only so many things in our control, and it’s not an efficient use of your energy to let those things consume you. You can’t change the fact that your parents need to know where you are, so prove to them that you’re responsible and deserve more freedoms. You can’t change the fact that teachers give tests and homework, so studying your best will get you more than complaining about it. Easier said than done, we realize. But when you waste your energy on complaining about things you cannot fix or control, you won’t have enough energy left to enjoy the things you love.
Taking care of your body
4. Exercise. Thankfully during this period in your life, you have scheduled exercise during most of your days. Whether it’s with gym class or after-school activities, you’re likely getting some form of exercise on a regular basis. This is something to try to appreciate now, because carving out that time becomes more difficult as you get older. But when you’re especially stressed, sometimes these scheduled activities aren’t enough. Find something you enjoy and that doesn’t feel like a chore. Whether it’s a run, dancing, basketball, or lifting weights – if you’ve never tried exercise for stress management, you might be surprised how effective it is. And when you are exercising, try to stay present and let thoughts about other things go. The more you can throw yourself into it, the less stressed you will be about other things.
5. Active relaxation. Emphasis on the word active, this is making a conscious effort to put your mind and body in a state of relaxation. When we’re stressed out, we get physically tense and our mind starts to race. These two things are not ideal when trying to fall asleep and can take a toll on your body long term. Knowing how to put your body in a relaxed state when you’re feeling stressed is something we encourage everyone to learn, regardless of their age. An example of this is deep breathing. You can use our “Diaphragmatic Breathing” recording as a guide or follow the instructions below.
First, breathe deeply and slowly. Really concentrate on your breath. Take long and deep inhales and even longer exhales. To take this even further, lay on your back and place your hands loosely on your stomach. Make your breaths come from your belly - when you breathe in your belly goes out, and when you breathe out your belly goes in. After you inhale, hold your breath for a few seconds before taking as long as you can to exhale. Although it’s something as simple as breathing, when you break it down like this, it gives you more to focus on. Your concentration will allow you to be present and not worry about everything that’s stressing you out.
6. Eat well. With the presence of junk food at school and being so busy, your lunch may come from a vending machine sometimes, or you might find it is difficult to find time to eat or to eat nutritious foods. When you know how impactful what you eat is (on both your physical and mental health) it might be more encouraging to make an effort to plan ahead. When you eat foods with little nutritional value, or don’t eat enough food throughout the day, you may feel lethargic and moody. Two things that will not benefit you if you’re feeling stressed. You want to feel good, right? It is important to eat lunch with some nutritional value. For example, fruit or nuts are great options that will leave your body feeling happy, energized and balanced.
7. Sleep well. Getting a good night’s sleep when you’re stressed and your mind is racing is nearly impossible. Feeling tired will likely affect your concentration in class and will not help the fact that you’re stressed about studying and homework. It all ties together, so addressing something at the root will have a positive trickle effect. So make an effort to go to bed at the same time every night. Try your best to get at least 8 hours of sleep. Take a hot bath or shower before bed. Make sure not to exercise right before bed (give your body at least 4 hours to recover). Use your bed to sleep and not to problem-solve or do homework. Try listening to music or reading a book to calm your mind before falling asleep.
Dealing with emotions
8. Instant brief vacations. There’s no doubt that taking a vacation is relaxing. You can just enjoy yourself and not have to worry about school or any other commitments at home. It’s a great feeling. But we can’t always pick up and leave when we’re stressed. So what do we do instead? Try taking an instant brief vacation.
There are many ways to do this, like visualizations for example. Think of where your happy place is. Is it the beach? The mountains? Is it a made up place? Wherever makes you happiest, think about that place. Close your eyes and try to immerse yourself by using your senses. What does it smell like? What does it sound like? How does it feel? If you can’t get to the beach (if that's your happy place), this is the next best thing to help you manage your stress.
An instant vacation can be anything that makes you happy or gives you a little break. Whether it’s a hobby, self-care or even taking a walk in the neighborhood…it’s important to do things that make you happy and not just things you have to do. So, make an effort to incorporate the things that make you happy as often as possible.
9. Release emotional tension. It’s way easier to stuff your problems into an emotional box and deal with them later. But what happens when that box gets too full? You might find yourself getting easily frustrated but can’t figure out why. When we ignore our problems and emotions for too long, they don’t go away…they just linger. So it’s important to deal with these issues, but to do so one thing at a time.
Think about what helps you relieve tension. Is it getting creative with art, music or dancing? Is it talking to a friend, family member or mentor? Is it journaling? The answer is different for everyone. And maybe you don’t have the answer right now. That's okay. But the only way you’ll find the answer is if you try. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know what you’ll find (and you might even find the answer to your stress relief!)
Contribute to something greater
10. Make the world better. This is a way broader statement than our other suggestions, but it’s essential to know that the world is much bigger than you. Right now it may feel like everything matters so much. When in reality, that’s not always the case. Remember there are people out there who have it better than you and who have it worse than you. When you feel like you have a sense of purpose, you’re more likely to feel good about yourself and handle stress better. No matter how old you are, you can make a difference. Whether it comes in the form of making environmentally conscious decisions or offering advice to a friend going through a hard time or giving food to someone in need, your contribution matters.
We know life can be stressful at any age, and here at MindWell we’re here for you every step of the way. We offer therapy for those of all ages (including teens). So if you’re looking to speak with a professional about stress management, have a parent schedule an appointment with one of our therapist today.
If you are seeking counseling in New York City, contact us today to learn more about our services!
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