Stress and Anxiety Management Tools for Teens
You find yourself waking at 1:00 am to hear your teenager moving around in her room. Is she studying, still? Is she on social media, worrying about her place in the world? You think back to your life as a teen, remembering that the college search was simpler, and sleep came more easily when telephones were attached to the kitchen wall. How do you help your teenager manage stress in a 24-hour world?
Or you are a teen, promising yourself that tonight you’ll wind down early enough to actually get a good night’s sleep. But you have a test tomorrow, and a paper due, and you find yourself worrying about SAT preparations, and when you go online to College Confidential to figure out the average SAT scores for your top three schools, you somehow end up on Instagram. Your phone buzzes. All of a sudden it’s 1:00 in the morning, and with a sinking feeling, you remember your alarm will go off at 6:00. Another bad night’s sleep.
Overstressed and anxious is the new normal:
The American teen is stressed and anxious, juggling responsibilities in school, managing extra-curriculars, struggling to create a resume once only dreamed of by 30-year-olds. With time scheduled from dawn to dusk and eyes on the prize of college admissions, it is no surprise the average teen stress and anxiety level has surpassed that of their parents, according to the APA 2013 Stress in America survey.
Long-term problems can result from current stress and anxiety:
This sort of stress can set problems in motion for anyone. For teens who are learning habits and making lifestyle choices that might last a lifetime, it has the potential to cause long-term problems. And teens are well aware of this. The APA survey found teens recognize their stress and anxiety levels exceed what they consider healthy. 31% report feeling overwhelmed, 36% report sleep problems and resulting fatigue, and 30% describe significant feelings of sadness or depression, all of which they attribute to stress and anxiety. And anxiety has a way of growing, if left untreated.
While teens often recognize the impact of stress and anxiety on their lives, and correctly anticipate that as responsibility increases, so does the potential for both, it is clear that many do not yet have the tools to use this recognition to foster change. Thirty one percent of teens surveyed report their level of stress had gone up in the past year, and 34% anticipated it would continue to increase in the coming year. It serves all of us to learn to manage this growing problem.
Healthy stress management tools can be taught:
How do we hit the reset button? Stress and anxiety responses can be passed on in families—so it helps when parents are part of the solution, modeling healthy reactions to stress and productive anxiety management techniques from the time their children are young. This anticipates parents have stress and anxiety management tools at their disposal, something that not every parent can claim. Even with parents who are skilled in this area, many teens benefit from the support of knowledgeable professionals to learn healthy responses to the real stress of life.
The good news is that teens and young adults can learn anxiety and stress management tools and change their response to everyday stress. With the help of a compassionate psychologist experienced in the challenges of the age group, new skills can be taught and new insights can start the process of behavioral change.
How I work to help teens learn stress and anxiety management tools:
Together, we will take a close look at your life—sorting through the things that are going well, and strategizing new approaches to the things that are causing you stress. We will develop new approaches to help you manage the challenge of anxiety and stress, including management tools to help you gain mastery in your academic life, increase healthy sleep, and develop specific strategies to approach stress and anxiety where they hit you the hardest—whether that is in your relationships, your physical health or your emotions.
· Sort through physical symptoms, with the help of your doctor if need be, to make sure you find ways to keep stress from taking up permanent residence in your body
· Look at your sleep patterns, and find specific strategies to help you get the rest you need
· Look at time management strategies to help you find ways to keep on top of the work you need to complete
· Develop a plan to put fun back in the picture
Like many things in life, stress and anxiety management tools can be forgotten in the rush to get things done. But taking time out to work with a knowledgeable and compassionate psychologist who knows teens and young adults, can help you gain mastery over the stress in your life.
My daughter is so anxious about getting in to college. How can I help?
As a college professor, clinical psychologist and parent of a teen, I see the impact of the college search on teens and their parents every day. It is a difficult time. For many families, the search becomes a process of getting into the best- rather than the best-fit school. This puts extra stress on everyone, as it often means tutoring and travel are undertaken in the service of exceptionalism while everyone loses sight of the student and his or her own particular gifts.
My best advice—and it is admittedly difficult to take—is to remember that there are hundreds of wonderful colleges and universities in the US. Your task as a family is to find the schools that will be great fits—schools that will stretch your student to learn and grow, while creating a place to celebrate the interests and skills he or she already has. This process puts the search back in the service of the student. It will still be stressful, but it works every year—hundreds of thousands of college-bound high school seniors really do get it right in the end!
I am not sure I handle anxiety all that well myself, will this really have an effect on how my teen learns to manage?
The fact is, our earliest models in life are our parents—they teach us how to love, how to live with people we care about, and how to think about our place in the world. They also are our models for stress management. If you feel your stress and anxiety management tools and skills are not quite what you hope your son or daughter will carry through life, it might be a great idea to work on yours, too. Undertake a family stress management project. Learn relaxation training techniques and skills of time management together.
Between school and activities, our son just doesn’t get much sleep. How much sleep does he really need?
The National Sleep Foundation reports that, although every teen’s sleep needs are different, most require between 8 and 10 hours a night for optimal function. Sleep time serves many important functions in our health. Shortchanging himself is typical—only 15% of teens actually get the amount of sleep they need. To learn about the role of sleep on our ability to lay down new memory pathways, read my blog post on sleep and memory.
I am 17, and reading this at 12:30 am. What can I do right now to make things better?
If you work on developing a good balance in life, you will get there. Where your ‘there’ is, I don’t know. But remember that your job right now is to cultivate all parts of your development so you can get to know who you are and what matters to you. That is the big picture answer. For the moment, I encourage you to put your phone on airplane mode and put it in the hallway. Turn out your light. Turn off your iPad and crawl under the covers, close your eyes and regulate your breathing. Tomorrow, talk to your folks about developing a strategy for managing stress and anxiety, and getting enough sleep.
I would be glad to consult with you if you or someone you love is struggling with stress and anxiety. Feel free to call me at 503-490-5793.
If you are interested in learning more about the APA Survey on Stress in America, follow this link: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/highlights.aspx