Stress is like a bow and arrow. If you put enough stress or pressure on the bow it has great potential energy and power to fire an arrow really far. If you put too much stress on the bow for too long, it can weaken and go out of shape. And if you bend it too far, it will snap. It is the same with humans. Some stress is good – it’s a great motivator. But too much for too long becomes unhealthy.
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Your child is guaranteed to experience stress during their adolescent years. You may have seen it already. They stress out over what to wear, how long their battery will last, and why their friend hasn’t texted them back yet. And that’s just in the holidays. During the school year there is a lot of added pressure. Fortunately there are some practical ways that you can help. Firstly, start by explaining to them (in teen-friendly language) what stress can do, and how it tends to express itself.
What stress can look like
Anxiety is fear with the accelerator jammed on. Worries hang around your head like seagulls around a dump. Anxiety is worrying about something that might happen in the future and then reacting like it is actually happening now. It is very unhelpful.
Depression is when sadness sticks. Your problems appear huge – it feels like there is no hope left. The world loses its flavour. It seems like there are no good options. No hope. No point.
Doing drugs. Doing crime. Dropping out. Sleeping around. Spending up. What’s going on? Perhaps it’s stress.
If you can’t make decisions, or you’re making stupid, desperate choices, you could be stressed.
Asthma, indigestion, aches, skins problems, ongoing unwellness and ongoing tiredness are all symptoms of stress.
Stress adds up
It’s not just the major events in life that cause stress – it’s the minor ones as well. Obviously getting a detention at school or finding out One Direction are breaking up may be stressful for your teen, but not as bad as having a loved one die or becoming pregnant. Lots of small stresses can get to your teen as much as one big whammy. They cope, they cope, they cope, they crash.
The challenge of change
Changing classes, cities, jobs, boyfriends, girlfriends, living arrangements – it can all be stressful. And just the turmoil of daily life can wear your teen down – handling the pressures of school, friends, taking the perfect selfie – it all takes its toll. Normally, it is no sweat, but if your child is already under stress, they are going to need to be careful.
A bad patch needs time to get over
Like anyone who has been through a stressful time, teens need to treat themselves gently – and this is something you can encourage them to do. Let them know that even though they may feel fine, emotions take time to heal. People sometimes grieve in bursts. For example, many people find they handle a big loss (like the death of a loved one) really well, and then two months down the track, things begin to fall apart.
A helpful acronym for you and your teen to remember during a stressful time is RVP – reduce, ventilate and plan.
To reduce stress, it is important for your teen to look after herself/himself. This may look like getting an extension on an assignment or avoiding unhealthy eating habits – diets, junk food and binge eating are not helpful during stressful times. You may also need to encourage your teen to say ‘no’ to a few night-time activities to ensure that they are getting enough sleep. Caffeine is essentially ‘stress in a cup’, so it’s important that your teen cuts down on coffee, colas and energy drinks which will make them even more anxious and sleepless.
Another way to help your teen reduce stress is to get them to relax. Here are some suggestions you could give them –
- Read a book
- Listen to music
- Do a hobby
- Soak in a bath
- Work out
- Go out with friends
- Sit on a beach
- Meditate or pray
- Do a relaxation exercise
Encourage you teen to do the following to let some steam out –
- Find a safe person to talk to
- Exercise – it releases natural, feel-good chemicals called endorphins into the blood. Studies show that walking is as good as drugs for some people who are struggling with depression. Intense emotions can be worked out physically.
- Find something fun to do!
- Do something nice for yourself
Even if you have a teen who isn’t a natural ‘planner’, these tools will work wonders to help them keep their stress under control –
Problems can seem terrifying when they are swirling around our heads like mad magpies. Encourage your child to skewer each of his/her problems with a pen – to write them down and turn them into a list. They often look a lot tamer trapped on paper and a list of worries can be tackled one at a time.
Establish a routine
A ferocious anti-stress treatment is knowing what needs to be done and when. Get your teen to set times for himself/herself – bedtimes, mealtimes, exercise times, quiet times – and then stick to them.
Have a ‘worry time’
Another way to help your teen manage anxiety is to let them know that worries can be dealt with by appointment – “Yes, I will worry about this at 7.30 tonight.” If a thought bothers them at night, having a notepad next to the bed helps too – they can write it down and deal with it in the morning.
Book a session with a Family Coach
Sometimes family life is way more challenging than we had ever imagined. We would like it to be a lot more enjoyable, if only we knew how. Family coaching is designed to meet you where you are at, whatever stage you are at on your parenting and relationship journey. We want to be on the journey with you. To find out more and to book a session, click here.