Navigating Teen Stress: 3 Steps to Restore Balance and Calm


Teen stress: a mother comforts her stressed out teenage daughter at the table with homework strewn about.If your teen is mad at everything, always coming down with the latest illness, and overwhelmed at the slightest change, know that you are not alone. Current research shows that stress in adolescents is at historic highs.

The good news: There are steps you can take to help. Before you dive into action items, it’s important to understand the current mental health landscape.

In less than a decade, the documented rates of anxiety in people under eighteen have
increased by almost thirty percent. Teens report some stress triggers that we are all familiar with such as exams, school performance, a desire to fit in, social dynamics, and family challenges. Additionally, teens are reporting new sources of stress like cyberbullying, social media, cultural issues, and political affairs.

We all experience stress, right? Of course! It is part of the human experience and even
necessary at times. Stress becomes a clinical mental health concern when it impairs your level of functioning. Some examples of this could be stress causing you to get fired from a job, fail school, or lose relationships. No matter the intensity of stress you experience, it is possible to find avenues to manage it more effectively.

Teen stress: a teenage girl sitting and hiding her face is surrounded by peers pointing down at her.3 Steps for Parents in Navigating Teen Stress

Step 1: Identify the Issue

We have to know the problem exists before we can start to help. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • frequent irritability
  • crying spells
  • avoiding activities or people
  • increased anger
  • changes in eating patterns
  • headaches
  • stomach aches
  • frequent illness
  • low energy
  • poor sleep patterns
  • substance use
  • restlessness
  • sudden changes in behavior

Seeing your child struggle is devastating. Know that sustainable change takes time
and slow consistent steps. Be ready to get in the discomfort with them.

Step 2: Build Their Stress Management Skills

Once you have identified what is happening and confirmed that your teen is open to change, it is time to try out new techniques. Here are 10 ideas to get you started:

  1. Create healthy routines: Do not underestimate the basics. You’ve heard the essentials
    many times before: quality sleep, nourishing foods, exercise, hobbies, sunshine,
    and good social support. Instead of trying to do it all at once, be your teen’s
    accountability partner in implementing simple healthy habits one at a time without
    expecting perfection.
  2. Be a model: Normalize your child’s experience by letting them know how you experience stress and let them watch how you manage it.
  3. Let them have independence: Teens need to learn problem-solving skills within real-
    life experiences, even if that means failing at times — and you are the safety net for when that happens. When they succeed, their confidence will soar.
  4. Validation: Before jumping to advice, acknowledge what they are feeling. Sometimes being understood is all we need.
  5. Slow exposure with a high probability of success: Try to offer opportunities for your child to go outside their comfort zone in an achievable way to build self-esteem and
    stress management skills.
  6. Be intentional in time and conversation: Create an environment to welcome expression and communication. It is easiest to assist your teen when they can specify their needs, rather than you guessing. The best first step is undistracted quality time, and then the words flow.
  7. Put words to it: Stress is less intimidating when we can name it and the source of it.
  8. Social media detox (yes, this will be met with resistance): Many of teens’ stressors are rooted in our current digital age. Offer opportunities for separation from social media. Make it a team effort toward wellness.
  9. Task management skills: Teens take on a lot with school, friends, clubs, athletics, and
    jobs. Offer assistance in learning how to break down, prioritize, and follow through on
    tasks proactively. This could be from your wisdom or the support of resources like school
    or outside coaching.
  10. Family rituals: We cannot control school, social media, friends, etc. Focus on creating
    stability where you can in your teen’s chaotic life. Have rituals like family dinners, walks, activities, and habits that your teen can rely on for stability, structure, and normalcy.

Behavioral change is most successful when broken down into palpable goals. Try picking one new stress management habit to implement at a feasible frequency. Track with your teen how it works — or doesn’t work — for them. In a few months, you can have a full toolbox of their stress management skills and a more confident, grounded, teen.

Step 3: Get Outside Support

Did you just get overwhelmed thinking of how to implement all this in your child’s life? You do not have to forge this path alone. No one person is responsible for all the needs of another, even our own children. Utilize other supports in the community, and seek professional help when needed. The layers of someone’s support system can include family, friends, school, church, physicians, coaches, community leaders, and therapists.

Therapy provides your teen with personalized professional help, and a trusted provider to hold them accountable toward their goals. It is an extra layer of support to help them transform more quickly and effectively. It gives them the skills to manage their own well-being and better relate to their loved ones with strong interpersonal skills.

Resources on Teen Stress:

About the Author

Cara founded Theraworks in 2021 as a way to bring holistic psychotherapy to teens, women, and families in the Charleston area. She is trained in nutrition and group fitness instruction and believes that each person’s body and mind are beautifully connected.


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