Teens, Stress, & Anxiety – Turning a Mess into a Masterpiece

Their cries are silent but visible.

According to a 2017 National Institute of Mental Health report, an anxiety disorder is present in 38% of female teens and 26.1% of male teens. Experienced infrequently, anxiety is a normal response to stress. The concern arises when feelings of anxiety occur more often than not throughout a six-month period. Psychologists refer to this as chronic stress. The constant presence of anxiety in teens alters the emotional and physical framework in which they previously thrived. Anxiety affects teens emotionally (irritability, outbursts), socially (isolating from peer group), physically (headaches, gastrointestinal problems, excessive fatigue, decreased immune function, obesity), sleep-wise (difficulty falling and staying asleep), academically (difficulty focusing and executing assignments), and can lead to symptoms of a panic attack (rapid heartbeats, sweating, dizziness).

Truth is, today’s teens often deal with more day-to-day stress than teens of any other generation. They struggle to find their place among cyber bullying and social media perfection. It takes one click of a mouse or tap of the finger for a negative comment to post and likewise, it’s easier than ever to manipulate photos and stories to create a false reality that leads others to feel an inferior existence. Digital Stress, as it’s termed, is real. Negative interactions in emails, texts, chat rooms, and social media is foreign to adults who grew up with phones located in the heart of the home and no internet. As Dorothy says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

What do we do?

From an emotional standpoint, we listen to learn teens’ perspective— never minimizing their thoughts and feelings. From a tangible standpoint, eating healthy foods, exercise, sleep, outdoor time, and avoiding caffeine, soda, and sugar are key. Research also emphasizes the importance of adults managing cell phone and internet usage for youth, long before a child becomes a teen. And speaking of those preteen years, it’s important for adults to model appropriate cell phone and social media use and discuss internet and social media privacy concerns.

From a physical standpoint, deep-breathing exercises and yoga are proven stress management techniques. So, too, is helping teens change their self-talk from negative to positive and encouraging time with positive friends. Perhaps most overlooked, is the importance of teens taking a break from their scheduled lives.

Among the research and educated opinions spouted by agencies and health professionals there is a common thread. All agree on the importance of three things: nutrition, healthy habits, and adult presence.

Coupling healthy nutrition with healthy habits (adequate sleep, limited social media, balanced responsibility load, etc.) along with adults who listen to their teens’ concerns is a recipe for success. Sure, you may deal with a boiling personality or burnt feelings as you help teens navigate their world but one thing is certain, they’ll remember you stepping into their kitchen and doing your best to help them look at their world, as messy as it may be, as a masterpiece waiting to happen.

by Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach