Teen stress? Cute.

When teens complain about how “stressed” they are, it can be hard not to laugh or roll your eyes at them.

After all, what could they possibly be stressed about?

We can be quick to brush off their worry and launch into the “Just wait until you have REAL responsibilities. Then you’ll know what REAL stress is!” talk.

If you’re a parent and haven’t yet given them the famous speech, you’ve definitely thought about it. More than once.

It’s true that they don’t have to deal with a fraction of what you have to on a daily basis. The stakes feel higher on your side, the pressure’s much greater and the coping mechanisms needed to deal with it all can make a teen’s daily stresses seem insignificant in comparison.

But could minimising their “stress” and “anxiety” actually be a mistake? Instead of helping them are we perhaps making it worse for them in the long run when we do this?

And should we be taking it a little more seriously even though, from our perspective, it may sometimes seem ridiculous?

 

Stress is as real for your teen as it is for you

The funny thing about stress is that it’s subjective. It’s every bit as real for them as it is for you.

This means that it doesn’t matter whether a person is 15, 25, 35 or 45+ years old, the stress is the same. Unfortunately, this also means that so are the physical, psychological and emotional effects of it too – especially if it becomes chronic1.

That is if, over a period of weeks or months, their stressful days outnumber their non-stressful days. And chronic stress in your teen can lead to a long list of very real and unwanted consequences further down the line for them such as:

· Anxiety disorders

· Depression & other mood disorders

· Addiction

· Obesity2

In this case, prevention is not only much better than cure but it’s also very possible. And the first step to helping them is to know what to look out for.

 

10 warning signs that stress may be impacting your teen

1. Appetite changes dramatically

If your teen’s eating patterns change to the point where they’re eating much less than or much more than usual, it may have something to do with the levels of stress they’re experiencing.

2. Stomach pains, headaches, chronic pain and constantly tired

Unmanaged stress can impact our physical health. Teens who struggle with stress may often complain about headaches, muscle aches, stomach pains and being drained all the time.

3. Increased restlessness, irritability and emotional outbursts

Teens can be famously moody. However, if yours becomes more irritable, snappier or angrier than usual and is easily overwhelmed by seemingly small things, this could be a sign they’re stressed.

4. Often sick & missing school

Stress can impact our immune system.3 If your teen is quick to catch a cold or minor illnesses, they may be struggling with unmanaged stress.

5. Changes in social life & isolating more

If your teen is becoming increasingly disengaged, spending more time in their room than usual, avoiding friends and social situations they’d usually enjoy attending, it may be a sign that they’re experiencing some sort of inner conflict.4

6. Negative changes in behaviour

When your teen is stressed, they may act out more, talk back to you, skip school or behave in ways that are out of character. They may also spend more time on their digital devices as a method of escaping or avoiding what’s troubling them.

7. Difficulty concentrating & procrastinating more

Stressed-out teens tend to be unable to focus, follow-through, and complete tasks they used to complete with no problem. With a lot on their mind they become easily distracted or procrastinate more on doing difficult but important things.

8. Worrying often

A sign that your teen is struggling with stress may be their incessant worrying about what others think of them, school and their ability to cope with the workload or other routine parts of life. They may also constantly jump to the worst-case scenario of events. This isn’t only a sign of stress but unmanaged, these patterns can drastically increase the levels of stress your teen is already under.

9. Decline in school performance

As your teen becomes more stressed, there may be a decline in their marks and a greater push to avoid going to school. And if they are the sporty type, they may start making excuses to skip practice.

10. Sleep issues

Stress can make it difficult for teens to fall asleep or stay asleep. This lack of sleep can lead to even more stress, which further impacts their quality of sleep.5 Conversely, your teen may end up sleeping more in an attempt to avoid what’s causing them to feel troubled. This can include wanting to spend whole afternoons sleeping after school or sleeping all day on weekends.

Your teen is stressed – what next?

If any of these things ring true for your teen, don’t ignore them. Left unaddressed, they may lead to more serious issues such as an anxiety disorder, depression or becoming reliant on destructive methods of coping.

Teens aren’t great at verbalising what they’re feeling but what they’re feeling will show up in their behaviour. So as the parent, it’s up to you to spot these signs that may be signaling that your teen is struggling with their levels of stress. With that, you may want to empower them with some stress-management techniques so that they can cope better and build their levels of resilience.

Alternatively, if it’s already interfering with their lives, it may be worth partnering with a great coach or therapist who can share helpful ways for your teen to better manage and protect against the effects of stress.

 

References

1. Davis MT, Holmes SE, Pietrzak RH, Esterlis I. Neurobiology of Chronic Stress-Related Psychiatric Disorders: Evidence from Molecular Imaging Studies. Chronic Stress. 2017;1. doi:10.1177/2470547017710916 2. Chronic stress (2022) Yale Medicine. Yale Medicine. Available at: https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder

3. Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004 Jul;130(4):601-30. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601. PMID: 15250815; PMCID: PMC1361287.

4. Campagne DM. Stress and perceived social isolation (loneliness). Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2019;82:192-199. doi:10.1016/j.archger.2019.02.007

5. Kim EJ, Dimsdale JE. The effect of psychosocial stress on sleep: a review of polysomnographic evidence. Behav Sleep Med. 2007;5(4):256-78. doi: 10.1080/15402000701557383. PMID: 17937582; PMCID: PMC4266573.