Stress Is Not Just an Adult Problem

Carol James Copyright 1999-2012

Screaming kids, spousal misunderstandings, blaring alarm clocks, deadlines approaching, interruptions, phones ringing off the hook, arriving late to a meeting, bad news, bills needing to be paid, slow traffic, health problems, computer crashes, household chores, taxes, bosses on your case . . . stress, stress and more stress. As an adult, you are exposed to abundant stress in your life, but so are your teenagers. Remember what it was like to be a teenager:

  • struggling to discover yourself,
  • wanting to be an individual,
  • pleasing parents who demanded good grades,
  • dealing with peer pressure,
  • dealing with body changes and raging hormones,
  • facing the looming temptation of sex, drugs or alcohol,
  • trying to fit in and to be accepted by peers,
  • seeking approval from parents, teachers and peers,
  • seeking to be acknowledged, appreciated and valued.

On top of all that is the added stress that teens often feel as a result of parents problems spousal arguments, divorce, money issues, death in the family, and you know the rest.

The link between stress, health and the proper functioning of the immune system has been the subject of intense study, and according to recent studies, stress contributes to 50% of all illnesses in the United States. Stress causes physiological reactions which throw the body out of balance, which when left unchecked or ignored often causes tiredness and sickness. Studies have found that on days when people reported significant daily stress, they were two or three times more likely to report stomach pains, headaches or muscle pains. Stress weakens the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infectious disease. There is even speculation that stress may cause memory loss by interfering with information transmission between brain cells.

In addition to affecting health, stress also affects teenagers sense of well-being and their life-energy. It can cause them to do, be and say things that may not be in their best interest or that they might later regret. They may get defensive, argumentative or impatient with people in their interactions with them and can have an attitude problem or become truant at school. Their ability to be loving toward others and to be tolerant of mistakes is diminished. They feel anxious and frustrated, worrying about the future and worrying about what people think of them. They start making mistakes and having accidents. They get forgetful. They lose their self-confidence. They lose their sense of self.

How can you, as a parent, be more nurturing and supportive in helping your teenagers deal more effectively with the stresses in their life? The most important way, as youve probably been doing all along, is to continue to be understanding and patient with them. Plus, remember that stress itself is not nearly as important as how a person reacts to it. Teach your teenagers ways to deal with stress. Here are eight techniques to effectively deal with stress:

Take a break. No matter how difficult something may appear, a change of pace, no matter how short, can do wonders toward opening up new ways of looking at the problem. Teach your teenagers the value of taking time for themselves.

Listen to your body. When a person is tense, the head starts aching, the heart beats faster, the stomach gets queasy, muscles get tight, etc. Educate them about noticing the signs of stress and encourage them to slow down when their body is signaling that they are pushing too hard.

Get plenty of sleep. Sleep improves ones ability to deal with stressful situations. Provide an environment that allows them to get enough sleep each night.

Work it off. When feeling blue, angry, hurt or upset, physical activity works wonders toward relaxing the body and helping one to deal with mental stress. Encourage your teenagers to use physical activity as a method to release the pressure.

Talk it over. When things build up, talking with someone who listens and is compassionate and understanding can go a long way toward reducing the pressure. But children tend to only open up to those who they feel they can trust, who wont be judgmental, and who will help them to find their own solutions, instead of always telling them what to do.

Notice more things to appreciate. The more one focuses on the stresses of life the more stresses one finds to focus on. But its very difficult to feel bad when one is thinking about things one appreciates and loves. Inform your teenagers about the value of noticing the joys and blessings in life.

Keep an appreciation journal. By keeping a daily journal of things they have found to appreciate, they can then refer back to it when they are feeling stressed to remind them that not everything in life is difficult or stressful. Some examples of things to add to the appreciation journal might be:

  • the wonders they felt as they learned a new idea or skill in school
  • the excitement of connecting through laughter or words with a friend or teacher
  • acknowledgement they received from a teacher, friend or mentor
  • the feeling of joy after lending a helping hand
  • something they did for somebody else that caused that person to feel good
  • being asked to join a club
  • making a good play in a game
  • watching the laughter of a child
  • helping someone to learn something new

Find a different way to perceive the situation. For every situation that we encounter, we strive to make meaning of it who did what to whom, why it happened, what it meant, how I was affected by it, etc. However, our perspective is often one-sided and limited, so that what we think happened is often not the entire story or sometimes even a distorted version. Encourage your teenagers to step back from their own point of view to see if there is another side of the story that they have not seen, which can help them to be more understanding and compassionate of others. Helping your teenagers to deal more effectively with stress has many benefits, some of which are:

  • They have better coping skills to deal with lifes pressures.
  • They become more self-confident as they learn to solve their own problems and issues.
  • They take a more active interest in life instead of feeling overwhelmed by life.
  • They have better relationships with people (including you) because they feel good about themselves.

I call that a win-win situation.

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