Stress – Teens/Youth

The teenage years are full of change for both parents and teenagers. Not only are teens growing and changing physically, they are developing their identity and becoming more independent. It is common for teens to experience stress at this stage of their lives – which can be a good thing if it leads to positive action or change. However, stress can be unhealthy if it reaches high levels or is ongoing.

Some sources of stress for teens include:

  • Dealing with the physical and cognitive changes associated with puberty.
  • Pressure to be a particular size or body shape (for some, the focus is on weight; while for others the focus is on having a muscular or athletic physique.)
  • Family issues such as a separation or divorce of parents, an unsafe living environment, financial problems, chronic illness, or a death of a loved one.
  • School demands, such as a school change or pressure to make career choices.
  • Peer relationships or dating issues. These could include pressure to wear certain types of clothing, jewelry or hairstyles or pressure to experiment with drugs, alcohol, or sex. Bullying, violence, and sexual harassment may also be an issue.
  • Today’s teens have full schedules, juggling jobs and school, sports, after-school activities, social life, and family obligations. Many teens take on too many activities or have unrealistic expectations.
  • Negative thoughts or feelings about themselves can be present when teens fail to keep up with these expectations.

Stress shows in different ways, and some symptoms mimic normal teen behaviour. Marked changes in emotions, physical changes or behaviours may be a sign to start paying more attention.

Signs that teens may be overwhelmed with stress:

  • changes in sleeping and eating habits, such as insomnia, nightmares, or being “too busy” to eat;
  • increased complaints of headache, stomachache, muscle pain or tiredness;
  • increased anger or irritability (i.e., lashing out at people and situations);
  • shutting down and withdrawing from people and activities;
  • crying more often and appearing teary-eyed;
  • feelings of hopelessness;
  • chronic anxiety and nervousness;
  • difficulty concentrating;
  • trouble at school, either with learning or behaviour;
  • overuse of electronic media like cell phones or smartphones; or
  • experimentation with drugs or alcohol.

Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviours and techniques:

  • Take care of themselves. Eat well, avoid caffeine, exercise, and get enough sleep.
  • Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.
  • Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a big task into smaller, more attainable tasks.
  • Rehearse and practice situations that cause stress. Role-play difficult situations with a trusted person. Sometimes writing a journal about a difficult situation gives insight into making it more manageable.
  • Combat negative self-talk and replace it with positive thoughts. Instead of “I am going to fail my exams,” try turning it around with “My exams are going to be difficult, but I’m going to study hard and do my best.”
  • Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress.
  • Develop assertiveness training skills. For example, state feelings in polite, firm, and not overly aggressive or passive ways: “I feel angry when you yell at me,” or “please stop yelling.”
  • Build a network of friends to help cope in a positive way.
  • Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

We all want to do what’s best for our children. By encouraging open and honest conversation, your teen is more likely to come to you for the important stuff—like relationships, school, sex, drugs—rather than turning to friends for help and guidance or feeling alone.

Family meals, activities and driving in the car provide great opportunities to engage with teens. Be prepared and willing to actively listen to whatever topics arise. It is essential to treat your teen’s opinion with respect and not dismiss their feeling or opinions. Help your teen solve issues and avoid getting frustrated or becoming angry or upset. It is always best to avoid lectures and keep difficult conversations short. Avoid heated conversations. It is sometimes best to step away for a period and revisit the conversation when everyone has calmed down.

Model healthy coping techniques and take care of yourself. Seek the assistance of a physician, school psychologist, school counsellor, or school social worker if the stress continues to be a concern.

Call your doctor right away if your teen talks about suicide or harming themselves.

Services related to this information:

  • Bridge the gApp
    Newfoundland and Labrador’s ‘go-to’ website for mental health information. Bridge the gApp offers self-help resources, links to local services, and invites people to share their personal stories. Bridge the gApp is free of cost and available to every resident in the province. The site is divided into adult and youth sections, however many services are appropriate for both.
  • Strongest Families Children and Youth Programs
    Free skill-based educational programs for children, youth, adults, and families seeking help to improve mental health and well-being.
  • Mental health and addictions services.
  • Mental Health Crisis Line – 709-737-4668 / 1-888-737-4668
    A free, confidential service for individuals, family and friends. The crisis line is province-wide, 24 hours a day.
  • Contact your public health nurse
  • Contact your physician/nurse practitioner
  • 811 HealthLine (Newfoundland & Labrador) – Call 811 or 1-888-709-2929 / TTY 1-888-709-3555
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Last updated: 2022-06-09