How should adolescents cope with stress?


School, parents, friends, activities, and jobs make for a hectic life. Add puberty to that mix -- well, being a teen is stressful business.

When feeling stressed, teens will often experience the physical and emotional responses triggered by the more primal "fight or flight" response so typical in stressful situations. Just as the stress response can lead to rapid heartbeats, shortness of breath, sweating, fear, and confusion, teens can learn active techniques that stimulate their relaxation response. For example, using exercises that slow down their physical stress responses (such as breathing techniques and muscle relaxing techniques) can trigger emotional calm as well. Some other physical coping mechanisms teens can use to reduce their sense of stress are to exercise regularly, limit caffeine intake, not to smoke, and to abstain from drinking alcohol.

Teens can also reduce their susceptibility to stress through behavioral techniques. For example, if a specific situation triggers stress, rehearsing how you will behave during that situation can make the real event less stressful. Teens can also learn skills, such as personal assertiveness, limiting their internal negative talk, recognizing their own accomplishments, and accepting that no one (including themselves) is expected to be perfect -- all of which can help them better navigate potentially stressful situations.

Teens will also feel less stress when they feel like they have a degree of control over a situation. So learning how to break up challenging goals into smaller, more easily achievable tasks helps teens take on new activities. When teens do have to engage in stressful activities, allow them to break up that work with more enjoyable activities. Also, teens with good social networks -- people they can talk to about their stresses -- will often find such stress easier to manage. Also, you can help your teens understand what factors they can control and which they can't. Once they get better at not trying to control the conditions they can't, teens will feel less stress about them.