At every age, stress is a natural part of our life. A little stress can actually be good for the mind, as it serves as motivation to complete important tasks and to stay alert throughout the day. But, too much stress can take a tremendous toll on our mental and physical health, ultimately impacting our personalities and changing the ways we interact with one another.
High levels of mental distress can be particularly harmful for teens, who are still developing both behaviorally and cognitively.
Helping your teen cope
Everyone exhibits signs of mental distress a bit differently, but it is important for parents to know that adolescents may display stress differently than younger children and adults. Recognizing these signs of stress is the first step in learning to help your child cope in a healthy way.
Parents and other caregivers play a crucial role in helping teens learn to manage their stress. The adults in a teen’s life set the example for normal behaviors and can greatly influence a teen’s decision to choose healthy coping mechanisms over those that may put them at risk.
In addition to acting as a role model for healthy coping behaviors, Charles Wisniewski, DO, an adolescent psychiatrist at Main Line Health, shares ways parents and caregivers can also help their teens manage stress and prioritize their mental health:
Stick to good sleeping habits
Making sleep a priority can help ensure that your teen is waking up well-rested, and less stressed, each day. Sleep is an essential component of our mental and physical wellness. For teens, experts recommend no less than 8-10 hours of sleep every night. While averaging 8-10 of sleep is helpful, it is even more important for your teen to practice good sleep hygiene by keeping a consistent bedtime and by limiting screen time, or avoiding usage of screens like tablets, phones, and computers, which emit blue light. Turning these screens off at least an hour before bedtime can dramatically improve sleep quality.
Regular exercise is an effective tool for relieving and managing stress. Adopting habits like regular exercise can also help to promote healthy mental activity for your teen now, and later on in their adult life. It is recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that children and teens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Talk it out
Simply being there to listen to your teen or to help them process what they’re going through is one of the best things a parent or caregiver can do. Make time to check in with each other. Offering guidance, support, an encouraging word or even just a compassionate ear will not only strengthen your relationship, but it will also provide the security your teen needs to problem solve on their own while learning to combat negative thoughts.
Mindfulness practices like meditation, self-affirmation, and journaling are fantastic stress management tools for teens. Encourage your teen to take time to reflect before they react, to write about their day, or to practice positive self-talk. Setting these habits early on will help them navigate the current challenges they’re facing while building self-confidence that will only grow as they continue to mature.
Behaviors to watch for
Depression, anxiety, and stress may not look the same in teens as it does in younger children or adults. As the adolescent brain develops, certain emotional and mood changes are common. But, when those changes linger, or begin to interfere with your teen’s quality of life, it may be time to intervene or ask for help.
While some signs of mental or emotional distress are easy to recognize, others may not be as obvious. Here are some signs of trouble to watch for in your teen:
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Dramatic changes in personality or appearance
- Engaging in risky, dangerous, or self-harming behaviors
- Giving away belongings
- Major decline in academic performance
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Extreme isolation, lack of communication with family and friends
Of course, some of these changes—moodiness, changes to personality and appearance—can just be part of being a teenager. While it will present differently in every teen, one of the most common signs of depression among teens is pulling away from or less frequent communication with friend groups. Make sure you encourage your teen to keep in touch, even virtually, with friends.
Help for teens and their families
Mirmont Outpatient Centers in Broomall, Exton and Media, part of Main Line Health, provide treatment for mental health diagnoses and substance use disorders. Services include psychiatric evaluation and medication management, individual and group psychotherapy, an intensive outpatient program and a partial hospitalization program, with specialty services for adolescents and adults. We work closely with primary care physicians and behavioral health specialists to provide families with holistic and comprehensive care that is close to home.