Stress is a normal and unavoidable part of our everyday lives. However, for all of us (including our young people), there may be periods of time where we feel our stress levels increase; that it no longer feels ‘normal’ and we may feel like we can’t cope.
We can think about stress as falling on a continuum, with there being a direct correlation between stress and performance. As our stress levels begin to increase, so does our performance. Stress causes us to experience positive challenge, motivation and focus. When we experience stress at its optimum, we’re able to function in the most efficient and healthy way. However, continued stress can become overwhelming. We can start to feel fatigue, anxiety and, ultimately, burn-out.
More than ever, teens are under pressure to perform. With ever increasing focus on academic achievement, peer pressure from the 24 hour world of social media and financial concerns regularly publicised because of the ‘cost of living’ crisis, teenagers’ ‘stress buckets’ are close to overflowing. As parents, teachers or support staff, you are in the privileged position of supporting young people to maintain a manageable, healthy level of stress – focusing their attention and committing to meaningful action around the things they can control, and accepting and moving away from those things that are out of their control.
Here are our top five stress busting approaches for teens:
Exercise – when you exercise, your body releases endorphins. These are ‘happy hormones’ that counter-balance your stress hormones and reduce the stress response in the body. Not only that, but exercise is an excellent way to practice ‘meditation in motion’. A game of tennis, a couple of laps in the swimming pool or a jog around the park can draw you into the moment and stop you focusing on worries about the past or the future.
Mindfulness – focused on ‘being in the moment’, mindfulness encourages a sense of stillness in the brain and body, and a feeling of being grounded. One of the most powerful techniques in mindfulness, meditation and yoga is breath work. Whereas all other aspects of your body’s stress response system is automatic (it can’t be consciously controlled), your breath can be. Unlike your heart beating or your pupils dilating, you can control the rate of your breath. And so, by slowing down your breath, you can reinforce for your body that you are safe, reducing your body’s need to respond to stress.
Journaling – there are so many different approaches to journaling. For some, the simple act of taking time out to doodle, colour or draw can be meditative in itself. For others, journaling can provide a platform to express and organise emotions in order to seek clarity or determine a route for requesting help from others. Equally, journaling can provide a canvas for recording affirmations, noting small acts of kindness or practicing gratitude.
Play – with so many pressures and demands on our teens, how often do they have the opportunity to be children and to play? Play encourages confidence, self-esteem, creativity, curiosity and independence – all vital skills for the development of resilience.
Sleep – the adolescent brain is still growing and changing, meaning that sleep is so important. Teens are notorious for lying in at the weekends. But during the week, how much sleep are your young people getting? Support healthy sleep hygiene through reducing sugar and caffeine intake, creating a calm, clutter-free environment for sleeping, establishing a consistent bedtime routine and reducing screen-time before bed.
Watch our ‘stress management’ webinar to further understand the psychology of stress and to consider more ways of supporting young people to manage their stress using Positive Psychology.