At a time when entire families are experiencing stress and anxiety at varying intensity, it's really important not to overlook the impact social distancing might be having on teens' mental health. This is a weird and confusing time for everyone as we manage our physical and emotional response to huge lifestyle changes. Teenagers won't necessarily have the coping skills to deal with these changes that adults do. The stress response, so the system responsible for our body's 'fight or flight' system, is being activated more often in our daily lives than it was ever meant to. While some stress is helpful to develop resilience in our young people and equip them to manage stressful situations – too much can affect sleep, how they process information, focus and gives rise to more serious mental and physical health problems.
Hopefully, these stress management tips will open up more conversation at home and teach your teens that a problem shared is a problem halved.
Keeping a routine is one way to help teens feel stable because change is often a trigger for anxieties. Maintaining the school or college day schedule at home will keep daily activities consistent and help young people to concentrate on their work in the absence of physical encouragement from teachers. Waking up and getting ready for bed at the same time will also regulate their circadian rhythm which means they'll get a refreshing night's sleep and be ready to face the next day.
Stressful situations can be a force for positive change and get teens to think about how to solve problems in other ways. By creating rituals it lets them take control of their daily routine and introduce positive new habits which they've chosen for themselves. An example could be to read a chapter of a book each night, to set an intention for their day each morning or to take five minutes outside in the garden as a reward after studying for an hour. Rituals can be a fun technique for stress management.
Teens are brilliant at accessing information, which has its upsides and downsides because it means they're often bombarded with negative news and incorrect knowledge. Kids need to know they're not alone in how overwhelmed they're feeling and it will be comforting to know there are others in their family feeling the same way. Reassuring them that this period of self-isolation is temporary, and a global situation, will help to manage their stress. They can take comfort in the fact they're not the only one having a hard time.
Experts say exercise should be prescribed for mental health issues because of how transformative it can be. Exercise is a stress reliever – it boosts the release of feel-good endorphins in our brains to make us feel happier and promotes positive changes in our brains, which improves our stress response. Adolescents love chilling, but the more ways you can find to encourage them to get their blood pumping, the less stress they'll hold onto in their body. They'll sleep better too and be able to concentrate more on school work.
There's more than one way to skin a cat. Addressing life's big problems doesn't always mean having what some teenagers might feel is an intimidating and uncomfortable conversation. Doing your children's favourite activities with them is a healthy way to bond, learn more about them and get them to open up in a more relaxed atmosphere, which will lessen their stress levels. While you're painting, baking or doing a TikTok challenge, ask them how they're doing and let the conversation flow from there.
Mealtimes give families a chance to connect and reflect on things as a unit. Dinner time also gives children a window of opportunity to share their thoughts without judgement. If you're able to carve out dinner time, breakfast (or both) to eat together, it will help to strengthen family ties, reduce stress by having that constant amongst the uncertainty, and make way for conversation without any distractions. Kitchen table talk is also an extension of school – scientists have found a link between how often a child has family dinner and their academic performance.
Mindfulness at its simplest is the act of being present in the moment so not dwelling on the past or contemplating the future. Mindfulness encourages a person to be more aware of how they think, feel and behave. If we apply this principle to the stress response, it could help your teenager for the entire family to reflect on how they respond to stress and how they might change their response for the better. Through mindfulness, young people can begin to recognise their automatic responses to triggers and the power of their mind to control and change how they feel. What teenager doesn't want to learn they have superpowers?!
Most of us don't breathe correctly – our breaths are shallow from the chest instead of intentional and deep from the pit of our stomachs. According to the Harvard Medical School, breathing like this restricts the space our diaphragm has to move so our lungs don't intake all the oxygen they should, making us feel short of breath and anxious. As well as oxygen coming in, we want as much carbon monoxide to be breathed out. When we're stressed, we're more likely to hold our breath. Make deep breathing activities a must for the entire family. Throw some cushions on the living room floor, tell Alexa to play a jazz mix and take a purposeful break together with your teens.
Use Music For Relaxation
Sometimes music is a perfect remedy for stress. You can get lost in the rhythm. Focusing on the beats can distract you from your own feelings and the right piece of music will create a sense of calm in the home. The British Association for Music Therapy says "everyone has the ability to respond to music" and music therapy will "build on this connection to facilitate positive changes in emotional wellbeing and communication". Could you find time for a jam session if there are instruments at home? What about a DJ soundclash using YouTube? Do your teens love to sing, write songs or poetry? Stress can be combated in lots of ways and music can definitely help.
It's easy for teens to stay cooped up inside, especially if the only way to socialise with friends at the moment is through their phone or computer, but it's really important to encourage them to get outside if they can. Whether your older kids go on a walk alone or with the rest of the family, it's been proven that spending time out in nature is an effective way to minimise stress. At the very least, if you've got a balcony or garden, gently push them to spend an hour or so out there to get some fresh air. While we're spending all our time within the four walls of our homes, getting outside is a nice change of scenery to look forward to each day.
Teenagers are experiencing a lot of changes right now: not being able to see friends, the school year being disrupted, uncertainty about grades and spending all this time indoors – to name a few. Those are stressful enough issues on their own and will add to any underlying stress your child was already feeling. Teen stress is an epidemic and young people may hide how anxious they feel to not add any pressure onto their parents. Get on their level and help them with their stress by acknowledging what they're experiencing and feeling. The validation of someone saying: "I completely get how you feel" can be the catalyst for changing your child's perception of their problems.
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