According to a recent study in the American Psychology Association, fewer than half of teens rate their mental health as excellent or very good. In fact, most teens deem themselves stressed, anxious, depressed, and/or insecure. Why? Some of it relates to hormones but most teen stress and anxiety come from pressure to achieve, to have their lives figured out, to fit in, and to appear “perfect.”
Take, for example, my teen client Lisa. She is a high school sophomore who worries excessively about her grades and getting into a good college. Most nights, she stays up until after midnight doing homework and studying. During midterms and finals, she’s up even later, fretting that if she doesn’t put in the extra study time, her future will suffer.
Then there’s Van, another client in her freshman year of college. She was eager for a fresh start but within the first month of school, she was begging to come home. She was riddled with what she termed social anxiety. She believed no one liked her, viewed herself as awkward, and did all that she could to avoid social situations.
No matter what triggers stress and anxiety in your teen, there are several parenting approaches that help.
Offer a Heartfelt Response
The most important thing to do when your teen is feeling stressed or anxious is to listen with an open heart and open mind. Unless your teen asks, don’t try to problem-solve or rescue her. Instead, give her space to emote, help her name her feelings, and validate how she feels. You might say something like, “You’re feeling nervous in new social situations because you really want to make a positive first impression. That makes a lot of sense. Would you like to talk about some ways you can handle it?”
Talk about the NUTS
Help your teen identify what is causing her stress. According to Dr. Sonia Lupien of the Center for Studies on Human Stress, there are four common causes of stress and the acronym NUTS will help you remember:
Novelty. For teens, this may include a new social situation or new school.
Unpredictability. This can relate to fear of an unknown future or fear of failure.
Threat to the ego. This typically includes fear of judgment, not fitting in, or self-criticism.
Sense of (no) control. This may be most common for teens as they regularly feel they have no control over their life or their emotions.
Once your teen understands the source of her stress, she should gain more control and determine how to move forward.
Provide her Tools
Teens are still learning how to cope with difficult feelings. They need support to build a toolbox that will help them understand and navigate common triggers and soothe intense emotions. These are a few of my favorite strategies for easing teen stress and anxiety:
Normalize. Remind your teen that it is normal to feel nervous or anxious in certain situations. Her feelings do not mean something is “wrong” with her.
Refocus. Stress and anxiety can cause teens to start overthinking about the future. What-ifs begin to flood their thoughts and create even more stress! Help your teen bring her focus to the present by asking the question, What’s most important right now?
Strengthen inner qualities. Your teen’s values and strengths are her anchors, especially during uncertain or stressful times. Building your teen’s self-awareness and confidence by acknowledging her personal qualities and paying attention to what she’s doing right.
Grounding A few deep breaths can work wonders on feelings of stress and anxiety. You can encourage your teen to take it a step further with a grounding body scan: Pause and feel your feet on the floor. Feel your legs, your spine, your head, your shoulders, your arms, your hands. Feel your breath moving in and out of your body. With each exhale, feel your body relax and your mind clear. From this centered, calm place things will begin to look and feel differently.
Many teens benefit from talking with someone other than their parents about the situations that trigger stress and anxiety. If your teen would benefit from an additional perspective, schedule a free discovery session to learn more about life coaching.