By Rachel Gorman & Eileen DePaula
Stress is linked to so many health concerns, and I’m sure we’ve all read plenty of articles and studies about it at this point. We are seeing more and more teens with conditions symptomatic of a chronically too-high stress level: anxiety/depression, fatigue, insomnia, poor concentration, digestive problems, migraines and headaches, high blood pressure, and even autoimmune illnesses. I suppose it’s not surprising, considering most teens are juggling school full time, sports teams or exercise classes, music/art/extracurricular lessons, tutoring, part time jobs, applying to colleges…not to mention a social life. So how can we help teens manage their stress levels better? There’s good news and bad news.
The bad news: teens in general are overscheduled and often exhausted, and a lot of this is just the fact of being this age. College applications, school projects and homework all have concrete deadlines. Jobs, teams and other extracurricular activities have their own requirements and schedules. Social pressures are often at an all-time high…This is the part we have to accept.
The good news: there ARE things that can help manage stress levels, and we can help. Here’s some of the main things I recommend to teen patients or parents of teens:
- Make a house rule that no cell phones go to the bedroom during sleeping hours. Many kids are staying up way too late to try to keep up with social posts, and are sleeping with them in their bed. They are being alerted to posts and texts through the night which is very disruptive of their sleep. Setting this rule for all members of the house will help teach them to self moderate and develop good habits.
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet. The less junk-food, and the more whole, unprocessed foods your family consumes, the better. Especially when stressed, it’s important to supply your body with the nutrition it needs to function properly. Two other common teen-diet issues I see are skipping breakfast, consuming too much caffeine, and filling up on carbs at the expense of more nutritionally dense foods. There’s lots of ideas online for prepping breakfast the night before (overnight oats, egg-muffins, etc.) to make it quick and easy in the morning. See our recipe section for more.
- Get outdoors! Studies show that even a short time spent in nature can have amazing effects on the nervous and immune systems. The Japanese practice of “Forest Bathing” has been shown to have amazing benefits for health and immunity. This can be as low key as walking the dog or as hard core as snowboarding. I usually recommend some kind of walking/hiking in nature for an hour at least once a week, or for 15-30 minutes a day.
- Similarly, exercise is important to maintaining health and managing stress levels. That said, many teens are overcommitted with sports teams, so balancing too-much vs too-little can be tricky. See my recommendation above and shoot for at least 20 minutes of movement (walking, sports, yoga, other exercise) each day.
- Breathe, Meditate, Stretch. Again, we know the science here- breathing and meditation practices absolutely help manage stress levels and lower anxiety. There’s some great videos/tutorials on youtube. HeadSpace is an app I often recommend that offers guided meditations ranging from 2-60 minutes and is super easy to use.
- Keep a regular schedule. To the extent possible, help your teen pick a time that works to go to bed and wake up, and keep it as consistent as possible. The importance of sleep can not be overstated. Our teens are all chronically sleep deprived these days, with little to balance the activity levels. Being tired severely impacts our coping mechanisms in a negative way by weakening our defenses.
- Schedule some down-time. It’s equally important to rest, relax and restore as it is to exercise. Especially with busy schedules, this may be time that needs to actually be scheduled in the calendar. Schedule this “do-nothing” time and leave it blank, only deciding in the moment what (if any) activity to pursue.
- Acupuncture and/or herbal medicine-both or either of these can help balance and regulate the various systems in the body, and most people leave a treatment feeling deeply relaxed. Acupuncture and herbs can also treat the symptoms of an over-stressed body (anxiety, headaches, digestive issues, pain, exhaustion, stress,etc.).
And remember, we are here to help if you need us!