Living Better – With Dr. Carolyn King of Pine Rest

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Teens & Stress
By Dr. Carolyn King

Spring is often described as a hopeful time full of the promise of life and new beginnings, but for teenagers it can be fraught with stress. Finals to prepare for, that big playoff game to win, getting a date to prom, finding a summer job, getting accepted to college, and the list goes on. A lot to go through all at the same time!

Stress is a physical or mental reaction brought on by any changes perceived by the body.
These include emotional, mental or physical changes in our lives and it affects everyone. In addition to stressors we all experience, teenagers are going through “the flux,” a time of significant fluctuation. After the flux, they will morph into unique, adult individuals.

During the teenage years, physical changes, peer pressure, life decisions and choices all come together to create sort of a “perfect storm” for kids stress levels. This puts them at risk for everything from acne, colds, stomach aches, and crankiness to depression and suicide.

How do you recognize a stressed out teenager? When is it time to be concerned? First, let’s understand that not all stress is bad. Stress triggers our minds and bodies into a state of “high alert” activating our nervous system and certain hormones (like adrenaline) to help us react quickly and deal with pressure.

“Good” stress perks us up enabling us to perform on stage, step up to the plate when the score is tied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, or get the nerve to ask a date to the prom. “Good” stress pumps you up. “Bad” stress wipes you out. “Bad” stress can make you sick, nervous, tired, unable to perform and depressed.

What causes teen stress? You (if you are a parent reading this), School and Friends. The reality is that teens have to deal with all three. Pressure to do well in school, get accepted to college & get a summer job. As if the kid isn’t stressing themselves, enough, Parents stress kids about school, chores, respectfulness then add family conflicts over issues of independence like curfew, clothing, piercings and friends, then add friends or peer pressures like body image compared to others, pressures to use drugs and alcohol and…Whew, I am stressed out, just listing the stressors.

At Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services our inpatient admissions during the school year are at their highest. In the summers, we have very few children on our units. Can you see how it all makes sense now?

Recognizing the signs of stress in teens is perhaps more important than understanding the causes. What causes stress for one person may not for another. Some signs of a stressed out teen include:
• Increase in physical illnesses and complaints (headaches, stomachaches, pain, tiredness, acne flair ups, rashes, etc)
• Trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time
• Difficulty concentrating
• Lack of appetite or over eating
• Crying more than usual
• Irritability, anger and moodiness
• Worry , anxiety and nervousness
• Withdrawal from friends and/or family

A lot can be done to help teenagers with stress. We can teach our kids how to cope when they are not perfect. Three lessons for dealing with what life throws at you include:
1. Don’t take every rejection or slight personally
2. Don’t make assumptions
3. Value what you do & always do your best

Stressed out teens can take positive action to reduce their stress finding healthy stress relievers such as:
• Laugh! Like they did when they were a little kid
• Get a good night’s sleep
• Get a good night’s sleep (Yes, I repeated it on purpose, Caffeine nation!)
• Exercise and eat regularly
• Set smaller goals by breaking up tasks into smaller more manageable components
• Schedule breaks and fun activities
• Practice muscle relaxation – repeatedly tense then relax all the large muscle groups
• Accept the things you cannot change
• Take a Deep breath, then repeat this 5 times slowly
• Share your problems with trusted grownups and friends
• Volunteer
• Find activities that help you relax (music, sports, hobbies, hanging out with friends)
• Turn to God

Beating Stress happens with the practice of using Stress managing skills. Above are just a few suggestions. Experiment with healthy coping skills that are unique to you. Each time you succeed in finding a new coping skill that works, you reinforce attitudes and behaviors that help you become more resilient.

Recently, a teenager who attempted suicide and was happy she survived shared her new found recipe for dealing with stress: “Take a minute, take a deep breath, relax, and remember that its going to be alright, you will get thru this.”

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