Stress Management and Self Care

Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.

– Katie Reed

If your teen has ever said . . .

  • “No one understands me”
  • “I’m ugly”
  • “No one gets me”
  • “I feel everyone judges me”
  • “I’m not good enough”

Then he/she is likely experiencing emotional difficulties that might indicate they are ignoring taking care of themselves, which creates a high level of unhealthy stress.

  • Stress can range from mild discomfort to debilitating anxiety – how it is experienced and handled is subjective for everyone.
  • Vital warning system for the body, producing fight, flight, or freeze responses.
  • Teens experience a large amount of pressure today to excel in every area (sports, academics, friendships, etc.).
  • Social media mixed the social and biological need to compare themselves, these stressors follow them everywhere.
  • 2014 APA study shows that adolescent stress is comparable to adult stress
    • Teens reported a stress level of 5.8 on a scale to 10.
    • Adults reported a stress level of 5.1.
  • Important to remember that for many, this is the first time they are experiencing and learning how to deal with stress of this magnitude.
Healthy Stress

Short-term, brief, semi-predictable, moderate

Things that stress teens out include:

  • School
  • Family
  • Social Life
  • Feeling of lack of time
  • Sports

Can be helpful in pushing teens to perform better, study harder, etc.

What It Looks Like

  • Motivated and focused
  • Bursts of energy and boosts memory
  • Increases efficiency
  • Increase in blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Fortifies the immune system



Unhealthy Stress

Prolonged, begins to wear on the person emotionally, mentally, physically, etc.

Examples of unhealthy stress:

  • Trauma
  • Worrying about items outside of one’s control
  • Basic needs stress (e.g.: food, water, shelter)
  • Abusive Relationships

Can create physiological changes in the brain.

What It Looks Like

  • Anxiety and/or Intense Irritability
  • Weakened immune system
  • Inability to concentrate or complete tasks
  • Somatic Symptoms (e.g.: headaches, stomach aches, changes in appetite).
  • Difficulty sleeping

How to Reduce Unhealthy Stress

  1. By building and understanding healthy relationships
    • Parents: Help your teen build a healthy network of friends and support persons who truly love and care about him/her. Healthy relationships start with preserving self-respect in our own relationships and with oneself. Often, the challenge for teens can be external. These people, who we hope to build relationships with, can disappoint us.
    • Teens: Teens should understand that they must focus on their self-respect to establish healthy relationships. This can be done by focusing on questions like, “Is this relationship fair to me?” or “Am I compromising my self-worth in this relationship?”
  2. It’s Ok to Say No
    • Teens: Sometimes you may feel “forced” to engage in an activity or feel “the need to apologize” if you are unable to go. Instead, it’s simply ok to say no. To say that you cannot go because you are wanting to take time to yourself, maybe for homework or self-care.
  3. Focus on Self-Care and Self-Esteem
    • Below are 4 ways to focus on self-care and self-esteem:
    • Awareness is the key to recognition. Without it we can truly become “stuck” in a negative cycle of thoughts and behaviors. Teens can improve their self-care by learning the impact of hurtful self-directed statements like, “I’m a failure” or “I just can’t do it”. Help your teen by “showing” them when they engage in a destructive behavior versus “judging” the action.
    • Mindfulness plays a vital role in helping teens understand how and when judgment is taking place.  A fun activity to do with your teen in the “coin jar”. Your teen is to place a coin into the jar each time he/she recognizes judgment taking place.
    • Creating clarity. Teens often make statements based on judgment versus compassion. This activity helps teens learn how to shift hurtful judgmental statements to supportive compassionate statements. For instance, “the music you listen to sucks!” versus a healthier alternative, “we have different interests in music.”
    • Supportive environment – parents can support their teens to feel better and happier with self-care. Self-care MUST be a part of your life.
  4. Model Self-Care for your Teens
    Parents can model self-care habits and behaviors for their teen as a “show-and-tell” way. Below is a list of self-care therapy strategies that may work for you:

    • Do something different that you normally don’t do. Pulling your mind away from the normal routine can be extremely therapeutic to the body and mind. Example: walking around the mall, cleaning the windows at home, etc.
    • Lending a helpful hand to others can help you feel positive and centered. Example: writing a thank-you note to a friend, making a fun and delicious dessert for the family, cleaning up when it’s not your turn.
    • Practicing the art of daydreaming can allow you to get lost in your thoughts. Example: thinking about your favorite vacation, imagining yourself flying, or counting the numbers of blue cars passing by as you’re in the car.
    • Counting your blessings provides a feeling of gratitude. Example: comparing your struggles to those less fortunate

More things that Parents Can Do:

  1. Recognize the signs of healthy v. unhealthy stress and keep the lines of communication open.
  2. Ask open ended questions – questions that prompt more than a “yes” or “no” response.
  3. Set limits for reasonable sleep and phone time.
  4. Encourage teens towards stress reliving activities (e.g.: exercise, self-care, playing games, etc.).
  5. Modeling stress management – we have become a culture of the busier we are, the more successful we are, which our children observe, learn, and practice.
  6. Practice not internalizing, rescuing, or avoiding teen stress. Support them in learning the skills, without doing it for them.

Additional Resources: