Teens, Feeling Anxious? Here’s How To Lessen The Stress

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stressed teen

Teens, Feeling Anxious? Here’s How To Lessen The Stress

No wonder you’re stressed out

School. Tests. Grades. Getting into the “right” college. After-school sports and music. Volunteering and joining clubs to beef up your résumé. Not to mention dating, body image and trying to fit in. Plus, parents wanting you to excel, work hard, take responsibility and above all, be happy! Wow, that’s a lot of pressure.

Lauren Budow, MD, Westchester Health Pediatrics, teen stress, teen anxiety, stressed-out teens

Lauren Budow, MD

Everyone is affected by stress at one time or another, and it can feel overwhelming. But with the right tools, you can learn to manage stress before it takes a toll on your health, happiness and relationships.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. But if it persists at high levels for a long time, it can have lasting negative effects on your health. Chronic (long-term) anxiety can cause high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, and can contribute to diseases such as depression, obesity and heart disease.

One in eight children suffers from an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Some teens complain that social media has made their lives harder, causing them to pretend they’re outgoing and having fun when really, they’re not. Parents can also add to kids’ anxiety by constantly hovering, arranging after-school activities and pressuring them to get good grades so they can get into a top college.

To numb themselves, some teens use (possibly abuse) alcohol or drugs. Others turn to self-damaging behaviors such as cutting, anorexia or bulimia.

Yet in certain situations, anxiety can be a good thing. For example, when you’re studying for a test, a little anxiety can make you keep focused so you can learn the material and do well. But when it’s overly excessive, anxiety can be harmful, especially when it gets in the way of your daily life.

How to tell if you’re overly stressed

  • You feel anxious, worried or afraid for no reason. Normally, teens feel anxiety because of something specific: a test, tournament or going on a date. But if there’s no obvious reason for your feelings, your anxiety level may be too high.
  • You worry too much about everyday events or activities. Some worry is normal. But if you’re constantly worrying about common, everyday things, your anxiety level deserves attention.
  • You continually check whether you did something right. While it’s normal to proofread or go over something for mistakes, continuing to check it again and again is a sign that you have too much anxiety.
  • You’re so panicky you’re unable to function in certain specific situations, like taking tests or hanging out with friends.

5 tools for dealing with anxiety and stress

If you’re feeling overly stressed, here are 5 ways to cope so you can feel better and calmer:

1) Exercise

Physical activity is one of the most effective stress busters. That doesn’t mean you have to train for a marathon if you hate running. Find activities you like such as yoga, biking, skateboarding or walking. In addition, the best types of physical activities are those with a social component. Whether you take up a team sport or rollerblade with a friend or two, you’re more likely to have fun — and keep at it — if you’re being active with friends.

2) Get enough sleep

Between homework, sports, music, chores and hanging out with friends, it can be hard to get enough sleep, especially during the school week. In a perfect world, teenagers should get 9 hours of sleep a night. Most, though, are getting less. (Research reveals that the typical teen sleeps just 7.4 hours on a school night.) That’s not good, because sleep is very important for both your physical and emotional well-being. To catch more zzz’s, cut back on TV or screen time in the late evening hours, lay off the caffeine late in the day and try not to do high-energy activities too close to bedtime.

3) Make time for fun

School is important, but it’s not everything (in spite of what your parents say). When planning your week, schedule time to get schoolwork done but also schedule time to have fun. You deserve to enjoy yourself: sports, hobbies, listening to music, going to the movies, playing video games. Even when you’re stressed and busy, still take time to relax and have fun.

4) Let yourself shine

Spend some time thinking about the things you’re good at, and find ways to do more of them. If you’re a math ace, you might tutor a younger kid who’s having trouble with it. If you’re a spiritual person, you might volunteer at your church or temple. If you’re artistic, take a photography or drawing class. Focusing on your strengths will help you keep your stresses in perspective.

5) Talk through it

It’s so much easier to manage stress when you unburden yourself and let others help. Build a network of friends who can help you cope in a positive way. Talk to a parent, teacher, doctor or professional counselor. They often have good ideas for ways to manage stress. Plus, they can put you in touch with a therapist who is trained in helping people cope with stress and anxiety.

We’re here to listen and help you cope

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we understand that you’ve got a lot of stress in you life. Please come in and talk to us about anything that’s causing you anxiety or making you feel overwhelmed. We’ve got information and advice, and if together, we decide you might need some help, we’ll give you some options for that, too. Most of all, we want to help you be healthy and happy, in any way we can.

For more help and resources, check out these websites:

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Children and Teens
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
The Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery

By Lauren Budow, MD, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball