Teens stress rates are higher than ever but they can lower anxiety and increase heart coherence by learning the best five teen stress reduction strategies.
stress – n. psychol. a condition typically characterized by symptoms of mental and physical tension or strain, as depression or hypertension, that can result from a reaction to a situation in which a person feels threatened, pressured, etc.–Webster’s New World College Dictionary
Schoolwork, social life, crazy schedules, pervasive media technology and uncertainty about the future have teens worried, frustrated and suffering headaches, stomach pain and other maladies. Many turn to alcohol and illegal and prescription drugs to reduce teen stress.
These and other pressures facing today’s teens, especially those related to school, are contributing to unhealthy teen stress levels, and teens themselves are acknowledging the problem, according to a major national survey.
“Teens report that their teen stress level during the school year far exceeds what they believe to be healthy,” according to the American Psychological Association’s 2014 annual nationwide Stress in America survey. Teens surveyed in 2013 ranked themselves at 5.8 on a 10-point scale, versus 3.9, which they considered healthy. That’s higher than the 5.1 ranking adults respondents gave themselves in their survey.
Common Teen Stress Factors
There are, of course, all sorts of circumstances that can contribute to unhealthy teen stress. Here are some pretty common teen stress factors that parents and teachers should be aware of:
- Academic overload
- Falling behind in school and getting poor grades
- Relationship issues with family and best friends
- “Breaking up.”
- Feeling left out or being bullied
- Trying to make the team
- Not making the team
- Not having money
- Moving. Leaving friends and familiar surroundings behind.
–Marilu Henner, American actress–
Your Body’s Stress Warning Signal
Although some stress is natural and healthy, too much is not. Fortunately, the human body has an effective warning system, but the downside is this entails some unpleasantness.
The symptoms of excessive stress – there are many, among them low energy/fatigue, sleeplessness and weakened immune system – alert us to a problem, perhaps multiple problems. Maybe we get angry too easily, have frequent stomachaches or headaches, stay up nights worrying or have constant relationship problems.
Something students should particularly be on the lookout for is whether they’re doing too much. How to tell? Well, are you able to devote sufficient time to all of your classes, activities and responsibilities to the point that you feel you’re doing justice to them? Parents need to be observant, too.
Being overburdened, or overwhelmed is a particularly common problem among teens. Approximately 60% of teens in the Stress in America survey said having to manage too many activities was a “somewhat or very significant stressor” in their lives which is why we created the best five teen stress reduction strategies.
Don’t Be a Teen Stress Athlete
We know from research, and everyday life that stress is a warning signal: Something’s out of whack. Ignoring warning signals won’t do because a range of mental, emotional and physical health problems can result. More than that, something very sinister also can and often does occur: becoming accustomed to stress, or as I refer to it, becoming a “stress athlete.”
It’s quite common these days for people to get used to the experience, or stimulation of stress. Like athletes who become accustomed to the rush or even the minor aches and pains and odd physical nuances of their particular sports, it can happen with stress.
So what if you’re tired all the time: After all you’re doing a lot, so it’s OK. Maybe you do get a nervous stomach every few days. There’s a lot your plate and some of it’s hard. You’ll survive.
Eventually, failing to address anxiety, the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed, running on empty or other symptoms will cost.
Where Do We First Experience Stress?
We first experience stress in our feeling world, which includes your emotions and moods. At the Institute of HeartMath (IHM), where stress and emotions have been studied since 1991, researchers have compiled a wealth of evidence that indicates our emotions are at the heart of stress.
Studies show negative emotions such as anxiety, anger or frustration can contribute to unhealthy stress levels, while positive ones such as appreciation and compassion can help lower it.
When you are aware of and routinely make a point of recognizing emotions you’re experiencing, you prevent the negative ones like tension, irritation and worry from escalating into frustration, anger and anxiety. If you ignore emotions and simply “keep going”and never resolving them, you very well may start to accumulate more and more stress and end up overloaded and exhausted.
You Have an Inner Battery: Keep it Charged
Generally, human beings are creatures of action. We do things, quite often a lot of things, and to do them effectively we need energy. Like an automobile or other machine that uses a battery, we humans have our own inner battery and we must keep it charged.
A sure way to do this is to build our resilience, that commodity that kicks in when we need a little something extra, that thing that helps up bounce back and forge ahead following any one of a number of setbacks we’re likely to encounter in life.
Certainly, having fun, making a point of being nice and getting along with people are good ways to avoid draining your inner battery. Recognizing and avoiding the stress drama that happens all around us and knowing when to chill out before situations get out of hand or overwhelming also help. All that stored energy will serve you well in the things that matter in your life.
We also know from research, case studies and lots of experience that people can do even more to charge their inner batteries and build up their resilience. We can increase what is known our heart coherence, which happens to be one of quickest ways of taming the stress dragon. In simple terms what that means is making sure we are mentally, emotionally and physically balanced and all of our systems are in sync.
Heart Coherence as Part of the Best Five Teen Stress Reduction Strategies
A good measure of whether we’re in the optimal state of coherence is our heart-rhythm pattern. If we look at this pattern on a computer monitor, we’d want to know if our heart rhythms are smooth and balanced? If they are, chances are we’re thinking more clearly, generally feel good and are in control of our emotions – among other benefits.
When we are angry, fearful, feel a lot of anxiety or other negative emotions, our heart-rhythm pattern reflects this by showing up as erratic and unbalanced. We’re experiencing low coherence, draining energy and not maintaining our resilience.
So, if negative emotions such as those mentioned lower our coherence, drain energy and decrease resilience, can positive emotions do the reverse. Absolutely!
At the Institute of HeartMath, we’ve been recommending and telling people, young and old, about something called the Quick Coherence® Technique for many years. We’ve even tailored a version for young people.
Here’s a shortened version of the Quick Coherence Technique – Ages 12-18, followed by a link to the full version and it includes the best five teen stress reduction strategies:
Step 1. Heart Focus – Shift your attention to the area of the heart, or the center of your chest.
Step 2. Heart Breathing – Breathe slow and deeply. Imagine the air entering and leaving through the heart area, or the center of your chest.
Step 3. Heart Feeling – Remember a time when you felt good inside, and try to re-experience that feeling. Focus on this good feeling as you continue to breathe through the area of your heart.
Now, practicing this technique, even for a minute, works remarkably well for getting in sync before or during any situation. Practicing it regularly will help you maintain coherence and stay in sync.
Consider how the simple acts of showing love for someone or something, expressing your appreciation for someone or performing a kindness makes you feel in that moment. Guess what? It does your body good, too. Your heart loves it, your brain works better, your immune system begins functioning more efficiently and the list goes on and on.
So here’s the link for the complete version of the Quick Coherence Technique® – Ages 12-18, and below are the best five teen stress reduction strategies that will tame that stress dragon.
Recognize the dragon. It usually shows up in the same ways, alerting us that something is out of balance. That usually means those negative emotions, especially anger, anxiety, frustration, guilt, impatience. Pay attention to these.
- Be consistent and practice Quick Coherence every day, several times a day – in the morning, during the day, before bedtime. It’s easy, doesn’t take much time and no one will know you are doing it.
- Talk to other people about what you’re feeling. It helps us gain perspective.
- Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods and play – naturally.
- Feel appreciation daily. Even if you don’t feel it, try.
- Write down 5 things you are grateful for each day.
Jeff Goelitz is a stress solutions expert with the Institute of HeartMath, as well as author, education specialist and program developer and his gift to you is more about HeartMath’s Parenting Free Resources. Goelitz is an expert in helping everyone reduce their stress as well as the best five teen stress reduction strategies.