Stress and the Teen Brain
In case you don’t remember (or were the rare exception), being a teenager is HARD. There are hormones messing with your emotions, the worry about being popular, the stress of getting good grades, lack of sleep, acne, the pressures of going to college, peer pressure and significant changes to your brain. One or two of these things alone would be difficult, but all of them at once can make even the most level-headed adolescent downright crazy!
There are lots of ways to handle stress when you’re a teen; some are healthy and some aren’t. Of course, we’re here to suggest the positive ways you can encourage your teen to take control of their stress levels. Here are a few to get you started.
There have been countless studies showing the benefits of mindfulness meditation (a.k.a. “present-focused awareness”) on anxiety, depression, insomnia and even pain. More recent studies have indicated that meditation may also help delay the onset of cognitive decline by building cognitive reserve.
Exercise combats stress for a number of reasons. First, it gets more oxygen to your brain. It also helps get your mind off negative, intrusive thoughts. For those teens who feel stress due to bullying about their weight, exercise—coupled with healthy eating—is the best way to lose weight and stay healthy.
Many teens fall prey to loading up on sugar and caffeine in hopes of combating the effects of too little sleep. In reality, the best foods to combat stress (and sleep deprivation) are the healthier options, like nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains.
Dehydration can also cause lethargy and “brain fog,” which can affect mood, grades and energy levels.
Organization and Planning
Teens that struggle with disorganization, poor time management and lack of planning often suffer from high levels of anxiety. School begins to feel overwhelming – especially for those also trying to juggle sports, part-time work and other extracurricular activities. Make an effort to help your teen stay organized by downloading helpful apps to their laptop or cell phone, creating calendars and ending their week with a plan for the next week.
Sometimes teens need a neutral adult to help them sort through their feelings. This could be a school counselor, a mentor, a private psychologist or trusted clergy. Help them determine who might best help them and then set up an initial appointment.
Oftentimes, academic stress is due to a learning disability. Struggles with math (dyscalculia), reading (dyslexia) and attention (ADHD) are among the most common.
Because even very smart students can suffer from a weak cognitive skill, (e.g., visual or auditory processing, attention, processing speed, logic & reasoning, memory), one-on-one brain training (a.k.a. “cognitive skills training”) might make all the difference in decreasing anxiety, strengthening confidence, making learning easier in ANY subject and increasing test-taking abilities.
Blowing off steam does wonders for stress! Encourage your teen to take some time to relax, have friends over or find a hobby that doesn’t feel like work. Plan family time, vacations (or staycations) and try to stop yourself when you notice you’re putting a lot of pressure on your already-stressed teen.
Sure, being a teen is the last step before adulthood, but it’s also the last part of childhood – so don’t let them grow up too fast. Stress can age you, so help your teen de-stress by any means necessary!