Thursday, November 6, 2014

Can Teens Stress Less?

Earlier this week, I attended a workshop at my daughter's high school with another mother (and good friend). The topic was helping teenagers handle stress. If you've been following "Lovin'  the Alien" for the past few years, it will come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever that I left the program ...


About 35 parents attended, mostly moms, as per usual. The woman who spoke — she was tall, thin and French, grrrrr — presented findings from the APA, the American Psychological Association. The rather disturbing results were part of a recent Stress in America study.

Our speaker was quick to point out that stress in and of itself is not necessarily bad. Stressors exist (oy vey, do they exist!), and our physiological, cognitive and behavioral reactions enable us to respond. Appropriately. Or not. (It's kind of like a more thoughtful version of the primitive "fight or flight" idea.) It's how we handle the stress, how we cope, that makes the difference.

Today's teens are under an inordinate amount of stress and their coping mechanisms are ... shall we say ... a wee bit underdeveloped.

In the study, teens were asked what they perceived to be a "healthy level of stress." They identified an average of 3.9 out of a 1-to-10 scale. But, when they were asked how much stress they were actually under, they averaged 5.8.

That's a lot of extra stress!

When asked about symptoms of stress, 74% of teens reported having experienced more than one of the following:

Feeling irritable or angry
Feeling nervous or anxious
Lying awake at night
Feeling like they're about to cry
Feeling overwhelmed
Feeling depressed or sad
Changes in sleeping habits
Skipping meals
Upset stomach

Teenagers aren't typically great decision-makers; at least not where the concept of consequences comes in. So even though there are positive, productive things they might do to address stress, many choose exactly the opposite. For example, physical activity (doing calisthenics, taking a walk) relieves stress. But, more teens choose sedentary activities like video games, going online, and watching TV. 

My own daughter is very bright; she certainly knows that vegging in front of Dance Moms isn't going to get her French essay written. Any relief an hour with Miss Abby and the Junior Elite Dance Team provides will be temporary at best. She knows it. And, I certainly know it. But, in the constant push-me/pull-you of parenting a teenager, we choose our battles. Pointing out that procrastination will only increase stress would be ... well ... stressful. Hella stressful!

What about suggesting yoga, meditation, mindfulness?


Pardon me. Okay. I can continue now.

All I can do is try to be aware, try to (quietly, gently, subtly) affect her attitude when I can. Try to model positive behavior and stress management.

Just keep going, I guess. That which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. (Or makes us play video games and eat chocolate.) And I'll try to remember ...

"A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well."

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