Being a teen is stressful: You have a full course load at school, extracurricular activities, family obligations, friends to keep up with, and maybe a part-time job and college applications, too. In addition, you might be dealing with personal difficulties, such as divorced parents, a recent death in the family, moving, family financial problems, or other situations. Learning how to manage stress now is something that will help you as you navigate not only your teen years but also adulthood. Here are seven stress management techniques that work well at any stage of life.
1. Keep Yourself Well-Fed
When people feel stressed, they often overeat, under eat, or eat the wrong types of foods. You might have noticed that you want to reach for comfort foods when you’re feeling overwhelmed or under the weather. While eating pizza or noshing on a bag of chips occasionally is something that most teens do, overdoing it can lead to even more stress.
Instead, focus on eating plenty of fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean sources of protein, and minimal saturated fats, sugars, and salts. This will help you keep your emotions on an even keel, which can reduce stress and help you make good, clear-headed decisions.
2. Get About Nine Hours of Sleep Each Night
Adolescents need approximately nine hours of sleep each night. Are you getting that? Chances are good that you’re not; teens tend to be sleep-deprived. One reason is that high school classes often start early, which means you may need to wake up at 6:00 am or even earlier. Getting to bed early enough to get a minimum of eight (but preferably nine) hours of sleep can help you feel less stressed.
Another reason for sleep deprivation is that many teens spend time in the late evening using smartphones, tablets or computers to do homework or to communicate with friends. This creates a blue light that can interfere with your melatonin production. Melatonin is one of the hormones in your body that makes you ready for sleep. Make the effort to turn off these appliances an hour before bedtime to maximize your chances of falling — and staying — asleep.
3. Practice Relaxation Methods
Using relaxation methods can help you feel less stressed and make better decisions about where to spend your time. There are a variety of techniques you can try to see what works best. Meditation is a good one. So is yoga. You could learn how to do progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery. Just sitting still and breathing mindfully for a few minutes can also help you relax.
If you are having trouble finding a way to relax your body and your mind, ask a counselor to show you some relaxation techniques that might work for you. Do keep in mind that you need to practice; the first few times, you might not feel any more relaxed. Over time, however, you’ll learn how to relax quickly and be able to use these techniques for stress management.
4. Learn to Accept “Good Enough”
Sometimes, teens and adults find that it’s hard to relax because they are bound up in perfectionism. If you are trying to maintain a 4.0 GPA, work a part-time job, participate in an extracurricular sport, and volunteer, you have your plate very full. It’s possible that you need to reduce your volunteer or work hours or cut back on any AP or honors classes you’re taking.
Adults who live lives led by perfectionism often burn out, so it’s important to learn where and when it’s okay to settle for “good enough.” The teen years are an excellent time to start putting this into practice. Talk to a parent or a guidance counselor about ways you can lighten your load. If you can’t seem to get out of the perfectionism cycle, a therapist or your guidance counselor can help you reframe the way you look at things to help with stress management.
5. Manage Your Time Well
Another stress management technique is managing your time well. With so many responsibilities, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You also might find that you’re spending too much time on one part of your life while neglecting another. Ask a parent or another adult how to manage your time well. This is something that requires practice.
A good first step is to jot down how you’re spending each hour of your day. Do this over the course of a few days; you might be surprised! Once you know how you are spending your time, you can make changes. Using a planner can help; take some time each evening to lay out what you will do the next day, then follow the plan. When these decisions are made ahead of time, you might find that your stress level plummets.
6. Make Sure You Have Time to Play and Relax
If you find that you’re spending most of your time working and not enough time relaxing with friends or having fun, then you might need to switch around your priorities so you can get in some downtime. Your teenage years are not a time for constant running and pursuing goals; you need to make sure you have time to kick back and relax! Of course, you could also overdo it in this department.
In general, you should make sure you have time each week to decompress both alone and with friends. Consider setting up a weekly date with your friends to get together for girls’ or guys’ night out, an afternoon lunch, or coffee on Saturday mornings.
7. Avoid Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
If you are feeling very stressed, you might be tempted to use drugs or alcohol to take the edge off and help you cope. This is a bad idea; not only will you still have the same stress as before, but you’ll have the added pressure of a drug or alcohol abuse situation to contend with. Using substances will not help you reduce your stress levels over the long term. If you have been resorting to using alcohol or drugs in an effort to self-medicate against stress, talk to a trusted adult about getting help and learning proper stress management techniques.