Let’s face it: Life is stressful. Whether you’re a teenager, a young adult, a middle-aged adult, or a senior citizen, there are parts of daily life that are frustrating, annoying, and unpleasant. In addition, all of us have phases and seasons of life that are more stressful than others. Stress can be short-term, such as a several-month stint of unemployment, or long-term, like a chronic health problem. Teenagers are dealing with the pressures of school, jobs, friends, and household responsibilities, as well as the huge undertaking of taking steps toward adulthood and independent living. Learning to relax can go a long way toward making life more pleasant for both you and your teen. Take a look at some of these relaxation techniques and tips for what you can do when the stress of life gets to feel like too big of a burden.
1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When you or your teenager feels tense, it’s natural to hold onto that tension in the muscles of the body. Some common places to hold onto tension include the shoulders, neck, and jaw, but you might also have tension in areas like the legs, hips, and hands. One of the relaxation techniques you and your teen should know is progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR. This can allow you to focus on each body part, one at a time, and relax those muscles.
The whole exercise takes maybe 15 minutes, so find a time when you’re unlikely to be disturbed for that amount of time. Turn off your phone, take off your shoes, and sit or lie down comfortably. If you’re both doing the exercise or you are alone, you can find videos on YouTube that will walk you through the steps of progressive muscle relaxation.
Meditation is sometimes wrongly assumed to be very spiritual or “New Agey” in nature. While it certainly can be, the act of meditation is really just about clearing the mind of bothersome, unwanted thoughts. Usually the thoughts that we want to stop are negative, but even too many positive thoughts can be overwhelming and make it difficult to focus and concentrate on what we need to be doing. Learning to meditate can reduce stress in both the short-term and the long-term.
There are many different ways to meditate. You might focus on one word or sound, or you might watch a candle flicker. In addition to making you feel more relaxed, meditation can lower high blood pressure, slow the heart rate, make your breathing more regular, and lower the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in your blood.
3. Guided Imagery
Have you ever tried to picture yourself on a beach or at a quiet park in order to calm your thoughts? This is called imagery. Some people can do it on their own, but others need to have a voice guiding them to picture certain relaxing scenes with their mind’s eye, which is guided imagery. The person doing the guiding can help keep the person relaxing on track and help him or her to avoid letting the mind wander into more stressful thoughts. Having someone guide the imagery also can help you not only “see,” but “hear” and “feel” what’s going on in your imagined scene.
What you prefer in terms of guided imagery depends on what you find most relaxing. If you strongly dislike the beach, for example, an imagery session focusing on the sand and surf might not be the best one for you! If you can’t find what you are looking for, you can make your own by recording your voice with music that you’ve chosen to be relaxing or uplifting.
4. Deep Breathing
Breathing exercises can be a form of meditation, but they’re also one of the relaxation techniques that you or your teen can do anytime to help bring stress levels down a bit. When in the midst of a panic attack or strong anxiety, we tend to take quick, shallow breaths. This can lead to hyperventilation, which makes us breathe even more quickly and make us feel like we’re not getting enough air, which leads to further anxiety.
You can get out of this cycle by focusing on breathing more slowly and deeply. One method is to use diaphragmatic breathing, where you focus on breathing air into your belly rather than into your chest. Another is to try square breathing: Inhale for five seconds, then hold for five, then exhale for five, then hold for five, then repeat. You can lengthen the time spent on each “leg” after you do several cycles.
While not exactly the same as other relaxation techniques, exercise can go far in defeating anxiety and stress. Getting your heart pumping a bit faster improves your overall health, can help you sleep better, and can combat depression, too. Exercise releases endorphins that can reduce pain, and it improve both self-esteem and cognitive thinking. In short, whatever is making you feel stressed out often takes a backseat while you’re exercising.
Try to find a time during the day or evening when you can exercise with your teenager. Go for a walk, take him or her with you to the gym, or consider signing up for a dance class or a yoga class. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or time-consuming; you can just include your teen in your regular activities: do some housework and put on some music to get both of you moving with a little more pep in your step.
Learning how to reduce stress through various relaxation technique is a skill that will last your teenager a lifetime. It can be used at any stage of life and for any reason, and there are no side effects. While relaxation techniques shouldn’t be used as a substitution for needed counseling or medications, it is an excellent complimentary self-treatment that can make both of you feel better as you navigate the tricky, stressful situations of daily life.
6. Talking Honestly and Openly
Sometimes relaxing is just a question of calming momentary anxieties or burning off extra energy. However, some problems can’t be solved by slow breathing or fast running. During the teenage years, adolescents deal with a lot of serious issues – peer pressure, academic challenges, identity questions, and more. If there’s an issue weighing heavily on your teen’s mind, it’s going to cause stress. An open and honest conversation can do a surprising amount of work to relieve that stress.
Sometimes a conversation can be what your teen needs to solve a problem. For example, if your teen is worried because they’re struggling in one of their classes, a conversation with their teacher could lead to a study plan that will help them catch up, or a conversation with their guidance counselor could lead to the teen dropping the class and picking up one they’re better suited for. Either way, talking it out could help the teen make a plan to solve the problem, which should reduce their stress.
Other problems aren’t so easily resolved with a conversation. When teens see school shootings on the news, for instance, they may become stressed or anxious about the possibility that a similar tragedy could happen at their school. Active shooter drills and lockdowns are meant to help prepare students and faculty for such an event, but these precautions often add to the stress teens feel rather than reducing it. Unfortunately, there’s no way that a teen can guarantee that they will never be a victim of gun violence. But talking about their fears can help them process their feelings and reduce their anxiety around the subject.
As a parent, you most likely want your teen to talk to you when they’re feeling stressed out or anxious. But it’s important to recognize that your teen needs more than just you. Ideally, your teen should have a few adults they trust and can confide in. Teachers, counselors, relatives, family friends, and therapists are all possible options. Your teen should be able to come to you with their problems, but it’s also your job to make sure that your teen has other adults in their life who they can also confide in when they need advice, guidance, or just a friendly listening ear. That way, your teen doesn’t have to dwell on their worries or solve all their problems on their own. Talking things out with a trusted adult can be a healthy way for teens to de-stress and relax.
Aromatherapy is another helpful relaxation technique that requires little instruction or practice and can produce a calming effect quickly.
As a sense, smell is often undervalued or taken for granted, but if you’ve ever felt soothed by the scent of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven or cheered up by the scent of pine needles in December, you know that scent can have a powerful effect on mood.
Some of the scents most commonly used to produce a calming effect include:
- Lemon balm
Scents like orange, peppermint, and grapefruit can boost the mood and provide an energizing effect. A few drops of essential oil on a cotton ball can be enough to help your teen relax and improve their mood.
Listening to music can affect the body’s nervous system.
Many bodily functions, like heartbeat and breathing, operate on a rhythm, and they can respond to external rhythms as well. Fast-paced music can increase the body’s own rhythms, and slower-paced music decreases it.
For that reason, listening to calming music can help the body slow down and relax, which promotes mental relaxation as well.
Music also affects brain activity and the levels of cortisol – otherwise known as the stress hormone – in the brain, which means that listening to music often improves the mood and reduces feelings of anger, frustration, and aggression.
Encourage your teen to find soothing music to listen to in times of stress. Adding relaxing music to their phone, digital music player, or another portable device is a good way for your teen to ensure that they have a relaxation tool handy wherever they happen to be.