Teens and Stress: Who Has Time For It?

Stress is what you feel when you react to pressure. This pressure can come from the outside world, such as school, work, extracurricular activities, family, or friends. Or it can come from within you, like when you want to do well in school or you want to fit in. Stress is a normal reaction in people of all ages. It is caused by your body’s instinct to protect itself from emotional or physical pressure or, in extreme situations, danger.

Is stress always bad?

No, stress is not always bad. In fact, a little stress is good. Most of us need to feel the pressure of wanting to do well. That’s how we push ourselves, whether it’s in sports, music, dance, work, or school. Plus, many of us need the stress that comes with a deadline. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to finish projects or get to work or school on time.

If stress is so normal, why do I feel so bad?

With all the things that happen when you’re a teenager, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The things you can’t control are often the most frustrating. Maybe your parents are fighting. Maybe you are having problems with your social life. You can also feel bad when you put pressure on yourself. This could be pressure to get good grades or to get a promotion at your part-time job. A common reaction to stress is to criticize oneself. You may even get so angry that things no longer seem fun to you. Life can seem pretty bleak. When this happens, it’s easy to think that there’s nothing you can do to change things. But you can!

Path to better health

You can’t always control the things that stress you. But you can control how you react to them. The way you feel about things is a result of the way you think about things. If you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel. Try some of these tips to cope with stress:

  • Take care of yourself. Eat well-balanced meals on a regular basis. Drink less caffeine. Get enough sleep and exercise regularly.
  • Make a list of the things that are causing you stress.. Think about your friends, family, school, and other activities. Accept that you can’t control everything on your list.
  • Take control of what you can. For example, you may not have enough time to study and get the grades you want. You may need to reduce your work hours. Or maybe you have to give up one of your after-school activities.
  • Take a break. Remember that you can’t make everyone in your life happy all the time. And it’s okay to make mistakes from time to time. Take a few minutes to breathe deeply, do some relaxation exercises, or try meditating. Go for a walk or do some exercise.
  • Don’t commit too much. If you’re already too busy, don’t promise to decorate for the school dance. If you’re tired and don’t want to go out, tell your friends you’re going out another night.
  • Find someone to talk to. Talking to your friends or family can help. It gives you the opportunity to express your feelings. However, problems in your social or family life may be the most difficult to address. If you feel like you can’t talk to your family or a friend, talk to someone outside the situation. It could be a religious leader, a school counselor, or your family doctor.

There are also dangerous ways to deal with stress. It is dangerous to try to escape problems by using drugs and alcohol. Both can be very tempting and your friends may offer them to you. Drugs and alcohol may seem like easy answers, but they are not. Using drugs and alcohol to cope with stress only adds new problems, such as addiction or family and health problems.

Things to consider

There are warning signs that could indicate that you have too much stress. These include:

  • Feeling very depressed, nervous, guilty or tired
  • Have headaches, stomach pains, or trouble sleeping
  • Laugh or cry for no reason
  • Blaming other people for bad things that happen to you
  • Just seeing the downsides of a situation.
  • Feeling like things you used to enjoy are no longer fun or a burden
  • Resenting other people or your responsibilities.
  • Feel like giving up

Sometimes you try to deal with your stress, but you still feel like giving up. This is a danger sign. Stress can become too difficult to cope with. It can cause feelings so horrible that you may think about hurting yourself or even killing yourself. When you feel like giving up, it can feel like things will never get better. Talk to someone right away. Talking about your feelings is the first step to learning to deal with them and starting to feel better.

You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How does stress affect my health?
  • Can too much stress be bad for me?
  • What can I do to deal with stress?
  • I feel pressure from my friends to “do it all.” How can I face it?
  • I am completely overwhelmed by life. What I can do?


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 988

The American Institute of Stress: Stress in Adolescents

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Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your primary care doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.

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