What Is Teen Stress And How Could It Be Affecting Your Child?

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Stress can be a normal human reaction to change that involves mental, physical, or emotional strain. Teens often encounter many sources of stress, including school, homework, sports, and other activities. In addition, witnessing parental stress from their parents may be a cause of stress in teens. When they experience too much stress without having healthy coping skills, it can contribute to poor sleep, a suppressed immune system, irritability, sadness, physical aches and pains, and more. You may help your teen manage stress by encouraging them to exercise, helping them schedule plenty of time for sleep, promoting a healthy diet, supporting them in making time for friends and hobbies, and ensuring they have someone trustworthy to talk to in times of stress. You may also benefit from speaking with an online therapist regarding your concerns. 

What is stress?

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Not sure how to help your teen manage their stress?
Stress is generally defined as emotional, psychological, or physical strain resulting from a change or stimulus.

It can be thought of as the human body’s response to any situation that requires action or further attention. While stress is experienced by everyone at times, too much stress can have detrimental effects on physical and emotional health.

Causes of stress for teens

For teens, there may frequently be something new happening in their lives, and they may not have much control over various aspects of their lives. Often, teens and adolescents are told what they need to do by teachers, parents, coaches, and other authority figures, which can result in very little autonomy paired with many responsibilities. 

From one school year to the next, the general tendency is for things to become more complex and challenging and for responsibilities to grow and become more demanding. Leaving school and starting college and adult life can also be a huge stressor. Teens may experience pressure to do well in school, to graduate, and to find a suitable career or go on to a good college. They may also experience pressure as a part of sports teams or other after-school activities and academic programs. Some teens may also work part-time after school and on the weekends. Volunteering could be another source of pressure. In addition, changing social dynamics, family conflicts, and the challenge of determining who they are can add to their stress. 

According to the 2022 Mission Australia report, teens were most stressed about things like the environment, discrimination, mental health, school challenges, relationship challenges, and more.

In addition, many teens fail to outwardly express their stress or to manage it in healthy ways, which can add to their stress and begin to compound.

How stress could be affecting your teen

Stress can bring with it a variety of negative health impacts and can impact physical health. For instance, it can contribute to a decreased immune system response, increasing their chances of getting sick and potentially having to miss school. Stress can also affect your teen’s ability to get high-quality, restful sleep at night, which may be much needed during these years of growth and development. Additional effects of stress may include:

  • Physical aches and pains

  • Racing heart

  • Exhaustion

  • Headaches

  • Digestive issues

  • Tense Muscles

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Panic attacks

  • Sadness

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, stress can have other effects on the mind and body, increasing a person’s susceptibility to illness and risk of depression. In cases of severe or chronic stress, a teen may be admitted to a children’s hospital, depending on their age. However, there are evidence-based strategies that may help your teen reduce their stress before it gets to that point.

How you may help your teen manage stress

It can be vital to help your teen learn healthy coping skills to employ when they feel stressed, so they don’t turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or other substances. They are likely to experience stress throughout their lives, and having the skills to deal with and cope with it healthily can prevent many of the negative effects discussed in the previous section of this article.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

One healthy way to handle stress can be exercising. This could be as simple as taking walks, doing yoga, following along with online workout videos, or playing sports with friends. Any form of movement that increases the heart rate and helps your teen remain active can be helpful.

Ensuring your teenager is getting enough sleep can also be beneficial. You might encourage them to create a relaxing bedtime routine to help their body relax or help them schedule their day effectively so that they have enough time for high-quality rest.

Eating nutritious meals and snacks can also reduce stress. Balanced meals with lots of fruits and vegetables can promote good physical and mental health.

Aside from engaging in their regular responsibilities, it can also be important for teens to have time for fun. Spending time with friends and engaging in hobbies can be excellent ways to reduce stress.

Finally, it can be crucial for teenagers to have someone trustworthy to talk to about their stress and any other mental health concerns they’re experiencing. This could be you as a parent, a school counselor, or a licensed therapist. A strong support system can go a long way toward creating a strong sense of well-being.

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How stress could be affecting your teen

Stress can bring with it a variety of negative health impacts and can impact physical health. For instance, it can contribute to a decreased immune system response, increasing their chances of getting sick and potentially having to miss school. Stress can also affect your teen’s ability to get high-quality, restful sleep at night, which may be much needed during these years of growth and development. Additional effects of stress may include:

  • Physical aches and pains
  • Racing heart
  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Tense Muscles
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Sadness

How you may help your teen manage stress

It can be vital to help your teen learn healthy coping skills to employ when they feel stressed, so they don’t turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or other substances. They are likely to experience stress throughout their lives, and having the skills to deal with and cope with it healthily can prevent many of the negative effects discussed in the previous section of this article.

One healthy way to handle stress can be exercising. This could be as simple as taking walks, doing yoga, following along with online workout videos, or playing sports with friends. Any form of movement that increases the heart rate and helps your teen remain active can be helpful.

Ensuring your teenager is getting enough sleep can also be beneficial. You might encourage them to create a relaxing bedtime routine to help their body relax or help them schedule their day effectively so that they have enough time for high-quality rest.

Eating nutritious meals and snacks can also reduce stress. Balanced meals with lots of fruits and vegetables can promote good physical and mental health.

Aside from engaging in their regular responsibilities, it can also be important for teens to have time for fun. Spending time with friends and engaging in hobbies can be excellent ways to reduce stress.

Finally, it can be crucial for teenagers to have someone trustworthy to talk to about their stress and any other mental health concerns they’re experiencing. This could be you as a parent, a school counselor, or a licensed therapist. A strong support system can go a long way toward creating a strong sense of well-being.

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Not sure how to help your teen manage their stress?

Therapy may help you address your teen’s stress

If you’re a parent of a stressed-out teen and you’re feeling unprepared, you may be feeling stressed yourself as you look for the best ways to give your child the support they need. Therapy can be a wonderful resource that allows you to express your own feelings, learn strategies to handle stress, and discuss potential ways to support your teen through this stressful time in their life. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to attend in-office therapy sessions, or if it’s not convenient for you to drive to a therapist’s office, you may wish to consider trying online therapy, as you can get help from the comfort of your home at a time that works for you.

According to this study, online therapy can be particularly helpful and effective in treating anxiety and the effects of stress. If you’re experiencing these or any other mental health concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out and get the care you deserve.

Takeaway

Although stress can be a healthy and normal reaction to change, too much mental, emotional, and physical strain can lead to harmful effects. Teens often experience stress from a variety of sources, and it can contribute to physical complaints like headaches, digestive issues, low energy, and trouble sleeping, as well as emotional concerns like sadness, anxiety, and irritability. Helping your teenager employ healthy coping skills in response to stress can be a valuable tool that they can use throughout their lives. You might promote a healthy diet and plenty of exercise and help your teen schedule their days so that they have plenty of time for family and friends, hobbies, and sleep, in addition to their everyday responsibilities. You might also make sure they have an adult they feel they can talk to, such as a school counselor or a licensed therapist. 


Supporting your teenager can be a source of stress in and of itself, and if you’re concerned and having a hard time managing this stress, you may benefit from online therapy. With BetterHelp, you can find a therapist who can work with you to help you understand stress, including the body’s stress response and ways to help a teen who is experiencing stress. Take the first step toward getting support and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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