Stress Relief For Teens: What To Do When You're Feeling Overwhelmed

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated January 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Experiencing stress from time to time will generally always be a part of life. Learning how to develop healthy coping mechanisms from a young age can set you up for long-term success in this area. If you’re a teenager and it feels like stress is getting the best of you, consider trying some of the management strategies we cover below.

Feeling Stressed And Overwhelmed?

Stress And Its Effects

Stress is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as "the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors". It refers to how your body and mind react when you’re faced with challenging or overwhelming situations.

What causes stress can vary from person to person, but common sources for teenagers include academic pressure, conflict within friend groups, conflict at home, body image issues, and concerns about the future.

When stress kicks in, it can activate your fight-or-flight response which sends a variety of different body systems into action. While this response can be useful in the short term, keeping it ‘turned on’ long-term can result in negative health effects. That’s why stress management can be such an important skill.

6 Stress Management Techniques For Teenagers

If you’re consistently stressed out by something, it may be worth making an adjustment in that area of your life if possible. For example, if your schedule is jam-packed with homework, sports, clubs, and a part-time job and you routinely feel overwhelmed as a result, you might want to look critically at your commitments and see where you can pull back. However, completely avoiding stress in life is generally not realistic. Developing healthy habits and coping mechanisms can help you deal with this inevitable part of life without damaging your mental health. Here are some strategies you can start developing now.

Reduce Clutter

Some people prefer everything in their space to be as neat as a pin, while others may feel more comfortable or even find inspiration in a less put-together space. That said, if you’re feeling stressed, doing some tidying up may be helpful. One study suggests that people with cluttered homes may exhibit lower moods than those with neater ones. Plus, practically speaking, a tidy space can make it easier to keep track of things you need like school papers or house keys—which is helpful, because losing something important can add to your stress levels. The act of tidying up can also help you feel accomplished and ready to take on the next task on your to-do list. Next time you feel overwhelmed, try taking a few minutes to tidy up and get organized to see if it helps.

Get Creative

One study looked at how the arts can impact stress management. It found that over 80% of participants experienced a “significant reduction in stress” after taking part in one of four artistic activities: art, music, dance/movement, or drama. Having a creative outlet to turn to can be a great way to blow off steam and center yourself. Doing something artistic regularly can also help you express your emotions, build confidence, form or strengthen friendships, and enjoy yourself, all of which can contribute to better mental health overall.

Use Exercise As An Outlet

Research shows that physical activity can lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. If you’re feeling stressed, going for a run, swim, or skate, doing yoga, or engaging in whatever type of physical activity you most enjoy can provide you with some relief. However, exercise can be even more effective for stress management if you practice it regularly rather than only turning to it when things get overwhelming. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, regular exercise can help you boost self-esteem, sleep better, improve concentration, and decrease tension. So while getting active when you’re stressed can be a great coping mechanism, doing so regularly can be a great preventative measure.

Prioritize Good Sleep

Research shows that many teens report sleeping less than the recommended amount of 8.5 to 9.25 hours for their age range. Interestingly, 90% of teens who reported low stress levels during the past school year say they get enough sleep, while only 48% of those who reported high stress levels during the past school year could say the same. Getting the rest your body and mind need—especially during adolescence—can have a direct impact on how you're able to function during the day. Since good sleep can help you improve concentration, think more clearly, and stabilize your mood more easily, making it a priority in your life can help reduce or stave off stress.

Learn Meditation

Learning the basics of meditation is easy, and there are plenty of free resources for this online. Working a regular meditation practice into your routine—even just 15 minutes a day—can have positive effects on how you’re able to handle stress. This tactic may be helpful for teenagers especially, since it may strengthen the connection between the amygdala and the frontal lobe. This connection isn’t fully formed yet in adolescents, but meditation can speed things up. With regular practice, this can mean your brain becomes more responsive and less reactive to stress. Meditation has also been shown to help increase concentration, self-esteem, and memory, all of which can help you be better equipped to tackle whatever your day may throw at you.

Feeling Stressed And Overwhelmed?

Try Therapy

Meeting with a therapist is usually a smart move for those who are dealing with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, but you don’t need to have a mental illness to benefit from therapy. It can also work like a maintenance tool to keep you healthy and on track over time. A therapist can provide you with a safe, nonjudgmental space where you can express and work through your feelings. They can also help you identify strategies for managing stress—as well as ways to build self-esteem, polish your communication skills, set boundaries, and learn more about yourself, for instance. Adolescence can be a tumultuous time that’s full of all kinds of changes, and a therapist can help you navigate the stressors and challenges healthily.

The prospect of going to a provider’s office for in-person therapy can seem daunting or intimidating for some. If you’d feel more comfortable meeting with a counselor from the comfort of your own home, there are virtual options available. With an online therapy platform like TeenCounseling, for example, you can get matched with a licensed mental health professional with the consent of a parent or guardian, and you can meet with them via phone, video call, and/or chat. Research suggests that in-person and online therapy offer similar benefits, so you can feel confident in choosing the format that feels more comfortable to you.

Takeaway

Stress is a part of life. Learning strategies to manage stress in your teen years can help you maintain good mental health now and set you up for success in the future, too.

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