Signs Of Stress In Teens And How To Cope

Medically reviewed by Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

More than ever before, teenagers are reporting high stress levels. The Covid-19 pandemic increased stress or brought new stressors to the table for many people, including for teenagers. According to recent statistics published by the American Psychological Association (APA), 51% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 said the pandemic made "planning for their future feel impossible," with half of these teenagers saying that the pandemic "severely disrupted their plans for the future." 

Although for some people pandemic-related stress may have waned, others may still be experiencing the effects of anxiety from the pandemic. Chronic stress can have consequences, including for teens. So, what's stress, and what are the signs of it? How do you cope with stress? Below, we’ll look at these questions and discuss techniques for reducing stress and ways to find help if you need it through resources such as therapy.

Explore stress and coping strategies for teens

Definition and signs of stress

What is stress?

In the context of mental health, stress is defined by the American Psychological Association as "the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors." Often, when people think of stress, they think of the way that it impacts them on an emotional or psychological level. However, chronic stress can have a negative impact on your physical body and overall well being as well. Physical and emotional signs of stress or stress symptoms may include the following:
  • Changes in mood
  • Trouble getting enough sleep
  • Difficulty relaxing or winding down
  • Trouble concentrating or focusing
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Body aches or soreness
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • A clenched jaw
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal ideation*

*If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.

How stress can affect you

When stress is ongoing, it’s called chronic stress. Chronic stress can affect an individual’s physical and mental health and can lead to psychological strain. An individual who experiences chronic stress in their day-to-day life may experience physical and mental health effects. A chronically high-stress level may lead to the symptoms of stress listed above or cause an increased risk of mental health problems, such as anxiety disorder and depression; strained interpersonal relationships; and physical health consequences, such as an increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and other physical health problems. Your body’s response to stress may be different that someone else’s response.

Teen stress management

Everyone may experience acute stress from time to time. Parents and teens can both experience stress, and witnessing parental stress may impact how teens cope. Learning how to cope with stressful situations or relieve stress in the family unit can be an integral part of taking care of your mind and body. Here are some relaxation techniques for managing stress in your daily life:

  • Breathing exercises. Deep breathing exercises can be a valuable tool to use for stress relief because you can use them almost anywhere and at any time you experience stress. Methods to try include alternate nostril breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, belly breathing, and box breathing.

  • Guided imagery or meditation. Research shows that meditation can relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and support mental health in teens in various ways. If you've never meditated before, starting with a guided meditation recording may be advantageous. It is also worth mentioning that meditation can help people with dyslexia have fewer general errors in reading. If you have a teenager with dyslexia, there are also resources for dyslexic teens that will help them cope with the stress they are facing.

  • Outdoor activities. You may find that spending time in nature helps when you’re feeling stressed. There are a number of outdoor activities you can choose from, such as gardening or taking a relaxing walk in nature.

  • Positive affirmations. If feelings of stress are caused by pressure placed on someone by themselves or others (for example, the pressure to succeed in school), positive affirmations and thought reframing may be beneficial. Affirmations may help you to put things into perspective and extend compassion to yourself when you feel stressed.

  • Physical activity. Regular exercise can be a valuable way to let off steam, and some find that it helps them to relieve feelings of stress. Whether it's a walk outdoors, running, yoga, or a game of basketball, physical activity and just moving your body can be an effective outlet and help with your blood flow and make a big difference in your stress and overall well-being.

  • Self-care. Self-care doesn’t require going to a spa or spending money on expensive skincare products, although these options may relieve stress and general tension. Instead, you might start by making sure that you're taking care of your baseline self-care needs by getting enough sleep (8-10 hours per night is recommended for teens aged 14-18), eating regular meals throughout the day, tending to healthy social connections, and avoiding excess caffeine.

Other activities for stress relief

Some also notice that activities like reading, journaling, and using aromatherapy are beneficial for stress relief. Complementary and alternative medicine may also help with stress management for teens. What works for one person might not work as well for another, so it's okay if it takes trial and error to find the most effective practices for you. 

When it comes to managing stress, know that you don’t have to face it alone. It may help to talk to a mental health professional, such as a licensed therapist or someone who practices child and adolescent psychiatry (see the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for in-office providers). This may be valuable in both giving you a place to vent and helping you to find solutions when you feel stressed. If your stress is ongoing, if you feel like you have too much stress, or if you just want to improve your tool kit for stress reduction, you can reach out for help from an online therapist.

Getty/MoMo Productions
Explore stress and coping strategies for teens

Find a therapist

Regardless of the sources of stress, whether because of school, work, dating and relationships, mental illness, a natural disaster, a health condition, family challenges, or anything else that's on your mind, you don't have to go through it alone. There are a number of different ways that you can go about finding a counselor or therapist who is experienced with teen stress. You can search the web for counselors or therapists who work with teens living with stress and anxiety in your area, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a mental health professional at your next appointment, see what your health insurance plan covers, or sign up for a reputable online therapy platform, such as BetterHelp (for those aged 18+) or TeenCounseling (for those aged 13-19). 

All of the providers at BetterHelp and TeenCounseling are licensed, and online therapy is typically more affordable than traditional in-person therapy or counseling services. Also, online therapy has been proven to be just as effective as in-person therapy, including for anxiety and depression.


If you’re experiencing stress, you might find that an online therapist can provide you with solutions tailored to your specific concerns. Regardless of how you find a therapist, you deserve to find support and experience a sense of calm. Don't hesitate to reach out and take the first step toward finding an experienced counselor today.

Learn to cope with the challenges of adolescence
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started