This month is Stress Awareness Month, raising awareness of the adverse effects that stress can have. Although stress is normal for teenagers and young adults, experiencing excessive stress can impact their mental health. Young adults must learn how to manage stress to avoid the long-term, unhealthy effects it can cause.
Sources of Teenage Stress
As children get older and enter their teenage years, their sources of stress expand. They can worry about:
- School or work demands
- The death of a loved one
- High expectations of themselves
- Social issues such as climate change, sexual harassment, and violence
- Low self-esteem
- Family issues, such as divorce
Young adults can exhibit stress in many ways:
- Irritability and anger – teenagers may be snappy or argumentative because of stress.
- Aches and pains – young adults struggling with stress may complain of increased aches and pains such as headaches, muscle pains, and fatigue.
- Increased anxiety – stress can cause young adults to be more anxious than usual.
- Eating changes – stress can cause appetite changes in young people. They may eat more or much less than usual.
- Neglecting chores or hobbies – teenagers may neglect their set chores, hobbies, or responsibilities as a reaction to stress.
- Difficulty concentrating – stressed teenagers may be distracted in their day to day life as they worry about the source of their stress.
Some teenagers also procrastinate their tasks in response to stress. They may have perfectionist tendencies that prevent them from starting tasks if they think they will fail at them, making stress worse as the tasks, homework, or chores stack up.
Good and Bad Stress
Although it may sound unlikely, there is such a thing as good stress. Also referred to as eustress, this stress type helps people feel excited and energised. It is the type of stress that people feel when they go on a first date or ride a roller coaster and it fades after a while.
Acute stress is what we think of as bad stress. It comes from surprises that require a quick response, and the feelings it brings are often not exciting. Chronic stress is another form of bad stress in which people face repeated stressors and are unable to fully relax.
Too much bad stress can have increasingly adverse effects on young adults’ mental and physical health. Some may turn to unhealthy behaviours to try and cope with excessive stress, such as drinking, smoking, or using drugs.
Stress and Mental Health
Stress is a potential trigger for many mental health issues in teenagers and young adults. Many researchers and scientists agree that adolescent stress can cause significant brain changes, especially because the teenage brain is still developing and growing.
Stress releases a hormone called cortisol. It is responsible for regulating blood pressure and ensuring the immune system is functioning well. Too much cortisol can impair cognitive performance and lead to high blood pressure and lowered immunity. The prefrontal cortex, which regulates the stress response, is less developed in teens and young adults and they may experience stress for long periods.
Although teenage stress is not a mental health issue, it can cause mental health problems. Young adults who face repeated or chronic stress are at a higher risk of developing conditions such as depression and anxiety, and experiencing a traumatic period of stress could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Pre-existing mental health conditions can also contribute to stress. Young adults may find symptoms of their condition challenging to deal with and they may feel stressed about managing appointments and medication. Undiagnosed conditions can also be a significant source of stress for young adults as if they are not receiving the proper treatment, their mental health can deteriorate further and impact many more areas of their lives.
Stress Management for Young Adults
Facing stress is a part of life, but it can be hard to know where to start. It is important that young adults know that they do not have to deal with teenage stress alone and that there are healthy ways of coping, such as:
- Exercise – exercise is a great stress buster for people of all ages. To make it even more stress-relieving, try going for a walk or a run outside – research has found that those in green spaces experience less depression, stress and anxiety.
- Sleeping well – teenagers need around eight to ten hours of sleep per night, and rest is great at keeping stress in check. Avoid screens at night and have a set bedtime to aim for every night to optimise your sleep.
- Making time for fun – everyone needs time to unwind, so always make time for something fun. This could be anything from an exciting sport to a quiet night in with a book – whatever helps you unwind.
- Trying mindfulness – mindfulness is a great way to relieve stress. Mindful breathing and self-compassion can effectively reduce stress, and one study showed that teenagers who practised mindfulness were significantly less stressed than those who did not.
- Talking it out – sit down and talk about why you are stressed with friends or family members. This can help put stressful situations into perspective, and people can come together and brainstorm ideas about how to help.
Parents can also help young adults manage their stress by modelling healthy coping techniques. Instead of turning to unhealthy or negative coping mechanisms such as negative self-talk, emulating healthy coping strategies such as exercising or making time for a fun activity can show children the best way to manage their stress levels.
Stress can affect teenagers just as it can affect adults and its effects can be equally severe. However, learning healthy coping methods and stress management can set teenagers up for success in later life – after all, everyone has to deal with stress at some point!
For some young adults, their stress can be compounded by mental health struggles. That is where The Wave steps in. We can help young adults combat their mental health issues through therapy that focuses on healing the whole body, not just the brain.
 Beyer, Kirsten et al. “Exposure To Neighborhood Green Space And Mental Health: Evidence From The Survey Of The Health Of Wisconsin”. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, vol 11, no. 3, 2014, pp. 3453-3472. MDPI AG, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph110303453. Accessed 23 Mar 2022.
 Tan, Lucy, and Graham Martin. “Taming The Adolescent Mind: A Randomised Controlled Trial Examining Clinical Efficacy Of An Adolescent Mindfulness-Based Group Programme”. Child And Adolescent Mental Health, vol 20, no. 1, 2014, pp. 49-55. Wiley, https://doi.org/10.1111/camh.12057. Accessed 23 Mar 2022.
Fiona Yassin is the International Clinical Director of The Wave Clinic. Fiona is a UK Registered Adolescent and Family Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor (Licence number #361609 NCP/ICP), further trained in the specialty of Eating Disorders and Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment. Fiona is trained in FBT (Family Based Therapy), CBTE for eating disorders, FREED (King’s College, London), EMDR for eating disorders (EMDRIA) and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Neuroscience and Trauma from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Fiona works with international families and family offices from the UK, Dubai, Kuwait, Singapore and Malaysia. Fiona can be contacted by email on [email protected].