Stress Less Strategies for Well-being
Stress in the lives of young people
Young people today are experiencing more stress than previous generations. They’re facing a lot of loneliness and uncertainty as they try to find their place in the world. This is brought on not only by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by cultural issues such as racism, the economy, climate change, and health care.
The long-term consequences of chronic stress and trauma are incredibly serious. Older generations may believe “this, too, shall pass.” But young people are still at a crucial stage in their development and are growing up in a very unsteady world.
Some stressors will occur naturally, through growing pains. Sometimes the source will be more about a person's environment and society. Here are some typical sources of stress young people are likely to experience:
- Body changes as they mature
- Problems within friends or family circles
- Unsafe or unhealthy living conditions
- Negative thoughts or feelings about themselves
- Death of a loved one
- Moving to a new area or other big life changes
- Taking on too many tasks or activities
Stress overload can lead to anxiety, aggression, or withdrawal. It can also lead to substance use or other unhealthy habits as a way to cope.
Typical stressors can be expected. But if you notice more serious signs of a mental health concern, a mental health professional is needed.
Strategies to address stress
Stress does affect everyone but not always in the same ways. So, it's important to remember that no two young people are the same. They'll need to find what works for them. Here are a few ideas you can suggest to help young people address stress:
- Exercise and eat healthy foods regularly
- Get good quality sleep
- Learn simple relaxation techniques and use them often
- Tackle negative self-talk by learning to quiet that inner voice and challenge negative thoughts with positive alternatives
- Avoid unhealthy ways to cope like drugs and alcohol, overeating, or withdrawing
- Connect with friends or community that you find helpful, uplifting, inspiring
- Practice gratitude. Have them try keeping a gratitude photo album on their phone. They can screenshot one thing each day they’re grateful for, like a positive text, a quote, or an image. Later, encourage them to take time to scroll through all their gratitude photos.
What you can do to help
When young people learn how to address and reduce stress, they’ll feel more in control. And that will boost their confidence and build their resilience.
In addition to modeling strategies to stress less, there are many other things you can do!
First, you can help young people become aware of their stress. If they’re not aware or know where it’s coming from, it will be hard to do anything about it.
Help them learn how to express and regulate their emotions. When you name painful feelings, their power diminishes. And learning how to manage them renews young people’s sense of self-control.
Remind them that stress is unavoidable at times. Distress is a part of life and doesn’t need to be feared. Help young people tell the difference between emotions that are uncomfortable from those that are unmanageable.
If you want young people to express themselves openly, the most important thing you can do is listen openly. No judgments. Then summarize what you heard to show you understand. And be generous with your empathy and compassion.
Don’t jump in right away with possible solutions to their stress. Give young people space to get creative and think of what might work best for them.
Encourage them to develop their own “relaxation response” to help calm their mind and body down after a difficult situation.
Stress is also stored in the body, so healing calls for a mind-body approach. If you’re looking for creative ways to reduce and address stress, YIPA has a training called Less Stress with Move Mindfully Interventions. And if you’d like to see content related to stress and trauma during the pandemic, check out YIPA’s recorded virtual community forum on Surviving and Thriving in COVID-19.
About the author
Jade Schleif is the training coordinator of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker. Join us!
To ask Jade a question or share your feedback about this blog, email [email protected].