Teenagers can and will stress over anything. Assigning an order to the causes of teenage stress is futile. Each of our lives plays out very differently, and there are experiences we will not be able to share with other people around us – nor would we want to, in some cases.
But being able to identify common sources of teenage stress is valuable, both to parents and other teens, as a means of demonstrating how and why stress affects us in our day-to-day lives and finding healthier ways to cope with it. Stress management, which includes preventing and modulating stress through specific coping skills, preventative measures, and appropriate changes to your routine, is crucial.
How stressed are kids, really? The answer might surprise you. While we do live in an age of convenience, this has drawbacks for growing teens. Statistics for teen anxiety are higher than ever, partly owing to a greater understanding of anxiety and its frequency in modern society, as well as a decreased stigma regarding mental health.
One in three teens is estimated to have a teenage anxiety disorder, and over 8 percent of that third struggles with severe impairment because of their anxiety. Girls are particularly prone, at 38 percent versus 26 percent of boys.
Yet even if we account for these changes, teens still seem to have more reasons to be anxious than in the recent past.
What are the Causes of Teenage Stress?
Teens are subjected to more media and information than ever before. And little of it is inspiring these days. World and political events have taken their toll on the last two generations, whether it’s a financial crisis, gun violence, a pandemic, race relations, or climate change.
Closer to home, teens are actively affected by self-image problems propagated online, especially on platforms like Instagram. These self-image problems are almost endemic, creating a wave of physical and social anxieties, complexes, and insecurities.
Nothing new, older generations might argue – magazines and TV ads have been around for a long time, and teens have always been insecure about their bodies. But the predatory systems surrounding the beauty, fitness, and wellness industries have never been quite this powerful, pervasive, widespread, or accessible on a minute-to-minute level, 24/7.
And finally, teens feel more stressed about school than before. COVID aside, statistics indicate that over 40 percent of teens feel overwhelmed by what they have to get done in their first year of college, versus 28 percent in 2000 and only 18 in 1985. World events, school, self-esteem. What are a few other common things that teens stress about? Let’s take a look.
1. Physical Changes
A tale as old as time is the tale of coming to age. And a common trope in this tale is that the body is ever-changing for a young teen – and these changes can range from awe-inspiring to awfully awkward. It’s a trope for a reason – teenagers are going through the strange phase between childhood and adulthood where their bodies develop at an irregular rate, in irregular intervals, and with irregular focus.
Some teens develop faster than others, develop early, then stop early, or late but develop longer. And just like children, teens can be terribly cruel to each other. Physical changes are a common source of stress and anxiety, contributing to self-esteem issues already propagated by their media consumption.
There is no easy way around these issues. You can’t tell a teen that they’ll feel more comfortable in their body when it’s finished growing. Many adults never become comfortable in their own skin. Instead, you need to focus on helping your teen get comfortable with who they are in the moment.
2. Social Anxieties
Social anxiety is one of the most common types of anxiety disorders. We’ve mentioned that teen rates of anxiety have skyrocketed over the years to one-third of our youth, and many of these cases involve social anxiety issues.
More than introversion, or the preference for a small company of people (or solitude), a social anxiety disorder revolves around fear and worry of embarrassment, perceived self-image, and gossip.
Teens with social anxiety disorders will go out of their way to avoid situations where they might have to meet new people without thorough preparation and thought and will constantly worry about how they are perceived. These feelings can be debilitating in the way they affect a teen’s school life, personal life, and future. Social anxiety disorders must be addressed professionally through therapy and, in some cases, an anti-anxiety medication.
3. Home Environment
Another common source of teenage stress is the home. Whether it’s a noisy family, younger siblings, cramped living spaces, lack of privacy, or greater problems at home – from abuse to substance use – our home environment can have both a tremendously positive and terribly negative influence on us.
Either way, addressing problems at home is easier said than done. There’s little a teen can do to help their family out of poverty without defeating the purpose of better managing their own stress levels, for example.
Under certain circumstances, family matters can be addressed in treatment via family therapy. This is an example of group therapy where a therapist works with their patient and multiple members of their family to foster reconciliation, better help them understand each other, or explain how to offer better support.
4. Poor Sleep
How you treat your body has a massive impact on your mental health, including anxiety. A difference of even half an hour a day can have a marked effect on a teen’s memory and cognitive skills, as well as their mood management and anxious thinking.
Chronically under-rested teens are much more likely to develop different mental health issues. Improved sleep hygiene – such as preparing a cold, dark room before bed, avoiding screens an hour before sleeping, and more physical activity throughout the day – can do wonders for your mental wellbeing.
Stress management techniques come in many shapes and forms. “Just” addressing the problem is not always an option, and even if it is, it can take a great deal of time and effort to address certain things such as problems at home or vicious bullying.
Stress management techniques or coping skills aim to help teens develop ways through which to empower themselves, improve their self-esteem, and detach themselves from sources of toxicity in their lives.
Sometimes, your best bet as a teen is to talk to someone. A counselor or therapist can help you learn more about how to cope with your stress and find ways to combat it healthily.