This article was last updated Aug. 10, 2023.
These days, it’s easy for kids — especially teenagers — to feel a lot of stress in their everyday lives. Keeping their grades up in school, making friends, fitting in with their peers and balancing multiple extracurricular activities with other responsibilities can all be sources of stress.
How we manage stress is important, and kids may not always know the best way to do so. No matter how happy they seem or how many times they tell you they’re fine, it’s important to regularly check in with your kids to make sure normal, everyday stressors don’t escalate into long-term stress, which can affect their health.
Five ways to help kids get through a stressful situation
Don’t try to problem-solve
When kids are going through hard times or facing stress, it's only natural for a parent to try fixing the problem. However, sometimes your kids just want comfort and to have a place where they feel safe sharing their frustrations — all you need to do is be there to listen and sympathize.
Encourage healthy coping strategies
There are many ways to handle stress, but not all of them are healthy. Bullying, fighting, skipping out on school responsibilities, refusing to eat or ignoring their problems altogether are just a few examples of unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Help your kids develop positive ways to deal with stress by setting aside time for fun things they enjoy and other self-care activities. This may include taking a walk, writing in a journal, listening to music, playing outside, doing yoga or taking a soothing bath.
Remind them to take care of themselves
Because too much stress can affect our health, it’s especially important that children keep their bodies and minds healthy during stressful times. Here are some simple, yet effective ways to cope with stress on a daily basis.
- Regular physical activity is great for relieving stress — it doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise, either. Even a 20- to 30-minute walk around the neighborhood each day will release endorphins, a mood-boosting hormone in the brain.
- Eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains helps your kids grow up healthy and strong, but it also keeps them alert throughout the day and steadies their mood. Avoid junk food like chips, candy and soda, and limit caffeine. All of these harm the ability to reduce stress.
- Getting enough sleep will help your kids rest and refresh their minds and bodies which is important during stressful times. Children shouldn’t be on their phone or watch TV in bed and should aim to avoid screens for at least 30 minutes before shutting their eyes.
- Limiting time on social media and news sites can help calm an anxious mind, especially for teens who may compare themselves to their peers or become overwhelmed by current events around the world.
Help them form a positive outlook
Dwelling on negative feelings and thoughts can create a never-ending cycle of stress. On the other hand, being able to see the positives — no matter the situation — can help your kids build resilience. Ask them to think of a few things they’re grateful for at the end of each day. This should help put any problems they’re facing into perspective.
Take a deep breath
This one is for you, too! Deep breathing is an efficient way to calm your body and mind when you’re stressed. It can help you and your kids if moods are low and tensions are high. Sit or lie down somewhere away from distractions and interruptions. Inhale slowly for four to five seconds, then exhale slowly for the same amount of time. Do this a few times whenever you need to relax and clear your head.
Take advantage of mental health support through Doctor On Demand®
Talking to a counselor or therapist can alleviate some symptoms of stress and help kids (or anyone) form healthy coping skills. Most Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield members have access to doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and other medical experts through Doctor On Demand as part of their benefits.
Watch for signs of depression and anxiety
It’s easy to write off your teen’s bad mood as normal — especially if you know they’re stressed out or going through a tough time. But, sometimes, their behavior can clue you in to the state of their mental health. Some signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety include:
- Acting angry, irritable or lashing out inappropriately.
- Being unable to concentrate, remember things or make decisions.
- Feeling tired or having no energy.
- Withdrawing from friends and family.
- Feeling worthless or hopeless.
- Sleeping or eating too much or not enough.
- Being unmotivated to do normally enjoyable activities.
If you notice a pattern of concerning behavior, reach out to your child’s doctor for recommendations. If they don’t have a pediatrician or personal doctor, you can find one in-network by logging in or registering for myWellmark® Opens New Window.