These days, it’s easy for kids — particularly teenagers — to feel a lot of stress. Even before COVID-19, many children worried about keeping their grades up in school, making friends, fitting in with their peers and balancing multiple extracurricular activities with other responsibilities.
Now, the ongoing pandemic has effectively put their regularly scheduled lives on hold. Many are missing major milestones like formal dances, graduation or birthday parties. The future is undeniably uncertain. Not to mention, they’re separated from friends, teachers, and coaches — a large part of their normal support network — and might be feeling a variety of emotions from anger to disappointment to sadness.
How we manage stressful situations is important. And, kids may not always know how to deal with the stress they feel. 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 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 or fighting, skipping out on school responsibilities, refusing to eat or ignoring their problems altogether are just a few examples. 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 important to keep their body and mind healthy even during stressful times. Here are some simple, yet effective ways to cope with stress:
- Regular physical activity is great for relieving stress — it doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise, either. Even just 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 which harm their ability to reduce stress.
- Getting enough sleep and not staying up late will help your kids rest and refresh their minds and bodies, which is especially important if they’re experiencing stress. And, ask them about their pre-bedtime habits — your kids 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 find they constantly compare themselves to their peers or become easily overwhelmed by current events around the world.
Help them form a positive outlook
Dwelling on negative feelings or thoughts can create a never-ending cycle of stress. On the other side, being able to see the positives — no matter the situation — will help your kids build resilience. Ask them to think of a few things they’re grateful for at the end of each day, which will help put any problems they’re facing into perspective.
Take a deep breath
This one is for you, too! Deep breathing is a fast way to calm your body and mind when you’re stressed and can help both you and your kids if moods are low and tensions are high. Sit or lie down somewhere away from distractions or interruptions. Inhale slowly for four or 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.
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. Look for the following signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety:
- Acting angry or 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, they can find one in-network by logging in or registering for myWellmark® Opens New Window.