Of course, the teenage years are, almost by definition, stressful. Hormonal and other physical changes in the body, along with fluctuating relationships with peers and parents create tension for all kids as they shift toward adulthood. But without the proper coping tools, these and other pressures of family, friends, grades, or finances can quickly begin to feel overwhelming.
Studies show that America’s children are more stressed today than ever. Suicides among adolescents have quadrupled since the 1950s. One major study revealed that only 36% of seventh graders agreed with the statement, “I am happy with my life.” In the past decade, the use of pharmaceuticals to treat emotional disorders has increased by 68% for girls, and 30% for boys.
It’s hard to pinpoint why kids are experiencing more stress today. Some studies indicate that it’s a result of a greater sense of uncertainty they feel about the future. Others indicate that they are learning from their stressed-out and anxious parents, who are not setting clear boundaries.
Whatever the cause, when young people are stressed, their academic performance suffers, and the rate of depression, anxiety, withdrawal and aggression, along with unhealthy coping strategies like drug and/or alcohol use, increases.
One surprisingly effective toolbox for managing stress involves learning the relaxation techniques of Mind Body Medicine. A typical exercise that helps evoke the relaxation response might be:
- Sit or lie quietly in a comfortable position.
- Pick a positive word or phrase, for example: relax, one, I am at peace, I am calm, etc.
- Close your eyes.
- Relax your muscles.
- Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do, repeat your focus word or phrase as you exhale.
- Assume a non-judging attitude. Don’t worry about how well you’re doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, “Oh well,” and gently return to the repetition.
- Continue for 5-10 minutes. You might want to have a clock nearby to see how much time has passed.
Research shows that children and teens who were trained in mind body techniques developed more efficient work habits, and felt less stress and anxiety. They also increased their grade point average, self-esteem and feelings of control.
- SUHSD Student Health Services, April 2017