Health & Wellness

Managing Teen Stress

From homework and SAT prep courses to sports practices, first dates, and after-school jobs—today’s teens have a lot to juggle. But what happens when stress manifests itself as something more serious? And what can you do to help your teen?

We asked Deepak Prabhakar, MD, MPH, chief of medical staff and medical director of outpatient services at Sheppard Pratt, how you can empower your teen to build resilience and ward off chronic stress that could lead to anxiety and depression. 

Dr. Prabhakar says it’s normal for a teen to feel stress from time to time. Stress—a physical or psychological response typically to an external cause—may be a one-time or short-term occurrence. But it can also become chronic. 

Unlike short-term stress, anxiety is multifactorial and must be addressed. It usually involves a persistent feeling of apprehension or dread that interferes with how someone lives their life. For instance, a teen who is anxious about a difficult homework assignment may choose to avoid it entirely, impacting their grades and performance in class. 

Both chronic stress and anxiety can have similar effects on your teen’s body and mind. They might include:

  • fatigue 
  • uneasiness 
  • irritability 
  • headaches or body aches
  • tension 
  • high blood pressure 
  • heart palpitations 
  • loss of sleep 

So, how do you know when your teen’s stress levels indicate an anxiety disorder? If it feels like your teen can’t manage their stress, and it’s disrupting their life or causing them to avoid activities they enjoy, it’s time to act. 

Dr. Prabhakar suggests working with your teen to learn what is triggering their stress. You can also help them identify coping techniques to employ when they start to get anxious. Try these tips with your teen to help build resilience and lower stress: 

  • Keep a journal.
  • Download a mindfulness/relaxation app. 
  • Exercise and eat healthy, regular meals. 
  • Decrease or avoid caffeinated drinks.
  • Get quality sleep. Stick to a schedule with similar wake-up and bedtime hours each day; shut down your screens at least two hours before bed; and consider a white noise machine to block out disruptive sounds in your environment. 
  • Identify and challenge negative and unhelpful thoughts. 
  • Reach out to family and friends for support.

Featured Expert

  • Deepak Prabhakar, MD, MPH

    Chief of Medical Staff; Medical Director, Outpatient Services
    Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Traumatic Brain Injury, Concussion, Public Health, Sports Psychiatry, Suicide Prevention