What is stress in children and teens?

Stress in Children and Teens
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What are the signs of stress in children and teens?

Children and teens notice and react to stress in their family and also feel their own stress. It is important to recognize stress in children and teens and help them with healthy coping strategies. The strategies they learn often stay with them into adulthood.

In general, anything that may cause children fear and anxiety can cause stress. This can include being away from home, starting a new school or moving to a new location, being separated from parents or caregivers, worrying about school and getting along with others, worrying about their changing bodies, and worrying about the future.

Here are some common signs of stress in different age groups:

Signs of stress in children and teens

Preschool and toddlers

Elementary-age children

Preteens and teens

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Problems with eating and sleeping, including nightmares
  • Fear of being alone
  • Irritability
  • Regressing to infant behaviors
  • Trembling with fright
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Withdrawal
  • Being distrustful
  • Complaining of headaches or stomachaches
  • Feeling unloved
  • Having no appetite
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Needing to urinate often
  • Wetting the bed
  • Not caring about school or friendship
  • Acting withdrawn
  • Worrying about the future
  • Anger
  • Disillusionment
  • Distrust of the world
  • Low self-esteem
  • Stomachaches and headaches
  • Panic attacks
  • Rebellion

What can teens do to prevent stress?

  • Feel good about how well you do things. You don't always have to be perfect.
  • Challenge bad thoughts. For example, don't think "I'll never get this right." Instead, think "I've been practicing a lot, so I'll do better this time."
  • Manage your time. This helps you find time to do the things you want and need to do. Break larger tasks into smaller ones. Write down what's very important and not so important to you, and use your list to help you make choices about how to best use your time.
  • Limit your time on social media. Be careful that social media use isn't replacing things like spending time with friends or doing other things you enjoy.
  • Get enough sleep. Your body recovers from the stresses of the day while you are sleeping.
  • Get support. Your family, friends, and community can make a difference in how you experience stress.

What can teens do to manage stress?

Relax your mind

  • Write. It may help to write about things that are bothering you. This helps you find out how much stress you feel and what is causing it. When you know this, you can find better ways to cope.
  • Let your feelings out. Talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when you need to. Talking with friends, family, a counselor, or a faith leader about your feelings is a healthy way to relieve stress.
  • Spend less time on social media. While social media can be fun, it can also be stressful. Instead, do something else you enjoy. For example, go to a movie, play board games, practice a hobby, or do volunteer work.
  • Meditate. This can help you relax, because you are not worrying about what happened before or what may happen in the future.
  • Do guided imagery. Imagine yourself in any setting that helps you feel calm. You can use apps, videos, books, or a teacher to guide you.

Relax your body

  • Do something active. Physical activity can help reduce stress. Get plenty of exercise every day. Go for a walk or jog, ride your bike, or play sports with friends.
  • Do breathing exercises. For example, go to a quiet place, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Inhale deeply, and exhale slowly. Repeat a few times.
  • Try yoga or tai chi. These techniques combine exercise and meditation. You may need some training at first to learn them.

How does stress affect health in teens?

Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach before taking a test? Or felt your heart speed up when a teacher asked you a question you couldn't answer? These are symptoms of stress. If the stress is over quickly, your body goes back to normal and no harm is done.

But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have bad effects. You may have trouble sleeping, feel tired a lot, or have headaches or stomachaches. Long-term stress can make you more likely to get sick, and it can make symptoms of some diseases worse. If you tense up when you are stressed, you may develop neck, shoulder, or low back pain. And stress is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Stress also can change how you behave. You might feel cranky and get upset at small problems or get angry and yell at others. Stress might make it hard to focus on your schoolwork. It may affect how well you perform in sports or other activities. Stress also can make you worry a lot or think that bad things are going to happen to you.

What is stress in children?

Stress is a feeling that can happen to a child when they have to handle a change or a difficult situation. Even school-age children can feel worried and stressed.

Stress can come from outside, such as family, friends, and school. It can also come from children themselves. Just like adults, children may expect too much of themselves and then feel stressed if they feel that they have "failed."

Children can feel stress that is brief, such as being called on in class or trying out for a team. Or it can last longer, such as after a death in the family or a divorce. For some children, such as those living in poverty, stress may come from long-lasting situations.

In general, anything that may cause children fear and anxiety can cause stress.

Adults can help children with stress in many ways. Three important things you can do are to try to reduce the amount of stress in your lives, help build positive coping skills, and teach children to let stress out.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.