Homework. Sports. Hanging out with friends. Part-time jobs. Other commitments. Teens have a ton to do. Many are focused on racking up experiences for their post-high school plans. But as they build up their resume for adult life, there is one skill experts say they are missing -- knowing how to relax.
Sound ridiculous? Teens with too much to do are at risk of burning out. Stress can zap the energy they need to focus and make good choices. When they run themselves ragged, unhealthy choices can seem like the easiest option. What teen hasn’t been tempted to veg out on the couch instead of going for a walk, grab chips for a snack instead of yogurt, or stay up all night to cram for a test instead of getting sleep? The problem is that all of those can set them up for unhealthy weight gain.
To make matters worse, when they're stressed, they can also turn to those same unhealthy behaviors -- like eating junk food, watching too much TV, and playing video games – to feel better and de-stress. It’s a trap.
Instead, teens need to learn how to break free. You can help teach them how to manage stress before it becomes overwhelming and deal with it in healthy ways when it does strike. Then they'll be able to have the energy to make fit choices. Knowing how to recharge is a life skill that is just as important as loading up on formal activities, classes, and lessons, say experts.
"I would be happiest if there were a required course in things like yoga or meditation, and I wouldn't have said that 10 or 20 years ago," says clinical psychologist Marsha Levy-Warren, PhD, author of The Adolescent Journey. "Kids [these days] don’t know how to turn off, calm down, and figure out what it is that’s important to them."
Signs of Too Much Stress
Your teen might not even notice when they are stressed out and overwhelmed. If you notice any of these signs, it's time to talk to your teen about the pressures and stress in their life:
- Dropping grades
- Stomachaches, headaches
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in eating habits
- Crankiness or mood shifts
- Problems with friends
When you talk, explain that stress can lead to unhealthy habits like eating junk food and choosing to play video games instead of exercising, which actually could make them feel better.
Movement and exercise are great choices for dealing with stress. Let them know that exercise can trigger "feel-good" chemicals in their brain that should make them feel better. Then work with them to come up with ways to get movement into their day.
Besides helping their moods, movement is important for teens’ health. Teens need to get 60 minutes of exercise throughout the day. Pushups in the morning, shooting hoops after school, a family walk after dinner -- it all adds up. Plus, people who are active are more likely to make better food choices. Teens who fuel their bodies right will have the energy they need to tackle their busy days. That’s a positive cycle.