What you are not seeing: a look at teens’ stress

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female chattingWe all know the feeling: sweaty palms, an elevated heart rate, headache, and a restless stomach that can sneak up on us when we’re stressed. These are some of the physiological sensations that date back to pre-historic times when we were hunters and our bodies released “Fight or Flight” hormones in response to perceived threats. The induced alertness, heightened muscle preparedness, and sweating would help us get away from or attack the predator more effectively.

But what do these sensations mean in contemporary times?

Now they can mean a lack of sleep, muscle tensing, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. And this is how our teen body reacts to stressors in our daily lives. But very often, we experience these triggers without knowing the reasons why. Okay, sometimes it’s obvious like when they are in response to an upcoming exam or athletic competition. But sometimes it’s not so clear. That’s when we need to identify some of the common unseen stressors, those things that you are constantly worrying about but that you might not communicate to others or even realize how much they are affecting you.

Here are the top six unseen teen stressors to be aware of the next time you feel anxious but don’t know why:

  1. Friends: Sometimes friendships can be overlooked as a stressor, but they are central to teens. An argument with a friend can have a real impact on our mood and interactions with other friends, family members and co-workers.
  2. Work/School: We go to work or school every day so we don’t think of these regular outings as something that stresses us out. But the little things can add up, and the pressure can sometimes be a lot to handle, especially when you believe you are being evaluated on everything that you do.
  3. Siblings/Parents: Our first relationships in life are built with family members and so they tend to know us well since we spend so much time with them. Often we look to our family for approval and so it can be hard when they are not there for us.
  4. Daily Disturbances: Traffic, loud noises, rushing around: all of these can lead to stress without us knowing it. Next time you feel stressed consider that it might be from something as insignificant as a long line-up at the coffee shop in the morning.
  5.  Self-Expectations: The pressure we put on ourselves is usually much greater than any other external pressure. Be aware of how you are treating yourself. Sometimes you should to take a little pressure off of yourself and remember to look at the big picture.
  6.  Thinking about the future: As teenagers, this is something we are forced to do often. Sometimes thinking about our future is scary because we aren’t sure what we want or how to go about getting it.

So what can we do about all this? Consider conducting a stress check-up every few weeks as a great way to start keeping track of the unseen stressors in your life.

Try following these steps:

  1.  Identify any stressors.
  2. Think about why they are causing you stress or if you are exaggerating their magnitude.
  3. Remove emotional factors and think about solutions or ways to deal with the issues in a strictly logical fashion. Write them down.
  4. Do something that you like or that de-stresses you: talk to a friend, get some exercise, get some sleep, take some deep breaths, do yoga, get a massage, or listen to music.

Unseen stressors can be quite scary at times, but by following these steps you’ll begin to see a difference in your anxious behaviour. Remember not to hold on to the little things, find your own communication style to let others know how you feel, and maintain a positive outlook.


Need some assistance preparing to talk to your teen? Contact Shepell to discover the different ways we offer support. You may also want to enquire about our Parenting Teens resource kit.

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