Stressed Out Teenagers (part 1)

In early March, three therapists from Emily Cook Therapy in Bethesda, MD participated in the Health and Wellness Summit at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, MD. Emily Cook, Nooshin Kiankhooy, and Caryn Malkus presented to classes of 10th and 11th graders about stress and stress management. And goodness — we encountered some stressed out teenagers! 

This is part one of a two-part post where we’ll share some of the information about stress that we discussed with the adolescents.

First, we gave them a True/False quiz to test their knowledge about stress. For example…

Stress is avoidable. {true}

Avoiding the situations that create stress may not be possible, but we are able to control our responses to those situations. One way to think about this is that different people experience different triggers of stress — I may get stressed by running late, but that might not bother you at all. Becoming more mindful of our reactions to what is happening helps us avoid feeling overwhelmed by stress.

Only negative events lead to stress. {false}

Although we are more likely to list the negative triggers of stress (like losing a job, having a fight with a friend, or being unprepared for a fast approaching deadline) — happy events can also trigger stress (like having a baby, planning a wedding, or scheduling the itinerary of a vacation). So remember! It’s not the event itself that is stressful but your emotional response to that event that causes stress.

The physiological responses to stress (e.g., increased heart rate, rapid or shallow breathing, sweaty palms, upset digestion) kick in more quickly for teens than adults. {true}

The physiological responses to stress are initiated by our “emotional brain” (specifically, the limbic system and brain stem), while the calming responses to stress are initiated by our “thinking brain” (specifically the prefrontal cortex). The stress response in teenagers comes on stronger and more quickly because their “thinking brains” aren’t as fully developed as in adults. An adult might feel stress triggered by an approaching deadline, but quickly be able to asses the situation and prepare accordingly. Teenagers who feel stressed by an approaching deadline will linger in the “freak out” stage longer.

Stress and anxiety are the same thing. {false}

Stress is your body’s response to a change in your environment or context. When you feel stressed, that’s our body reacting to positive or negative change — falling in love, starting a new project, or suffering an unexpected disappointment — with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Anxiety is an emotion that’s characterized by feelings of apprehension, nervousness, or fear. When anxiety takes over and interferes with your life or relationships, you might feel overwhelmed by uneasiness and experience distressing behaviors like panic attacks. An experienced mental health professional trained to work with adolescents will be able to help determine whether you are experiencing stress, a normal response to change, or anxiety symptoms, which can become too frequent or forceful.

 Stay tuned! Next week, look for part two of this two-part post about stressed out teenagers!

Teenagers, are you stressed out and having trouble dealing? Parents, is your teenager’s stress level worrying you? Do you know a teenager who is struggling to balance school, friends, sports, activities, and family?

Individual therapy for adolescents in Bethesda, MD can help! Call us today.