Stress Overload: How it Affects Your Teen and 10 Effective Ways To Reduce It

Has your teen ever lost it over something small? Like they lost their bag, couldn’t find their football boots, had to breathe the same air as their sibling, or you looked at them the ‘wrong’ way?

It’s worrisome and intimidating when your teen is experiencing stress overload and seems to explode with anger or frustration. It’s easy to go on the defensive and chastise them for their outbursts.

But sometimes, it’s not so cut and dry. This seemingly excessive, anxious response could be a result of worry stacking.

What is ‘worry stacking’, and how does it cause stress overload?

Parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson says ‘worry stacking’ refers to the tendency for individuals, particularly teenagers, to accumulate multiple worries or stressors until they become overwhelmed. This can lead to heightened anxiety and difficulty managing emotions and responsibilities, which is why small things seem like the end of the world at that moment.

For example, they wake up late, miss the bus, and forget their homework. When they realise they forgot it, they’re at their pressure point, and the missing homework sends them over.

Dr Coulson says worry stacking often occurs when individuals feel unable to effectively address or resolve their concerns, causing them to build up over time.

10 Ways to Help your Teen with Stress overload

1. Open communication

Encouraging open dialogue involves creating an environment where teens feel safe expressing their thoughts and feelings without the fear of being judged or dismissed. This can be fostered by actively listening to what they say, being non-judgmental, and showing genuine interest in their concerns. It also means being approachable and available to talk whenever they need support or guidance.

2. Active listening

Active listening goes beyond simply hearing what the teen is saying. It involves giving them your full attention, maintaining eye contact, and using verbal and nonverbal cues to show that you are engaged. Reflecting back what they’re saying, paraphrasing their words, and asking clarifying questions can help ensure mutual understanding and convey empathy.

3. Normalise feelings

Adolescence is a time of intense emotions and uncertainty, and teens must understand that feeling worried or anxious is a normal part of growing up. By acknowledging and validating their feelings, you help them feel understood and accepted. Let them know that seeking help from a trusted adult or a professional is a sign of strength, not weakness.

4. Problem solving skills

Teaching teens problem-solving skills empowers them to tackle their worries constructively. Encourage them to break down problems into manageable steps, brainstorm possible solutions, weigh the pros and cons, and develop an action plan. By involving them in the problem-solving process, you help build their confidence and resilience.

5. Healthy coping mechanisms

Instead of turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse or self-harm, encourage teens to adopt healthy ways of dealing with stress and anxiety. This can include regular exercise, practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation, pursuing creative outlets or hobbies, or spending time with supportive friends and family members.

teen boy stress overload worry stacking
Teenage stress overload can be caused by worry stacking. Source: Bigstock

6. Establish routine

A consistent daily routine can provide teens with a sense of stability and predictability, which can help reduce feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. Encourage them to establish regular sleep patterns, set aside time for homework or studying, have a checklist of things they need by the door, and schedule activities that promote relaxation and enjoyment.

7. Limit stressors

Identify sources of stress in the teen’s life and work together to find ways to reduce or eliminate them whenever possible. This might involve setting boundaries around screen time or social media use, prioritising commitments, or seeking support from teachers or school counsellors to manage academic pressures.

8. Encourage self-care

Emphasise the importance of self-care and help teens develop habits that promote their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Encourage them to prioritise activities that nourish their body and mind, such as getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, practising good hygiene, and taking breaks when needed.

9. Seek professional help

If worries persist despite your efforts or if they significantly interfere with the teen’s daily functioning, don’t hesitate to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. A therapist or counsellor can provide additional support, guidance, and resources to help the teen manage their worries and develop healthy coping strategies.

10. Lead by example

As a parent, you serve as a role model for the teen. Demonstrate healthy coping strategies and problem-solving skills in your own behaviour, and be open about your own experiences with stress and anxiety. By modelling positive behaviours and attitudes, you can help guide teens toward healthier ways of managing their worries.

Remember, every child and teen is unique, so it’s essential to tailor your approach based on their individual needs and preferences.

There’s no perfect way to help your teen when they’re experiencing anxiety. But with patience, flexibility and compassion, you’ll be able to find the tools to give them the skills to cope with stress and anxiety.

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Avatar of Tina Evans

Tina Evans is a complete introvert, an avid reader of romance novels, horror novels and psychological thrillers. She’s a writer, movie viewer, and manager of the house menagerie: three kelpies, one cat, a fish, and a snake. She loves baking and cooking and using her kids as guinea pigs. She was a teenage parent and has learned a lot in twenty-three years of parenting. Tina loves Christmas and would love to experience a white Christmas once in her life. Aside from writing romance novels, she is passionate about feminism, equality, sci-fi, action movies and doing her part to help the planet.

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