The period of adolescence can be one of the most stressful and difficult periods of an individual’s life. As a critical development period, adolescence is where a child is transitioning to adulthood, that already sounds overwhelming! They are faced with new responsibilities, physical and hormonal changes, and their focus shifts from parents to peers. Which usually means everything you did before now becomes embarrassing for them. If you are observing changes of behaviour and mood, here is some information that may help in identifying and managing stress caused by developmental changes and lifestyle factors.
The point of stress is to shift our body into a rapid response, to a stimulus. Some stress can be beneficial for us, depending on what the trigger is. The type of stress we want to be aware of is chronic stress.
Acute stress is experienced only for a short period such as having a test or a job interview. This type of stress can be beneficial and can help us to prepare for challenges. If acute stress is experienced on a single incident that is traumatic, this can cause mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress.
Chronic stress on the other hand can be cumulative and build over time. Chronic stress is when our body is experiencing a stress response for a long period of time. This can be due to external issues such as work or worry about a certain situation. Situations such as isolation, relationship issues, physical health concerns, caring for someone, overworking or being in a stressful environment means that we may be experiencing a prolonged stress response. Sometimes when we have not had any opportunity to recover or process an event and something else happens, this can cause compounded stress.
When we experience an event which causes a stress response, our body releases adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones increase our heart rate, blood pressure and muscles tension. Our metabolism also speeds up, and our senses are heightened. We are ready to respond rapidly and effectively. Over time this stress response can cause the following physical symptoms:
· Heart palpitations
· Sleep disturbances
· Upset stomach
· Frequent headaches
· Muscular aches
· Lowered immune system
· Difficulty with memory
· A sense of being overwhelmed
Long term stress, in conjunction with a lack of coping mechanisms, or unhealthy coping skills can lead to potentially negative results. As parents you hold a valuable role where you can model positive coping behaviours for your children. As children and teenagers develop they will look to you for how you overcame certain difficulties and how you manage stress. It may also mean you can create an environment in your home that is open to conversations about stress. Throughout this developmental period, adolescents are individuating from their parents to find their own sense of identity. This can mean it is difficult to know what may be going on for them as they can be closed off to sharing with you. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you might be wanting to support a young person through stressful situations:
Find out what is causing the stress. Is it something that can be changed such as perceived pressure or expectations? Social relationships and life issues can seem trivial but may also be easily changed.
Focus on building resilience. Resilience is an internal feeling that is built on overcoming adverse experiences and with a positive outcome. This is something that can be built over time and through various methods. Reflect their strengths and encourage them to do activities they enjoy and are good at. This will build their sense of self-esteem. Positively affirm them when they have had a big success.
Encourage physical activity. Joining in sports and similar pro social activities will have positive impacts on stress levels and mood. Physical activity can reduce our physiological stress responses along with the social factor which can cause an individual to feel connected and develop a positive support network.
Sleep. Encouraging a regular sleep pattern is imperative for the brain to restore and repair the impacts of stress. This can be done by creating a routine around sleep times during the week, this way the body will learn to expect it. When we try and sleep and our mind is in overdrive this only exacerbates stress and can cause rumination of all the issues that are stressing us out. It is important to have a pre-sleep routine, which may start an hour or half an hour before bed. Things such as reducing screen time, herbal tea, a hot shower, reading and anything that will assist to wind down physically and mentally.
Talk to someone. It is important to identify what the stressors are and put strategies in place to reduce them. When young people are stressed, they can feel they are isolated and alone. They may even question their self-confidence in being able to manage. It is important they find connection. It may be that this is from a professional or from friends.
Mabel Rolt - Director of See Counselling
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