Stress in teenagers

Side view of girl with hand on cheek

It’s very common for teenagers to feel stressed out from time to time. Stress is a normal part of life and can even be beneficial in some situations.

However, if you’re worried that your teen is under a lot of stress and it’s been going on for a while or is affecting their day-to-day life, there are things you can do to help them.

This article can help if you want to:

  • learn about the causes of teenage stress

  • be able to spot the triggers of stress in your teenager

  • help your teenager to manage stress more effectively

  • find ways to understand and support overall teenage mental health.

Stress and teens

Stress is a normal part of life for teenagers, and can be caused by many different things. The more you learn about stress in teens, the better you can be at modelling behaviours that can help children learn to manage it more effectively, which is a great skill for life.

Dr Bill Kefalas explains the warning signs and effects of stress on teenagers

Read the transcript

Causes of teenage stress

Why are teenagers stressed? Common challenges for teenagers that may cause them stress include:

  • homework and school (especially exams)

  • expectations and pressure to do well at school from parents and family

  • social relationships with friends and boyfriends/girlfriends and the issue of sex

  • extracurricular commitments

  • life challenges, such as leaving school or getting into tertiary studies or employment

  • lack of time – having too much to do, feeling unprepared or overwhelmed

  • lack of sleep.

How can you recognise that your teenager is feeling the effects of stress?

If you know that your teen is going through a difficult time, you can be on the lookout for changes in behaviour or things that might signal they’re experiencing excessive stress.

Some signs of stress in teens include:

  • difficulties with sleep

  • fatigue

  • being disengaged

  • being anxious or panicky

  • being depressed

  • headaches or stomach aches

  • irritability

  • difficulties with concentration and focus

  • school refusal

  • changes in appetite

  • increased use of alcohol or drugs

  • withdrawal from family or friends

  • loss of interest in hobbies.

How is teenage stress different from stress in adults?

Teenagers have a different stress response from adults.

One study shows that teenagers release more cortisol during times of stress (which leads to physiological responses such as increased heart rate and blood pressure), and also experience greater cognitive impairment when stressed, than adults do.

In another study, high or constant levels of stress during adolescence were shown to have the potential to contribute to the increased likelihood of conditions such as anxiety or depression, or abusing drugs or alcohol.

Signs of stress in teenagers can mimic everyday teenage hormonal changes, so it can be difficult for teens and parents alike to pinpoint. The best thing to do in this case is speak with a GP, so they can help your teen manage how they’re feeling. Mental health in teenagers can be affected by a multitude of factors so it may also be helpful to consult a mental health professional or specialist GP regarding your stressed child.

Managing teenage stress

It’s particularly important for teenagers to learn how to manage stress. It’s a regular part of life that, if not managed effectively, can significantly affect their physical and mental health beyond their formative years.

How can you help a stressed teen?

The best way to help teenagers with stress is to communicate and provide regular support There’s plenty of tips on how to communicate effectively with your teen here.

Here are some ways you can help a stressed teenager:

  • Acknowledge their stress. A teen is more likely to open up and accept your support if they know you’re taking what they’re going through seriously. Even though you were a teenager once, it’s important to remember that teenage issues and experiences are unique to everyone.

  • Help them to figure out what’s within their control and what isn’t. Working out what you can actually have an impact on, and then learning to accept what is out of your control, can be really helpful for managing stress. If your teenager is struggling with this, ReachOut has a guide to help young people with accepting what is out of their control here.

  • Help them to learn some stress management techniques. You can introduce them to relaxation, deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques, or encourage them to try mindfulness or meditation. You can learn more about these techniques here. Other helpful ideas for managing teen stress include journaling, yoga, creative expression, or spending time in nature. You could also share with them our youth guide to stress management here.

  • Encourage and help them to find other sources of support. While it’s a positive thing if your teen is open to working with you to manage their stress, it can also be a good idea to help them find other sources of support. Encourage them to talk to family and friends, and make sure they have a strong support network around them. They could talk to a teacher or counsellor or a mental health hotline.

  • Read up on how to help them. Find some other ideas for helping manage your teen’s stress here.

Ways to improve teenage mental health and stress

Stress can be harmful to a teen’s health and wellbeing if they have been experiencing it for some time. If your child has been showing signs of stress, try our suggested strategies for supporting them.

If your child has been stressed for a long period of time, or if nothing seems to be helping, it’s a good idea to seek outside help. Have a chat to a GP or encourage your teen to talk with a counsellor.

If they need someone to talk with urgently, encourager them to contact a mental health hotline such as:

Having a teenager who is having difficulties with stress can be a tough thing to experience as a parent or carer. It can be helpful to read other parents’ stories about how they have coped with this, and you can also share your story in the ReachOut Parents Online Community here.

Resources for teenagers and stress