Stress management techniques for teens

Image of a dad and his daughter sitting together outside. They are both smiling.

This can help if:

  • your teen is going through a stressful time

  • you want to help your teen feel like they’re able to cope with stress

  • you're looking for ways to help your teen relax.

What is stress management?

There’s no shortage of reasons why we get stressed, whether it’s from juggling work, family or money worries, or dealing with big life changes. For your teen, it might be about school, exams, bullying, friendships or romantic relationships, climate change, or worrying about the future.

It can be a lot to handle. But you can help your teen to put the right techniques and lifestyle habits in place so they can avoid stress in the first place or lower their stress levels in the moment, and generally feel more in control.

Why is it important for teens to manage their stress?

Some short-term stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In some situations, it can give your teen a boost as they confront their challenges. For example, if they have exams coming up, their stress about getting the results they want might motivate them to study. 

But stress can also affect their wellbeing, especially if they stay stressed for a long period of time. Some of the effects are:

  • difficulty concentrating or focusing

  • poor decision making

  • forgetfulness

  • increased heart rate

  • muscle tension

  • rapid breathing

  • increased risk of physical health conditions such as high blood pressure or migraines.

Managing stress early can also prevent it from turning into further mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.

How teens can manage their stress

Here are some tips and techniques you can encourage your teen to try out.

Encourage healthy habits

Leading by example and encouraging your teen to adopt healthy lifestyle habits can help them to prevent stress. Even if they are already stressed, the following habits can help them to reduce its impact.

  • Get quality sleep: Teenagers need 8–10 hours of sleep a night. A good night’s sleep can improve their mood, help them to think clearly and keep them physically healthy. Check out these practical strategies to improve your teen’s sleep.

  • Exercise regularly: Being physically active can release tension as well as boost your teen’s mood and sense of achievement. It can be hard to start and stick to an exercise routine, but if your teen chooses an activity they genuinely enjoy, it’ll be easier for them to stay motivated. It could be playing a sport, going to the gym, following a dance tutorial, or taking walks around the neighbourhood.

  • Eat a balanced diet: A balanced diet supports your teen’s brain health, as well as their physical health. The right food can even help with studying and exam stress.

  • Reduce or avoid smoking, vaping, alcohol and caffeine: These things can worsen the impact of stress. Read our tips on how to set expectations about alcohol and how to talk to your teen about vaping.

  • Don’t take on too much: Not everything that makes your teen stressed will be in their control. But they can potentially save themselves from getting too overwhelmed by not taking on too many commitments at once. For stressors they can’t avoid, such as studying or work, having some time management strategies can help them to stay on top of their tasks.

Try some relaxation techniques

When your teen is already stressed, relaxation techniques can help them to slow down and feel more in control. There are several types of relaxation techniques they can try. You might even practise them together to help your teen figure out which ones suit them.

  • Clear your mind with meditation: Taking some time each day to focus on quieting your mind can help you feel more grounded. You and your teen can follow along with a meditation video on YouTube, or you can try one of the many meditation apps. Smiling Mind is a meditation app specifically designed for young people.

  • Centre your focus with mindfulness: Practising mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment and taking time to notice what you’re doing or what’s around you. Regular mindfulness practice can help your teen relax and improve their concentration. A lot of activities can be done mindfully, such as making a cup of tea, tidying the house, gaming, drawing, and listening to music.

  • Take deep breaths: When we’re stressed, we instinctively take shallow breaths and only breathe into our upper chest. But taking slow, deep breaths into our belly can help calm our nervous system. There are lots of different breathing techniques you and your teen can try.

  • Slow down with gentle movement: Gentle forms of physical activity, such as yoga, walking and tai chi, combine multiple types of relaxation techniques. Your teen can practise mindfulness by focusing on how they move their body and by taking deep breaths in sync with the movement.

It’s not always easy to stick with relaxation techniques. Sometimes it might feel like they’re not doing anything to help you relax, or you might forget to make time for them. But like a lot of new skills, it can take a while to figure it out and feel like you’re getting it right. Being patient and finding a few minutes in your daily routine to practise one of the relaxation techniques can be worthwhile. But if your teen is finding it hard to stick with it, then some self-care might be a more suitable approach.

Unwind with some self-care

Even though your teen might feel too busy or less motivated during stressful periods, it’s important for them to practise regular self-care. When they do something that makes them feel good, it can help replenish their energy and positive feelings. Self-care can take many shapes:

  • Dedicating time to hobbies: Any hobby can be a form of self-care if it feels relaxing and fulfilling. Some ideas include cooking, playing or watching sport, reading, doing craft and DIY projects, playing a musical instrument and taking photographs.

  • Journalling thoughts: Your teen can write down what’s on their mind as a way to express themselves and process what they’re going through. They can do this in a physical journal or in the notes app on their phone. Some people like to write down whatever comes to mind, while others find it helpful to use journalling prompts. Some prompts for self-reflection include:

    • ‘How am I really feeling at this moment?’

    • ‘What do I really need right now?’

    • ‘What can I do to make tomorrow a little bit better?’

  • Spending time with others: Hanging out with loved ones can help your teen feel supported when they’re stressed and also serves as a fun distraction.

  • Doing anything just for fun: What works as self-care is different for everyone, so it might take some experimenting for your teen to figure out what works for them.

Chat to someone about it

When your teen talks to someone they trust about what’s making them stressed, it can help them feel less alone. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them. Other times, it might help them to break down their challenges into smaller, more manageable parts. Here are some tips for communicating effectively with your teen when they’re stressed:

  • Give them your undivided attention.

  • Put yourself in their shoes.

  • Validate their point of view.

If they’re not willing or ready to talk to you about it, you might suggest that they talk to their:

  • friends

  • other relatives or family friends

  • a teacher

  • other elders in your community.

If your teen is really struggling with stress, it might be a good idea for them to talk to a professional. This might be: