The start of a new school year is usually a time of hope, excitement, and possibility. Unfortunately, for many young people it can also be a stressful experience that negatively impacts their mental health. The signs and symptoms of mental health concerns among children and adolescents can vary depending on a wide range of individual factors. In general, any significant changes in energy, behavior, attitude, or socialization may indicate that the student is crisis.
Symptoms of stress can vary widely, from withdrawal and avoidance to irritability and lashing out. Stress is often overlooked because teenagers are good at hiding their thoughts and feelings. But these are some of the behaviors that might be a sign an adolescent might be stressed.
- Feeling angry, irritable or easily frustrated
- Trouble sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time
- Losing your temper with others
- Headaches or other unexplained aches and pains
- Changes in appetite or eating habits
- Getting colds more than usual
- Fighting with family and friends
- Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
- Feeling sad or moody
- Feeling nervous or anxious
- Feeling that you can’t handle life’s challenges
- Not wanting to be around people or take part in activities
You might not be able to stop what is stressing your child or teen, but you can help them. If you notice that they’re showing signs of stress, try the following:
REMIND THEM TO BE KIND TO THEMSELVES.
No one is perfect. No one gets it right all the time. No one always has all the answers. If they are trying hard and doing their best, that’s what is important.
HELP THEM MANAGE THEIR TIME.
If they feel overwhelmed with all that they need to get done, help them to set a schedule and set small goals and break down tasks into manageable chunks. If they still feel overwhelmed, it may be necessary to cut out some activities.
DON’T FORGET THE BASICS.
Feed them healthy foods, and limit caffeine and sugar. Encourage them to go to bed by a certain time so they get enough sleep for the following day.
LOOKOUT FOR SIGNS OF SUBSTANCE USE.
Teens especially may turn to drugs, alcohol, or vaping to cope with stress. If you find out that your teen has, remind them that substances won’t solve anything and may lead to bigger problems, and keep a close eye on their behavior.
LET THEM KNOW IT’S OK TO “LET IT OUT.”
They may need to cry or have a good laugh. Laughing and crying can both help release the feeling of pent-up emotions. Sometimes when we’re stressed, every little problem seems like a big deal. Having your child or teen talking to a friend, parent, teacher, coach, or someone else you trust can help them get out of their own heads and see things from a different point of view.
HELP THEM RELAX.
Relaxing is essential for everybody’s physical and mental health. Find out what really helps them relax and encourage them to spend at least half an hour each day doing it. It might be curling up with a good book, going on a bike ride, listening to music or meditating. Meditation triggers your body’s “relaxation response”—the complete opposite of the common stress response of “fight or flight.” It slows your breathing, blood pressure, and pulse—all things that go along with being in a calm state of mind.
TELL THEM YOU LOVE THEM.
Teens may stress themselves out because they feel as though they need your approval. It’s important that they know you will love them no matter what.
REMIND THEM THAT IT’S OK TO ASK FOR HELP.
No one should suffer in silence and knowing when to ask for help is a strength, not a weakness. Make sure they know that you are there to talk if they need you and be open to finding additional help through school counselors or mental health professionals if problems with stress continue.
If you have worked with your teen to help them manage their stress, but they still seem to be struggling, they may be experiencing the early signs of a mental health condition. Contact CenterPointe Hospital for a confidential assessment at no cost.