Self-care for teens isn’t so simple and if you’re anything like me, you often wish there was a magical solution that would alleviate your teens’ stress and anxiety.
We know there are treatment options – therapy and medication can be life-changing when you need them.
But there are options for our teens so they can work to cope with their stress, and/or support their treatment – ideas that are often grouped under the heading of “self-care.”
First, don’t worry – this post goes way beyond bubble baths!
And before I go on, please know that this post is not in any way medical advice, and in a medical emergency, absolutely call 911 or go to the emergency room.
This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here.
Teen Anxiety and Stress
You may be asking, what do teens have to be stressed about? Why is self-care for teens so important? They don’t have bills or careers or well…teens to raise.
But it’s vital that we as parents acknowledge that teen stress is absolutely real.
Many of us grew up dealing with some level of stress, but often, we weren’t offered any support or resources. We may have been told to “just deal with it” – we may have even been told that our stress wasn’t “bad enough,” for us to feel overwhelmed or struggle.
A few things have changed since we were teens ourselves – first, thankfully, parents, doctors and researchers are beginning to understand more about teen stress, and acknowledge that it’s very real.
In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, teen stress can rival adult stress:
“Teens reported that their stress levels during the school year far exceeded what they believe to be healthy (5.8 vs. 3.9 on a 10-point scale) and topped adults’ average reported stress levels (5.8 for teens vs. 5.1 for adults). Even during the summer — from Aug. 3 to Aug. 31, 2013, when interviewing took place — teens reported their stress during the prior month at levels higher than what they believe is healthy (4.6 vs. 3.9 on a 10-point scale).”
Plus, our teens’ landscape today is entirely different than ours was decades ago, especially when it comes to social media and more online access than ever – something we didn’t face in the days of Atari and Super Mario Bros. 2.
And so it’s become crucial to recognize that teen mental health struggles are absolutely a real issue, and it’s up to us, as caregivers, to help our teens connect with any resources they need.
The Importance of Self-Care
If your teen seems to be dealing with run-of-the-mill, pretty average stress – if it isn’t getting in the way of school, sports, hobbies or life on a regular basis – one way we can support our teens is to encourage them to learn more about and practice self-care.
When our kids feel stress, we often end up carrying some of their stress too, and so it becomes even harder to help them.
Self-care can help a lot of us, regardless of age. But it may take some trial and error to find what works best.
It can help to brainstorm some ideas with your teen and then they can learn what works best for them. Self-care isn’t one-size fits all. Different approaches will work better for different people, and some days, a technique may be more helpful than it is on another day.
But keep in mind, you can’t really get self-care “wrong,” unless you keep trying to make yourself do something that isn’t working.
Tell teens to stay flexible, which leads us to …
Self Care for Teens: Ideas and Tips to Help
Exercise and Movement
Exercise is great for a lot of reasons, and it can really help with stress. Endorphins released while doing cardio or lifting weights can really help mood.
Gently exercise like yoga and pilates can help balance an amped-up nervous system.
The key is to help your teen find a sport or activity they enjoy or a way to access a wide variety of classes and resources if they tend to get bored with the same work-outs.
In his book 10% Happier, author Dan Harris shares his journey from meditation skeptic, to believing that a regular meditation practice makes him at least … 10 percent happier.
If you’re looking to help your teen get started with meditation, Headspace is a great starting place for beginners. Or, your teens might be drawn in by some of the voices on the Calm app – like Harry Styles and LeBron James.
Journaling gives us a safe space to share our feelings and sometimes we just need to get feelings OUT. If your teen enjoys journaling, support them by giving them a private way to record their thoughts so that siblings don’t stumble upon their writing.
Some teens might also like the privacy that comes with dissolvable paper.
Sometimes self-care for teens looks very similar to the techniques we taught them as kids. How many times when our kids were little and upset, did we say to them, “take a deep breath?”
That’s because our breath and our nervous system are deeply connected, and often, when we feel stressed, we stop breathing properly – especially exhaling – which just makes things worse.
If breathwork helps your teen, there are lots of apps that offer more options for breathing including the Calm app.
More and more research is showing that our brains really benefit from hydration. Drinking enough water can help clear foggy thinking, which can sometimes make stress feel even worse.
The Waterllama app is a FREE fun, adorable way to help teens track their hydration.
Eating Well (especially protein)
It can be hard for our teens to eat well, especially if they are busy. But good nutrition can help with stress.
Protein is especially important because it helps control blood sugar, and we all know dips in blood sugar can lead to mood swings and even hangry outbursts.
Try to keep some higher protein snacks around like string cheese, nuts, jerky, yogurt, protein bars or trail mix.
Sleep is actually a tricky situation for teens. Most teens who go to school are actually working against their natural rhythms.
If you homeschool or have another way to support your teen’s natural sleep cycle, maybe it’s worth letting your teen sleep in.
Music can be such a great reset. But … sometimes teens get stuck in a loop of sad songs that do not help them move out of a funk.
Encourage your teen to create playlists on their favorite platform like Spotify (they can keep them private if they don’t want their friends to know they get really jazzed listening to something that isn’t “popular.”)
It can be helpful to create playlists for certain scenarios – when they are trying to get going in the morning, or when they want to start winding down.
Just teach them to use discretion because music can REALLY impact mood.
We’ve all heard that Vitamin D and fresh air can turn a day around. Getting outside can be a helpful option for your teen’s self-care.
If your teen finds that getting outside helps them feel better, make sure you look for ways they can get regularly scheduled time outside.
Our family likes to walk to a local coffee or donut shop, but you could also find somewhere to bike as well.
Organizing or Decluttering
For some of us, clutter and disorganization make it really difficult to calm down.
Other times, teens can get frustrated when they feel disorganized and can’t find a favorite shirt or their special mechanical pencil.
This book offers one approach that may resonate with your teen, plus it’s short and easy to read.
Affirmations can feel a little cheesy for teens. Meant to build us up, affirmations or mantras are words we can repeat or repeatedly read to remind us ”I’ve got this,” or to “Keep Breathing.”
If your teens think these kinds of messages are a little embarrassing, they can keep affirmations private – words of encouragement don’t have to live on the bathroom mirror.
In fact, these cards are adorable and inspiring. They are meant to help with self-esteem, anxiety, and worry, and can stay in the box when not in use.
I promised up-front that self-care for teens would be just the assumption that bubble baths could fix everything, but … for some teens, caring for their bodies can help boost their mood.
If your kids loved bath time when they were small, they might still like the healing that a nice long shower or long bath can bring as part of their self-care routine.
Learning to Take Breaks
Sometimes, when we get stressed, we begin to spin, and soon, everything feels like a mess.
Talk to your teen about taking periodic breaks while studying if they feel stressed. Focus Keeper is a great app that uses The Pomodoro Technique, and will encourage your teen to work in 25-minute spurts, and then take 5-minute breaks.
But teens may need breaks for all kinds of reasons.
So normalize taking breaks and model it!
An episode of Suits and a nice tea break? Yes, please.
Talk It Out
Sometimes it can seem like our teens only want to talk about “real stuff,” after about 11:30 p.m.
So if you can, take advantage of times when you are together one-on-one to see if they have anything on their mind. A great time to do this is if you’re in the car together.
In his book, The Minds of Boys, Dr. Michael Gurian notes that boys tend to speak more openly if they are side by side, rather than face to face – so in the car driving, or out on a walk.
Of course, you can also help your teen get connected with a therapist. It can help so much for them to have an unbiased person ready to listen.
Don’t feel bad if you have allergies in your house. Pets are not a must for self-care.
But, pets can help us feel calm and even lower blood pressure.
If you aren’t ready to adopt a cat or dog, but you are raising an animal lover, maybe suggest they look for volunteer opportunities at an animal shelter. Both your teen and the animals will benefit tremendously.
Read a Book
Like music, books can really impact mood. So help your teen learn to choose books that are good for their moods.
Need a place to start? Check out these book ideas for teens?
And maybe most important of all, give your teen the permission to put down books that aren’t a good fit at the moment. We do it all the time as adults. Teaching your teens to move on from books they don’t like is a life skill they’ll thank you for later.
Draw or Color
(Tip: Want to avoid paper everywhere? Invest in an artist’s notebook for your teen – that way, their work stays in one book!)
Watch a Funny Movie or TV show
Sometimes, we need distraction. Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night, thoughts circling, and turn on a quick episode of your latest Netflix show?
Turning to a funny TV show or movie can help your teen put a stop to spinning thoughts.
Encourage them to make a list of their favorite TV shows and movies that help them get out of a downward spiral. That way, they can easily reference it when they need it.
Try Color Noise, or Eliminating Noise
If your teen gets overwhelmed or overstimulated, blocking out noise or listening to the right kind of noise can really help.
It can be worth it to invest in some good noise-canceling headphones if your teen is triggered by noise.
Science is looking more and more at “color” noises and if they can help our brains settle, especially certain noises, like “brown noise.”
Sometimes a soundscape can be an “E-scape” (wink). YouTube has some great options – this playlist is especially lovely.
Vitamins and Minerals
Of course, always check with your doctor, but more and more, studies are finding that keeping Vitamin B and D levels in check and adding Magnesium may aid mood and stress levels.
A natural remedy that has been around for a long time and is intended to help in situations of high anxiety and stress is Bach Rescue Remedy.
(But again, always be sure to check with your doctor about supplements.)
Sometimes, especially with teens, it’s hard to know exactly how we are feeling.
Sure, they are down, but are they feeling lonely, ashamed, or something else entirely? And how about when they feel stress – are they feeling anxious, insecure or overwhelmed? All three?
Keeping a feelings wheel close, like in the form of this cute pillow, can help teens identify and process their feelings and express them more accurately either via journaling, or talking.
This boundaries pillow can also help teens express themselves.
Do a Brain Dump
It doesn’t have THE most pleasant name, but a brain dump is basically getting all thoughts, to-dos, worries, and anything else causing stress out of your head, and onto paper.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but to a lot of people, doing a brain dump feels a little like releasing the pressure on your Instant Pot.
That’s because you know your thoughts are “backed up on paper,” – you don’t have to remember everything. Also, sorting through a brain dump can help you prioritize and often, there will be things listed that are not urgent or necessary that you can stop worrying about completely.
An Eisenhower Matrix can be a great next step after a brain dump.
In nature, animals often shake their bodies following a close call. It helps them get rid of excess adrenaline.
Shaking out our bodies intentionally can be a helpful technique for humans too! Even a few minutes of shaking your hands, or getting your whole body into it can help you reset, especially after something causes an adrenaline spike.
And of course, there’s a Taylor Swift song for that!
Just like how certain sounds can feel helpful and calming, certain smells may help us feel more grounded.
Take a Social Media Break
More and more teens are finding that social media contributes to their stress levels, as well as other negative feelings.
Encourage your teens to take down time from social media, even just one day a week.
They might like to pay attention to how they feel when they take a day off, or a few days away from Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.
These platforms can help teens stay connected, but if they create an ongoing source of stress, it might be good to talk to a doctor or therapist with your teen.
For figuring out a general screen time balance, teens might like this workbook.
Remember that when it comes to our teens, open communication is important.
Let your teens know you are there to talk or just listen, and teach them that there is nothing wrong with needing additional support.
If you are concerned about your teen’s stress levels, a great place to start is their primary care provider.
And of course, in an emergency, but sure to call 911 or take your teen to the emergency room.
More Resources for Parenting Teens
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- The Mouse and the Motorcycle Review and Discussion Questions - September 28, 2023
- Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus Book Review and Homeschool Study - September 27, 2023