High school can be a very stressful time in a teenager’s life. There’s pressures from all directions: social media, family, friends, school work, college admissions, internal, and more.
Along with these pressures, is constant change. Change is an inescapable part of life and stress comes from having to meet the new demands and challenges that change brings.
Help Students Manage Stress
Once an adjustment to change has been made, confidence in the ability to succeed will grow, and the stress will inevitably begin to subside. In the meantime, certain skills can be acquired to better manage stress so that it does not become overwhelming.
Though stress that is caused by false beliefs, and cognitive distortions, is more difficult to manage because it is internally generated and results in feelings of inadequacy. It is like being in a sinking boat and no amount of effort to scoop out the water will keep the boat afloat. The only way to keep it from sinking is to plug up the hole. Just like the only way to keep internal stress from becoming overwhelming is to stop the flow of negative thoughts.
Encourage your child to give up the pursuit of perfection because that will set your child up for disappointment and failure. Aiming to be the best version of him or her self should be the objective since this goal is attainable. As parents you can help by sharing your disappointments and failures. It will normalize these experiences for your child, and help reduce their stress stemming from the foolish belief that they must be perfect in order to be acceptable.
Suggestions For How To Talk With Your Student About Stress
The following are 10 talks you can have with your child to help them to manage stress so that it doesn’t turn into anxiety and depression. I use the description ‘child’ for these young adults simply because they are still your child.
- Discuss with your child the importance of not tying their self-esteem to the attitudes or perceptions of others. Your child should know that other people’s judgment of them does not change who they are. Remind them of the meme: Sticks and stones can break bones but words will never harm. This may help to illustrate how someone else’s thoughts can’t hurt them, and so any loss of self-worth is self-inflicted.
- Discuss with your child the danger of having expectations that cannot be met, since accumulated disappointments can easily become internalized as a feeling of failure. This advice applies to you parents as well. It is important to recognize your child as autonomous and even though he or she may share your genetic material they are not you and may not share your strengths or even your weaknesses for that matter. Evaluate your child realistically and be careful not to have expectations that are too high or expectations that are even too low. Know your child’s potential; for example, instead of criticizing them for a poor grade, rather focus on the disappointment you feel with their effort, if in fact it was lacking, rather than the grade itself.This way you distinguish between their actions and not their intellectual ability, which is a stable character trait and no different from the color of their eyes or texture of their hair.
- Share with your child that stress is best tolerated when it can be expressed, and so encourage your child to talk about his or her concerns and insecurity. Unexpressed feelings are like a trapped body of water, in which harmful bacteria can grow and fester. Feelings must be discharged in order to keep stress from causing emotional difficulty. If your child is reluctant to talk to you then suggest they talk to a therapist, and remind them that just like the flu, anxiety is not a sign of weakness and must not be ignored.
- Educate your child about how an anxious mind has a tendency to both overestimate the likelihood that something bad will happen, and that they will be unable to cope. Our imagination is often so much worse than reality because an anxious mind causes catastrophic thinking. Instead of anticipating choppy water, for example, the mind will anticipate a tidal wave or tsunami.It is helpful to research cognitive distortions by David Burns in order to help your child have more control over his or her anxiety by recognizing the different ways in which the mind can convince us of things that are not true.
- Encourage your child to set aside some quiet time each day just to think, because when we are busy, we distract our mind from thinking about issues that cause us distress. By not addressing these issues however, they cannot be resolved, and problem solving is one of the best ways to reduce stress. If stress begins to feel too overwhelming suggest a ‘time out’ to focus attention briefly on some other activity that is pleasantly distracting, for example, like working on a puzzle, coloring or painting by number.
- Talk to your child about the importance of exercising self-care because when we are physically and emotionally tired and uncomfortable our level of frustration tolerance is low. What this means is that even slight difficulty can feel overwhelming. Research has shown that rigorous aerobic exercise is helpful in reducing stress, and also a hypoglycemic diet that stabilizes blood sugar is helpful in stabilizing mood.
- Feeling lonely increases stress and so having a support system is necessary to combat feelings of disconnection. If your child is afraid to engage then there may be a deeper issue, like a fear of failure or perhaps a fear of judgment and even rejection. There is no shame in acknowledging this and speaking to someone about these insecurities.
- In times of stress and moments of self-doubt, help your child to use self-affirming words. The following is an example: Even though I feel discouraged by my poor grade, it does not make me a failure. I will succeed in my life because of my ability to try hard and not accept defeat.
- Encourage your child to give up the pursuit of perfection because that will set your child up for disappointment and failure. Aiming to be the best version of him or her self should be the objective since this goal is attainable. You parents can help by sharing your disappointments and failures. It will normalize these experiences for your child, and help reduce their stress stemming from the foolish belief that they must be perfect in order to be acceptable.
- It’s important for your child to accept reality even if it is unpleasant. For example, your child may want to be a doctor but if science isn’t his or her aptitude then they are setting themselves up for failure, and hurting their self-esteem in the process. Remind your child that there isn’t only one road to happiness, fulfillment and self-reliance.
A program designed to address not only these issues but low self esteem in general, and emotionally prepare kids for college can be found at www.preparetoleavethenest.com. Input the code FREE in the coupon box at check out.
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By Debby Fogelman, who has a MA in Experimental Psychology and a Psy.D in Clinical Psychology. She currently works in private practice in Beverly Hills in which she specializes in helping those with relational difficulties, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
In her unique, ground-breaking, and free podcast series, Preparing to Leave the Nest, Dr. Fogelman offers the emotional preparation and tools that are not only necessary to help college-bound young adults cope with the new demands and challenges of this stage of development but also to identify and recover from low self worth in general, so as not to join the growing ranks of those suffering from debilitating anxiety and depression.