Teens and stress

Kids are experiencing more stress than ever before, and proper coping mechanisms are essential for good mental health

As the new school year begins, children and teens will feel more stress and pressure. A certain amount of stress in our lives is normal and helps drive achievement. In fact, learning how to cope with stress and deal effectively with the demands of life are important skills that teens and young adults must develop to have happier, healthier, more productive and resilient adulthoods.

Kids have always experienced stress. In my practice, however, kids seem more stressed than ever — by academic demands, by parental pressure, by the constant social media presence in their social relationships, and by their own expectations of themselves and their fears for the future.

The 2013 McCreary Adolescent Survey of 60,000 BC youth found that 83 per cent of all youth said they had been stressed in the last month. Girls are more likely than boys at every age to report extreme stress —feeling so stressed that it prevented them from functioning properly. When stress builds with no release, it can lead to anxiety, depression, and despair.

As the school year starts, here are seven proven steps that you and your kids can take to better cope with stress this year.

1.) Have a family routine: The more reliable and regular the routine at your home, the more stable and in control your children will feel. Regular times for getting up, going to bed, doing homework, having dinner, doing chores, and engaging in extracurricular activities all enable children to create a schedule for themselves and know what to expect. Numerous research studies have shown that regular sit down family dinners are associated with increased self-esteem and school success and lower rates of eating disorders, alcohol and substance use, and feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide.

2.) Limit and monitor screen time: Social and peer group issues for many youth cause greater stress than academic pressure. In previous generations home was a refuge from that social stress. Now social media amplifies that stress 24/7. Set limits for time spent online, and monitor what is happening with your youth online. Talk to your kids about how to be safe and how to conduct themselves with social media.

3.) Ensure enough sleep: Young children need at least 12 hours of sleep a night and teenagers at least nine or ten, but many are getting much less. Adequate sleep reduces stress and increases coping skills. Don’t let kids sleep with their cell phones or laptops as late night screen time, as well as texts and emails, prevents good quality sleep. Limit caffeinated drinks; make sure you model good sleep habits, too.

4.) Get regular exercise: One of the best ways to manage stress is to move. Recent studies have found that activity out-of doors, such as walking or running in nature, has great stress reduction power too.

5.) Don’t over schedule: A certain amount of extracurricular activity is good for kids — it teaches them new skills, creates new friends, gives them exercise. But so many young people have so much on their plate they become overwhelmed and exhausted. Give them unscheduled downtime, too.

6.) Engage in activities that provide personal value and meaning: Studies show that engaging in activities that help youth feel connected to the world and provide personal value and meaning are good for stress reduction. This can mean something different for everyone and can take the form of religious worship, nature walks, meditation, uplifting art, music, or books or any other spiritual connection that helps provide purpose and perspective to our lives.

7.) Learn some key stress-reduction skills: Cognitive behavioural techniques (CBT) like relaxation breathing, visualization, mindfulness meditation, thought stopping, “chunking” big tasks into smaller, doable pieces and other skills can help manage stress. In the next column, I will talk in depth about some key CBT skills that we all should know how to do.

In the meantime, check out these BC links for helpful articles and tips on stress and youth: keltymentalhealth.ca; anxietybc.ca; healthlinkbc.ca; mindcheck.ca. The BC chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association has information and an interactive stress test that can be taken online, see cmha.bc.ca/files/stress.htm.

Dr. David Smith is an adolescent and adult psychiatrist and the medical director of the Okanagan Psychiatric services for Interior Health. This series of columns on common child and youth mental health issues is a project of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substances Use Collaborative. The Collaborative involves multiple individuals, organizations and ministries all working together across BC to increase the number of children, youth, and their families receiving timely access to mental health services.

The Collaborative is jointly funded by Doctors of BC and the government of BC and recently won a national award for mental health initiatives given by the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

Just Posted

Trial dates set for three men accused of 2017 killing near Hope

Lawyers for the accused appeared in Kelowna at B.C. Supreme Court on Monday

Abbotsford council OKs bus-to-SkyTrain plan

Fraser Valley Express would begin running to Lougheed Station by start of 2021

Wildfire threatens weekend campers at Chehalis Lake

The fire started on the north side of Chehalis Lake Saturday

Chilliwack car show cancelled due to weather forecast

Popular Village Classic car show will not be rescheduled, say organizers

Agassiz author pens a kingly book

Long-time writer and producer Alexander Hamilton-Brown just finished his first novel

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques returns to Earth, sets Canadian space record

Native of Saint-Lambert, Que., set a record for longest single spaceflight by a Canadian at 204 days

Two in hospital after plane crashes in Okanagan Lake

RCMP say wheels left down caused landing plane to overturn on lake

Eight in hospital after two crashes on Coquihalla Highway north of Merritt

Drivers are expected to be stuck for up to 90 minutes

The world’s Indigenous speakers gather in B.C.’s capital to revitalize languages

Organizers estimate about 1,000 delegates from 20 countries will be at the conference

Join talks on international treaty: B.C. First Nations mark ‘historic moment’

Representatives of the Ktunaxa, Syilx/Okanagan and Secwepemc Nations participated

Companies need clearer rules on workplace relationships, study suggests

One-third of Canadians have been in love at work, and half say no policy on the matter exists

Grey-haired bank robber hit with dye pack in Langley heist

Police are looking for an older man who may be stained with dye

‘Text neck’ causing bone spurs to grow from millennials’ skulls, researchers say

Technology use from early childhood causing abnormal bone growths in 41 per cent of young adults

B.C. teen killed by fallen tree on field trip remembered as hero

13-year-old Tai Caverhill was the first to spot the tree falling and warned his friends

Most Read