Tweens and teens today are under intense pressure. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, adolescent stress levels top those of adults, and the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 32% of teens will experience an anxiety disorder. And while the pandemic exacerbated already-high levels of teen stress, teens identify their top stressors as everyday issues like grades, tests, overall workload, lack of sleep, and time management.
There\’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem, but caregivers can help by teaching teens how to build healthy habits. Whatever the cause of their stress, tweens and teens who take just a few minutes each day to practice supportive habits feel more in control, reduce their anxiety, and boost executive functioning skills so they handle stress more effectively. Here’s how healthy habits help teens manage stress and anxiety:
1. They focus on solutions, not problems.
Just like adults, teens who are overwhelmed fixate on negative thoughts and imagine worst-case scenarios. But the teenage brain is still developing, so it processes information differently. The prefrontal cortex –the part of the brain responsible for reasoning, planning and logic– isn’t fully developed until about age 25. Until then, adolescents rely more on the emotion- and impulse-driven limbic brain to make decisions. That means they’re more likely to get trapped in a downward spiral of emotional upset. Healthy habits teach teens to focus on the solution to a problem rather than the problem itself. Instead of getting stuck in negativity, they learn to ask, “What can I do that will help me out of this situation?”
2. They gain a toolkit of positive practices.
Healthy habits can be viewed as foundational coping skills, regardless of age or stage of life. They help us stay strong –no matter what stress we’re facing– by supporting our mental, physical and emotional well-being. The teen years introduce more complex emotions, relationships and responsibilities, so the more positive practices teens learn, the better. And because the teenage brain is still developing, anchoring in healthy habits now makes them more likely to become lifelong. Habits to focus on include positive practices around sleep, diet, exercise, self-care, connection to others and more. Each gives teens a more complete set of tools so they feel in control and capable of handling any source of stress.
3. They provide structure.
A recent study from the University of Georgia found that teens with regular mealtimes, bedtimes and after school schedules “reported less alcohol use, greater self-control and emotional well-being and higher rates of college enrollment in young adulthood.” Consistent routines also correlated with lower levels of the stress hormone epinephrine. Healthy habits provide stability as teens experience the seismic neurological, psychological, social and emotional changes of adolescence. A foundation of well-being equips teens to learn, grow and handle change without succumbing to anxiety.
4. They build resilience.
Resilience comes from the Latin resilio, meaning “to jump” or “to bounce back.” Stress is inevitable, but teens can practice bouncing back from challenges and find opportunities for growth. When teens experience upset, healthy habits provide a foundation to fall back on: When I feel overwhelmed by my emotions, I know I need to take a break to just breathe and check in with myself. “When we are resilient, we not only adapt ourselves to stress and disappointments, we also grow the insight to avoid actions that might lead us to face such situations,” says writer Maduleena Chowdhury. Resilience leads to self-awareness, and the more self-aware teens are, the more easily they adapt to stress.
To give your teen the benefit of stress-busting healthy habits, download Lucero. It’s a gamified wellness app that builds emotional regulation skills and self-care habits in just a few minutes a day. Lucero is the most fun and engaging way for teens to gain healthy habits with bite-sized content co-created by experts and tweens and teens themselves.