Imagine that you’re an explorer about to journey into unfamiliar territory. You have no idea what challenges you’ll face, so you need to fill your pack with tools to help you stay safe and find your way. Adolescence is a lot like that: exciting, scary, and full of transitions. And just like explorers, teens need tools to help them navigate. Caregivers can equip teens for the journey with healthy habits: daily self-care practices that support them in staying strong and steering through big changes with confidence.
Self-care can be physical, like getting enough sleep and moving your body, mental, like practicing gratitude and self-reflection, or emotional, like learning to self-regulate big feelings and strengthening relationships. Psychologists and behavior scientists say the best way to make self-care a habit is to start small: set a goal, find an action that supports it, and practice that action for just a few minutes each day until it becomes a part of your routine. The more practice teens have, the more easily they’ll be able to navigate transitions. Here’s how those healthy habits help:
1. Healthy habits keep teens on track.
For millennia, explorers searched the skies for the guiding light of Polaris, the North Star, which identified true north. When they spotted the star, they knew if they were drifting off course. Teens in transition need a North Star, too – habits that remind them who they are when they’re at their best. A recent study from the University of Georgia found that teens with healthy habits like regular mealtimes, consistent bedtimes and after-school schedules reported greater self-control and emotional well-being, among other benefits. The study’s authors say that all teens experience dramatic neurological, biological and social changes during adolescence, and healthy habits provide a foundation of stability that makes it easier for them to deal with change.
2. Healthy habits reduce teens’ stress.
Stress is a major risk factor for mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, and teen stress levels are at an all-time high. According to psychologist Matt Bellace, transitions are especially tough for teens because “the teenage brain is generally more anxious than the adult brain… due to the rapid development of the amygdala, a brain structure involved in emotional expression, compared to the slower development of brain areas involved in decision making and reasoning.” Healthy habits like regular exercise, connection with others, and practices to develop emotional resilience are proven to build a buffer against stress. In the University of Georgia study, for example, researchers found that teens with consistent healthy routines had lower levels of the stress hormone epinephrine.
3. Healthy habits help teens reach their goals.
Transitions are smoother when teens have a goal to work towards. When a challenge or change comes up, teens can ask, “Where do I want to go from here?” and set micro-goals to get closer to their big goal one step at a time. Healthy habits help teens identify the support they need and give it to themselves. A transition like making new friends can seem scary until teens break it down into simple steps like sitting in a new place at lunch, talking to one new person at school, or joining a club or activity that interests them. As those actions become habitual, teens take baby steps toward their goal until they attain it. Even better, they learn how to use the same process to achieve anything they set their minds to.
To help your teen navigate transitions and turn adolescence into an adventure, 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.