OakLeaf Medical Network Healthy Viewpoints, Winter 2003
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Minette Ponick

Stress Overload and Teenagers

By Minette Ponick, PhD

One of the most exciting and stimulating stages in life can also produce psychological adaptations which can linger into adulthood. A teenager under stress is ricocheting from one end of the emotional continuum to another ¬ depending on the severity and nature of the stressor.

Stress, good or bad, keeps the body ¿on alert.î The adolescent is, by virtue of the life stage he or she is experiencing, energized. However, some teens can become overloaded or compromised by prolonged or sustained stress.

The most common stressors for teenagers are:

  • Negative thoughts and feelings about themselves
  • Changes in their bodies
  • School demands and frustrations
  • Problems with close relationships at home, work or school
  • Loss (divorce, death, moving)
  • Money
  • Taking on too many activities or having too high expectations

The common denominators for these stress-producing feelings are risk, psychological pain and a sense of danger. Without the life experiences to guide them and provide the resources to cope, adolescents can exhibit hostility, ¿an attitudeî, anxiety, withdrawal, physical illness or poor coping strategies (drug/alcohol use). Clearly, while adolescence should be a happy and carefree time in one°s life for discovery and exploration, the teen often succumbs to the effects of stress. A teenager needs at least ONE person in their life who will ¿readî the stress, listen and be supportive.

Effective means to cope with stress for the teen are:
  • Identify the situations that stress you the most and decide how they could be handled differently so as to gain control over them
  • Try to imagine how others would respond to you if YOU behaved differently
  • Rehearse a different approach to the stressor either in front of a mirror or with a friend
  • Be prepared to risk failure when exploring different coping skillsÜ remember: Failure is not falling to one°s knees Ü it is not getting up again!

Sometimes the stressed teenager needs to examine the situation not only from his/her perspective, but also from a global perspective that incorporates options for action and resolution. For example: If you do not do your homework, you may feel less stressed temporarily ¬ butŞ Asking oneself: ¿Do I feel comfortable about handling the situation this way? Will it get me what I want?î Consider different ways of addressing the problem. Even though there may be a risk inherent for him/her, what does the adolescent feel comfortable doing to relieve the stressful situation? Adults can advise.

If the teenager continues to feel oppressed by sustained stress he/she should get help if:

  • Stress is causing illness
  • There is a desperation to escape by running away, taking an overdose, or self abuse
  • Thoughts of suicide enter the mind
  • Sleeping and eating are disturbed
  • Worries, strange and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings are managing his/her life

Stress is a normal part of life. Yes, speed bumps are inevitably encountered on the road of life we all travel. However, we can be prepared to deal with life°s stresses by incorporating good diet, exercise, a healthy support system, and a balance in one°s personal pace as strategies for coping. This is good practice not just for teenagers but adults, too.

For more information, call Minette Ponick ş 715.552.8280