SEATTLE — These days teenagers seem to be facing more pressure than ever, and if stress isn't managed, it could have negative impacts on their health. Experiencing high levels of stress for long periods of time can compromise the immune system, cause high blood pressure, and contribute to obesity and heart disease.
Psychologist Kristy Berrett joined New Day Northwest to talk about how stress affects the body and ways you can help the teens in your life manage stress for a healthier future.
First, what is the difference between so-called "normal" stress and chronic stress?
Stress or anxiety-inducing situations can trigger a "fight-or-flight" response in the body. A similar response happens in the brain.
"Our brains shift to a response to keep us safe - to move fast, to get us to a safe place. And what happens with chronic stress is we stay in a sense of heightened alertness on an on-going basis and don't come down," Berrett said.
In a teen, chronic stress can manifest as increased emotional reactivity, feelings of being overwhelmed, difficulty sleeping, increased tension throughout the body and ruminating thoughts, according to Berrett. Adults can show the same signs, too.
"Most people do not come down to full calm," Berrett said. But there are ways to re-train the brain.
During a stressful situation the areas of the brain that generate feelings of self-preservation and vigilance light up, like the amygdala which regulates emotion. One way to help the brain to return to a state of calm is to awaken other parts of the brain. Try noticing sensory details.
"Notice your feet for a minute. Guess what happens - the brain starts to calm, automatically," Berrett said. "We've turned on a whole different area of the brain and our stress level is going down .
Berrett also suggested scheduling time for the family to practice optimism and gratitude during the day, or meditation.
If your teen is struggling with managing stress these resources can help:
- "Reset Your Child’s Brain" by Victoria Dunckley
- "Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety" by Christopher Willard
- "The Whole Brain Child" by Daniel Siegel
- Meditation apps: Calm, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, Stop, Breathe & Think
- Crisis Numbers:
- Teen Link: 866-833-6546 - (EVENINGS 6-10pm). Callers can talk with trained teens.
- 24-HOUR CRISIS LINE: 866-4-CRISIS (866-427-4747)