Stress is a normal part of life and can help our bodies overcome difficult situations. For example, it ensures the muscles have energy to run from the crocodile, or the endurance to keep writing through an exam. Although stress has evolved to help us in times of trouble, prolonged or overly intense stress can be detrimental.
In my experience, teenagers may be more prone to stress during times of change, such as the transition from primary to secondary school. The wellbeing teams in our schools do a great job supporting students and families through this process, however it may be trickier for some students such as those who do not move up with a large cohort or struggle with change.
Students may also be more prone to stress in years 11 and 12 when it feels like the stakes are higher. It is helpful for parents to maintain good communication with their teenager and to help develop study routines at home; for example, studying around the family table as opposed to hiding in a bedroom. Encourage your child to break up their study into sections. They may like to work for 20 minutes, check their messages for five minutes and then move the phone away to study for another 20-minute block.
Signs your teenager is stressed could include poor sleep, a change in eating habits, rapid breathing or heartbeat, being moody or having angry outbursts and displaying avoidance behaviours, such as excessive video game use or refusing to go to school. If you believe your teenager may be affected by unhealthy stress it is best to seek help as soon as possible – prevention is better than cure. Encourage them to seek support from teachers, a school counsellor or psychologist.
Healthy eating, exercise, sufficient sleep and positive friendships can also help us cope with stress. There are some useful resources readily available, including Beyond Blue, headspace, ReachOut and Kids Helpline.
Peter Hume is a Guidance Counsellor at Good Counsel College, Innisfail