5 Behaviors That Help During Stressful Times
It’s no secret that adolescence is a time of high stress. Although some young people navigate these difficult years with poise, many struggle and are unable to cope. Students run into troubles in school, at home or in their neighborhoods because of the stress they face. So, we asked Linda Mornell, an adolescent therapist, to offer some advice. She says that the following five behaviors can help you learn to bounce back (rather than fold under) the stresses of life.
Reach out rather than retreat.
Recent research tells us that the adolescent brain is flexible and highly sensitive to stress. “Many teens withdraw into themselves when they’re stressed, rather than reaching out to others,” Mornell says. “When they do that, they miss out on learning different ways of handling and relieving those stresses, as well as diffusing intense feeling in more positive ways.”
It’s important to develop a community of about twelve trusted people you can turn to when you’re feeling in need: friends, family, counselors, couches, teachers, youth group leaders, etc. You may have a different person you go to for different struggles and issues. Maybe you go to a friend for help with school or conflicts with your teammates, but you talk to your youth director about your parents’ divorce. You feel comfortable sharing your parents’ financial struggles with a counselor, but you wouldn’t dare mention a word of that to your teacher – but your teacher is really helpful at giving advice on how to manage time. Your couch surprisingly can offer great advice on how to care for an annoying sibling when your parents need you to pick up some of the responsibilities around the house and your small group leader at church always has an answer to your questions and concerns about your faith. Your relationship with every person is different, so understand who’s available, then learn how best he or she can individually offer you the love and support you need. These people can aid in cultivating the mental tools needed to bounce back from life’s most trying moments.
People in your community want to provide you with a support system. Where else are you going to learn how to develop the flexibility and resiliency to withstand the challenges you face on your path to adulthood?
Tell your story.
The ability to put your story into coherent words gives you the chance to see it from a distance and gain perspective. Journal about what God is doing in your life; draw, paint or sculpt the challenges you’re currently facing or openly share your struggles with someone you love and trust. Also, compare your story to the stories of others, which will help establish a sense of community.
You need to be real and honest with the people you share your story with. If they’re going to help you, equip them with the right information. Don’t tell them one thing when you actually mean the other. It’s common for teens to retreat when they really mean to seek help. Instead, speak your mind and be ready to listen to those who are investing in you. God will teach you incredible lessons through the wisdom, advice and encouragement of other people, but you first need to speak up.
Separate from home and parents.
For adolescents to gain autonomy and confidence, it’s essential that you sometimes separate yourself physically and psychologically from your parents. That’s becoming harder and harder to do in today’s world where cell phones give people instant and constant communication. “For teenagers, this over communication reinforces the idea that the world is a challenging and even dangerous place, and that you aren’t capable of learning to handle those challenges and dangers on your own,” Mornell says. So, to develop a little independence, demonstrate to your parents your level of responsibility. Avoid constant texting and connection (and if you’re parents refuse, ask them nicely and responsibly if they can trust you for an allotted amount of time without texting back and forth). You need room to begin to make your own decisions.
Though it’s easy to come home every evening and hang out with friends online while doing your homework in your bedroom, this is still connecting you to your home and parents. Consider studying at the library, a coffee shop or a friend’s house once a week to disengage from your family on a regular basis. This demonstrates your desire to manage your own time, schedule and space and will help you understand who you are as an individual, apart from your family. Also, consider going away on a weekend trip or week long retreat with your church at least once a year.
Engage in exploration and positive risk-taking.
It’s hard to learn how to bounce back from challenges if you’ve been protected from encountering any significant difficulties all your life. Reach out of your familiar and safe comfort zones. “Take positive risks like meeting new people, exploring different activities and participating in scary sounding summer opportunities like wilderness expeditions,” Mornell says.
Take responsibility for others.
Caretaking is one of the best ways to increase resiliency, whether you’re babysitting, volunteering in a home for elders or standing up for kids who are bullied. Mornell says, “When teens lend a hand to help others, you experience and support eternal values and enhance the sense of your own worth.” Start asking for responsibilities around the house – take out the trash, do the dishes after dinner, make your own lunch, cook dinner for the family one night a week, keep a clean room. Don’t just do things that help improve your environment, but take on responsibilities that help your family function. Think of your family members needs before your own.
When you’re ready, ask your parents questions about your family values. When you really dig into why your family is the way it is, new and enlightening doors can be open. You may uncover a lot of hidden secrets and treasures that will explain a lot more about who you are than what you see on the surface.