Stress has become common in everyone’s life today, even amongst teenagers. Stress in teenagers not only leaves them alone and depressed, but also unknowingly affects their day-to-day activities. This becomes a concern not only for teenagers themselves, but also for their parents and teachers. Teenagers go through a difficult phase and the messages that they receive from parents, teachers and friends often seem contradictory. This phase can create serious problems and tension if they are not equipped to handle the situations.
What is stress?
Stress is a response to pressure or threat. Under stress we may feel tense, nervous, anxious and depressed. Stress triggers a surge of the hormone cortisol that temporarily affects the nervous system. As a result, you might feel your heartbeat or breathing get faster, your palms get sweaty, or your knees get shaky. The stress response is also called the “fight-or-flight-response”. It’s an automatic response that prepares us to deal with danger.
Stress can be good or bad. Good stress and tension can bring out the best in a teenager. Bad stress can cause headaches, nightmares, irritability and fatigue.
Causes of stress in teenagers
Teenagers often feel stressed due to reasons such as:
- Homework and school (especially during exams)
- Expectations and pressure to do well at school from parents and family
- Social relationships with friends and boyfriends/girlfriends
- Life challenges, such as leaving school or getting into tertiary studies or employment
- Lack of time; having too much to do, feeling unprepared or overwhelmed
- Lack of sleep.
If parents suspect their child is stressed, talk to them to try and determine if these or other things are going on. If you can identify why they’re feeling stressed, it will be easier to help them address the cause and manage their stress appropriately.
Nutrition and stress
One of the most common triggers of stress is a change in eating patterns. Poor eating habits such as skipping meals, excessive dieting, consuming excess caffeine, sugar, salt or fat and over/under-eating can lead to health problems such as obesity, hypertension, high blood cholesterol or other nutrition-related problems.
Stress and emotional eating
Constant stress results in increased production of hormones such as cortisol. With enough time and enough cortisol, the body develops pangs for certain foods and for overeating. This is because cortisol loves foods high in unhealthy items such as sugar, salt and fat. Not only that, fat cells produce cortisol, leading to a cruel cycle. During this time of stress, it’s normal for teenagers to reach out to nothing but “food”. This food is usually unhealthy because it does not act to provide nutrients or calories. A few questions that parents can rely on to detect emotional eating in their teenager:
- Identify if your teen is eating at odd times
- Has he/she been gaining weight?
- Is your child already overweight/obese
- Does he/she reach out to ice cream, pizza or cake while studying?
- Are large portions of food involved?