Help Teens Avoid Stress and Manage Problems …
We prepare our teens for adulthood when we support them to develop strategies to avoid stress and manage problems in their lives. One helpful strategy to encourage is building a comprehensive stress management plan that includes problem-focused strategies helping teens to:
2) Break problems into manageable steps;
3) Avoid obstacles whenever wise and possible; and
This piece focuses on avoiding obstacles whenever wise and possible.
There are some problems which deserve our full and focused attention, but there are others that are undeserving of our energy and are best avoided. Some problems only generate stress because we allow ourselves to be drawn into them. They trigger us once we are exposed to their negative influence. We should wisely take active steps to avoid exposure. Life is complicated enough without having to deal with the things we can avoid. This is an important lesson to teach our tweens and teens.
… When Wise and Possible
We are not promoting avoidance as the go-to strategy to manage problems or stress. The word “wise” must be taken to heart here. If school stresses your teen out, it is not wise to avoid homework. Or if a conflict between good friends is creating stress, the wise thing to do is work it out, not to pretend it never happened.
We are wise when we focus our energy and choose not to waste it on unnecessary distractions. When we avoid triggers that create stress only because we have approached them.
Let’s look at an example that is very real in too many adolescents’ lives: bullying. If a bully is in your teen’s classroom, he or she must be confronted by involving responsible adults. If a bully is in your neighborhood and only acts up if your teen walks by his or her house, the wisest thing to do is find a different route. Understanding that we gain power when we focus our energies can help tweens and teens grasp that avoiding trouble is an act of strength.
It is naïve to believe stressors can always be avoided. It is not possible. When a stressor is clearly present, teens must learn to confront and overcome it – treating it as an obstacle that can be overcome.
Trust the Spidey-Sense
Sometimes our body signals that we are approaching danger. It may be butterflies in our belly, or the hair on our neck standing on end. Or just an uneasy sense. Teens must learn how to listen to those signals and consider avoiding whatever they might have been approaching.
Sometimes our bodies send us other signals that say we have gone beyond our limits, even when our rational minds tell us we are handling something. Belly pains. Headaches. Fatigue. These bodily sensations serve as signals to slow down or back off.
Sources of Stress: People, Places and Things
Stressors can be divided into people, places, and things. People who stress us out. Places where we are more likely to find trouble. Things we might do that risk leading us to trouble or that trigger a cycle of self-doubt or distress. They differ for each of us, but we all have them. Most people just go about their lives bumping into their triggers. Wiser people avoid as many as possible so they can focus their energy on those people, places, and things that will lead them to success and fulfillment.
It takes reflection to bring to awareness those negative situations that trigger stress. What brings you down? Makes you tense or upset? Always gets to you? Support adolescents to identify the people who frustrate or bother them. Teach them to recognize the places where stress usually rises and the things that provoke or intensify stress. Then they can learn when and how to avoid those stressors. We teach them best when we model these behaviors ourselves. It’s also helpful for them to hear us speak aloud about decisions we make to actively avoid our triggers.
Move Teens Forward
For teenagers who may have had a troubled past, a key to helping them move forward is recognizing which people, places, and things have brought them down in the past. It’s particularly important to avoid friends with whom they may have shared past bad habits. Those friends may maintain a strong influence over them.
Choose to (Temporarily) Avoid Thoughts
Within our thoughts lie most solutions to manage problems. But sometimes, our thoughts themselves can be the source of stress. At the least, we all need time to escape thoughts and to create opportunities to relax. We want to empower young people with healthy escape strategies, so they have no need to turn instead to dangerous escapes, like drugs. The key is to help them find escapes that do not allow intrusive thoughts or worries to enter. Two strategies well-proven to provide such escapes are reading a book and mindfulness. For more, check out Take Instant Vacations.
Look in the Distance . . . and Plan Wisely
It is much easier to avoid stress and manage problems from a distance than up close. We must help our teens learn that many problems do not have to be confronted — we manage problems best by avoiding them in the first place. They should know that creating space between themselves and their stressors is a brave choice.