Stress Management for Teens: Releasing Emotions
This article was written by Sarah Hinstorff, former chair of the Youth Advisory Board.
Release Emotions to Manage Stress
Emotions are a natural and essential part of being human. They can bring the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Sure, it’s preferred to experience emotions like happiness, excitement, and joy. But there are also times that sadness, frustration or grief will be experienced. As teens, it’s not uncommon to feel as though emotions are out of our control. But there are healthy ways to manage and release emotions. It’s one important strategy for effectively managing stress.
We’ve all heard that we should, “Live life to the fullest.” It sounds simple but it can be hard to do in real life. Really living requires being comfortable experiencing the full range of emotions. All emotions offer something. Don’t run away from pain or sadness. You’ll risk losing the emotional depth that reinforces your ability to care for others. These feelings build strong relationships. Experiencing tough situations and all of the feelings that go along with them builds strength and resilience — the ability to bounce back after hardship.
The Risk of Keeping Stressful Emotions Inside
As hard or frustrating as it might be, a bit of pain builds commitment to looking for solutions and compassion for others. And, a manageable amount of stress can be energizing. The key is learning to not permit difficult emotions or stress to take over. It is about learning how to manage and release emotions in healthy ways.
When stressful emotions rise above manageable levels, it’s normal to set them aside. To try to “contain” feelings in hopes that the emotion will disappear or be processed later. Too often, feelings are added to the “container” rather than dealing with what’s already inside. Ultimately, the walls of the container need to thicken to keep it all in. The walls may become so strong that nothing can get through.
There are risks to shutting down and holding feelings inside. Holding on to too much may limit the ability to feel in the long run — this includes positive emotions. This can make people feel numb, and in some ways, that’s worse than feeling stressed. It can also build up stress and anxiety. Sometimes it takes thoughtful steps to express emotions and get out of a routine of holding them back.
Name and Express Thoughts and Feelings
It’s ok to put emotions into a safe container. Sometimes it leads to the highest level of functioning. Other times it’s not possible to fully experience emotions at that moment. But they must be processed at some other point. Otherwise, they may come out in odd and inappropriate ways. For example, if breaking a cell phone leads to a breakdown or if getting cut off in traffic results in an explosion of nasty words.
Learn to name each experience and create a space just for it. Naming feelings brings clarity and a sense of control. Emotions feel less chaotic. It becomes possible to figure out ways to deal with problems. Don’t be afraid to say it out loud. “I’m feeling confused, frustrated, sad, angry, hurt, jealous about ________.” Whatever it is. Name it.
Then the really hard work begins. Processing emotions is not as simple as naming them. But there are strategies to help handle emotions with confidence. It is often better to process emotions in the company of loved ones or trusted friends. There is no coping strategy as effective as reaching out to and connecting with others.
Strategies to Express Emotions
One way to express stressful or emotional experiences is to complete the following sentence, “I _________(ed) it out!”. Fill in this blank with healthy strategies for releasing and expressing all that is felt. Some strategies may include actions such as, wrote, talked, prayed, laughed, cried, drew, sung, danced, rapped, screamed. Not all strategies will match your personality or needs. The key is to find a comfortable way to express your feelings.
“I wrote it out.”
Writing offers many opportunities for expression. Developing stories takes creative energy. Journaling creates a safe space to express feelings. It also allows the writer to let go of emotions while clarifying and controlling them at the same time. Worry less by writing more. Reading old entries may also help to reflect on feelings and gain greater meaning from past events.
“I talked it out.”
Being heard is a gift. Sharing thoughts and feelings with someone who cares reminds us that we matter to others. There really is nothing as protective as human connection. And connections deepen when feelings are shared with a trustworthy person.
“I prayed it out.”
Being connected to something bigger can be healing. Prayer can be done in private settings or in the presence of others. It can also serve as a reminder of the greater meaning and purpose of life.
“I laughed it out.”
With a sense of humor, you can get through almost anything. Laughter releases feel-good hormones that literally change the brain and body. It creates a “reset.” A chance to start fresh. To regroup.
“I cried it out.”
Sometimes a good cry is in order. Crying serves a biological purpose. There are tears of joy, tears of pain, and tears of grief, sometimes accompanied with sobbing. The deep release that accompanies sobbing also offers a “reset.” Never feel as if tears are a sign of weakness. It’s okay (even good!) to cry.
“I danced/rapped/drew it out.”
Creative expression comes from deep within. Some things are created simply to be enjoyed. Creations can represent something of clear or hidden meaning. Sometimes brilliance is found in words, other times through the body: hands (artists, sculptors, musicians), voice (singers, rappers, spoken word poets), or bodies (dancers). Find a way to express yourself that makes you feel good.
“I screamed it out.”
At times, emotions run so deep that there are no words. Sometimes what’s needed to release feelings is basic and raw. Screaming offers a release from the depths of emotions. Scream in the shower, into a pillow or into the “void.” Sometimes it’s just what’s needed to release and regroup.
Learn What Works for You
Just because something is not listed here does not mean it wouldn’t work. If it works for you, it works. Learn to express emotions on a regular basis so that stress does not build up inside. Let feelings out a little bit at a time. Most importantly, identify and own what is inside. Don’t fear it or bottle it up. Releasing feelings in an intentional way is an important strategy to cope with and manage stress.