Helping Your Teen Reduce Stress is Key to Sustainable Healthy Habits
Which of your teens unhealthy (default) habits concerns you the most?
Is it the constant snacking on junk food?
Do they lay around all day watching Netflix?
Are they nasty and rude whenever you ask them a question?
Do they leave their belongings strewn throughout the house?
No matter what habit your teen does that drives you nuts, the first step to turn it around is to to teach them strategies to decrease their stress so they can break out of the Chronic Stress Loop. If your teen is caught in the Chronic Stress Loop, no amount of nagging to stop or start doing something is going to work. These unhealthy habits are your teen’s way of coping with the stressors that arise in their life.
While teen stress might not seem as challenging as adult stress, the truth is, if your teen feels stress than the impact on their body is real, and they will automatically try to reduce it. The fact that how your teen is soothing their stress will actually increase their stress in the future does not occur to them. (To learn exactly how to help your teen break out of the Chronic Stress Loop so they can start meeting expectations and experiencing more success get your copy of my Stress Less Guide here. )
Let’s say that your teen’s top stressor is applying to colleges. This process throws many teens into panic such as: I am not good enough, I am stupid, I’ll never get in anywhere. If their default habit to destress is eating junk food, then when the process begins to feel overwhelming, they will eat no matter how many times you discussed with them the benefits of not eating lots of junk food. Even if you take all the food out of the house, they will find a way to get it if they’re feeling stressed out and need to soothe themselves. In the moment, your teen is not concerned about the negative consequences of eating the junk food, they just want to ease the stress and feel better.
In the Moment Strategy for Managing Stress
Rather than focusing on changing the unhealthy habit of eating lots of junk food, you can teach your teen how to soothe themselves without food. A great habit for your teen to practice when they are feeling overwhelmed by all they have to do is movement. Movement gives your teen something else to do with their bodies besides eating. Instead of heading to the kitchen for a snack, they can go outside and take a 10 minute walk or do a one minute burst. (A burst is when you do a cardio exercise like jumping jacks as quickly as you can for one minute. By the end of the minute, you should be out of breathe.)
Both of these activities relieve stress because when your teen is stressed it activates the fight or flight response which prepares the body to either run away or fight a dangerous predator. The amygdala starts pumping out hormones to help you move, and if you are sitting in a chair, your body has no use for these hormones. A brisk walk or a burst will help your teen burn off these stress hormones. When the stress hormones are utilized, your teen’s body can return to a relaxed state, and they can avoid the kitchen until the next meal.
Daily Habits to Reduce Stress
While having a strategy to avoid eating comfort food when stressed is important, your teen should also develop healthy default habits that will keep stress from becoming unmanageable. One strategy for calming the panic and decreasing stress is to have your teen wear a rubber band around their wrist and start paying attention to the nasty little voice constantly telling them the many reasons why they will fail to get into college. Every time the voice starts talking, have them snap the rubber band on their wrist, and repeat something like, “Stop it or knock it off.” Soon your teen’s subconscious, who is sending these rude messages, will begin to associate these nasty comments with pain. Your mind always wants to keep you safe, so these unkind thoughts will begin to diminish helping your teen break out of the Chronic Stress Loop.
While your teen’s default habit might not be eating, the first step in changing any unwanted default habit is to lower stress. Once the stress is decreased, devising strategies to help reduce the occurrence of the unwanted habit will be more successful and sustainable. To learn more strategies to help your teen break out of the Chronic Stress Loop so that they can create new healthier habits that are sustainable, get your copy of my Stress Less Guide here.
Originally published at www.claireketchum.com on March 1, 2017.