When one family member experiences stress, all members are affected. Family stress can be related to multiple factors such as financial struggles, mental health issues, or communication difficulties. These issues may be intensified during environmental phenomenon such as the current drought conditions across South Dakota. Although youth may experience stress related to the drought indirectly through their parents, the development of positive coping strategies among youth can reduce their personal stress while also decreasing the strain felt by other family members.
Recognizing Stress in Youth
Not all stress is negative. In fact, feeling some stress can lead youth to develop effective problem solving skills, learn responsibility, and gain self-confidence. However, when stressors are chronic or pile up, youth may become overwhelmed. Stress can lead to a number of physical and mental outcomes including:
- An increase in physical illness such as stomach aches or headaches
- Noticeable change in weight; either a significant increase or decrease in weight over a short period of time
- In young children, look for changes in behavior such as an increase in aggression, crying, or fear; In teens, be aware of increased hostility, an extreme desire for isolation from friends and family, or loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Becomes forgetful or has more difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping problems; nightmares
- Mood changes (e.g. irritability, sadness, anxiety)
- High-risk behaviors (e.g. drugs, alcohol, shoplifting, truancy)
Risk Factors for Youth Stress
Youth with certain characteristics, or living in certain environments can be at a greater risk for developing stress. For example, living in a rural community can be a risk factor if there are limited opportunities for social interaction. Involvement in school activities or community activities such as 4H can be a great way to build relationships and find social support. Another risk factor involves limited or decreased access to resources. Resources can include things like availability of family support or financial resources which can both be strained during crises like a drought or blizzard. If youth have experienced prior psychological difficulties, they may be more at risk for stress. Youth with a history of depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation can be at an increased risk if they lack positive stress management skills.
Stress Management Techniques for Youth
Stress can have lasting impacts on a youth’s physical and mental health, but there are many techniques that help manage the anxiety related to stress.
- Make relaxation a priority. Youth today have multiple demands on their time including school, extra-curricular activities, part-time jobs, and household chores. While limited social interaction can be a risk factor for stress, too many social obligations can also be stressful. With such a demanding schedule, youth may lack opportunities for self-care. Some simple relaxation techniques include yoga, meditation or mindfulness activities. No prior experience is necessary to begin using these strategies, and they can be easily integrated into a packed schedule. Try apps such as Headspace, Smiling Mind, or Buddify to get started.
- Develop a schedule. Stress often develops or intensifies due to feeling out of control. To combat feelings of powerlessness, creating a daily to-do list can help youth regain some control. Creating a family routine is also a good idea and can include activities such as family game night, eating dinner together each night, or scheduling a time for weekly check-ins to assess how everyone is feeling.
- Eat healthy and maintain physical activity. A healthy diet and consistent exercise not only improve physical wellness, but also improve mental health. Scheduling a consistent time for exercise (e.g., every morning) increases the likelihood that exercise will become a habit. Reducing the amount of caffeine in youths’ diet can also help limit feelings of anxiety as caffeine can increase agitation and inhibit sleep.
- Develop healthy sleeping habits. Lack of sleep can be a symptom of stress, but it can also intensify feelings of stress. Some simple techniques can help youth get the rest they need. For example, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, turning off electronic devices before trying to sleep, limiting physical activity 4 hours before bed, or using the bed only for sleeping (i.e., not doing homework or using the computer while sitting in bed).
There may be times when professional assistance is necessary. If stress appears long term, or youth indicate they might be thinking of hurting themselves, contact a mental health professional in your area such as a counselor, therapist, or psychologist. You can also contact a local hospital for guidance. South Dakota’s suicide hotline can also be accessed 24 hours per day at 605-339-8599.
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress in America.
- Terzian, M., Moore, K. A., & Nguyen, H. N. (2010). Assessing stress in children and youth: A guide for out-of-school time program practitioners. Child Trends [Publication #2010-22].