By: Vicki Custer, M.A., LCPC

If the young people in your life seem more stressed and anxious than usual, take them seriously: Out of all age groups, Gen Z is the most stressed out by the events of the past year. School is stressful enough and adding on a once-in-a-century pandemic surely doesn’t help. In fact, according to the Huffington Post, an annual survey on stress is raising the alarm over a mental health crisis that’s gotten worse because of the pandemic and social unrest.

Gen-Zers reported the highest levels of stress out of all age groups, with half of respondents saying that they can’t imagine planning for the future — understandably so, the survey noted, given their development stage. The survey also found that both the young and old have mentally suffered because of multiple sources of stress, among them: COVID-19′s impact, lockdowns, isolation, and the tanking economy.

This reality has led many parents to ask: How can I support my teen’s mental health?  

  • Encourage them to share their feeling with you. It is important when they do open up to you to display empathy by using phrases like “I understand” or “that makes sense.” Many times, teens are not looking to you to solve the problem, but rather it’s enough to know you are listening and understand what they are experiencing.
  • Provide positive feedback. During this time of constant togetherness, it may be easy to notice things you may not like from your young person. Now, more than ever, it is important to practice the Praise-to-Criticism ratio. Meaning, for every negative comment, provide praise as well. This will help teens feel that you are not just criticizing their every move. 
  • Avoid power struggles. With the world so unpredictable, they might be struggling to be in control. As difficult as it may be, empathize with their desire to assert control in a scary time, rather than attempting to fight back or overpower it. 
  • Care for yourself. Showing self-care is a good way of modeling the practice for your teen. 

Destressing Has Never Been More Convenient 

It is more important than ever for you and your teen to engage in activities that help your brain move from a state of stress to a state of relaxation. With both parents and their teens home a lot more often due to the pandemic, taking time to relax has become easier and more convenient with commutes to physical workplaces and school out of the way. With your extra time, try some of these brain hacks:

Deep Breathing – Practicing deep, natural breathing several times a day. When we are anxious, we are most likely shallow breathing. To improve your breathing, try this: 

  • 4-6-8 Breathing: Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of six. Exhale through your mouth to a count of eight. Repeat for two or three times.

Journaling – Journaling about your anxiety and stress can soothe your nerves. In addition, writing leads to clear thinking and this often helps with clearer communication. Not sure where to start? Try this:  

  • Write down the factor contributing to your stress and anxiety. Remove the page from your journal. Using deep breathing, breathe out those stressors. Then throw those pages away!

Listening to Music Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet music. Music can act as a distraction while also helping in exploring emotions. It can be a great aid to meditation, helping the mind from wandering. Need a song recommendation? Try this: 

  • “Weightless” by Marconi Union. This track was constructed in a way to reduce heart rates and induce a feeling of calm in listeners. 

Use of essential oils – Essential oils are scented liquids that manufacturers derive from plants, flowers, and fruits. Research shows that aromatherapy with some essential oils may help promote relaxation and relieve anxiety. Try my favorite essential oils to relieve stress: 

  • Bergamot Orange, Chamomile, Clary Sage, Lavender, Lemon, Neroli Rose, Ylang-yiag. They will have you feeling relaxed in no time. 

Yoga – Studies show that yoga is a very effective stress reliever by lifting your moods, allowing for increased mindfulness and increasing self-compassion. Want a free Yoga resource? Try this: 

  • Yoga Journal – a resource for free online videos to get you started.

Life May be Different, but the Future is in Your Hands! 

There’s no question that there will be a time when life will get back to normal for you and your Gen Zer. For now, taking time to manage your stress and anxiety daily is the most important thing you can do to support both yourself and your teen.

Vicki Custer, LCPC