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Exercise keeps teen stress in check

If you are the parent of a teenager, you've likely see them dealing with the ongoing challenges of maintaining grades, writing college applications and essays, working a first job, navigating friendships and learning about romantic relationships. While stress is normal on the journey to adulthood, there is a limit to what any one teen can handle.  

I work regularly with teens to find ways to keep stress, anxiety and depression in check. In our discussions, we focus on: 

  • Cognitive thought management: Looking for patterns of non-helpful thinking, like ignoring the positive things in a day and instead focusing on the negative, which cause negative feelings.
  • Self-esteem and acceptance: Learning how to be OK with who you are now.
  • Emotions: Learning to examine your emotions and trying to pinpoint the thoughts that give rise to those feelings.
  • Mindfulness: Focusing your awareness on the present moment, while accepting your feelings and thoughts.
  • Physical activity: Triggering positive feelings through a natural release of endorphins (feel-good chemicals).

Are you surprised to see physical activity on the list? Research shows that regular physical activity provides the same level of improvement to stress, anxiety and depression as most mental health medications.

Your body is built to react with either "fight" or "flight" chemicals (endorphins) to prime you for physical activity when you experience stress. In the modern world, our stressful situations don't always require physical exertion, like our ancestors did when facing a woolly mammoth. These extra, unused stress hormones in your body leave you feeling anxious and more stressed. Exercise uses these chemicals, leaving your body feeling better and your mind less stressed.

I'm a firm believer in using physical activity to decrease stress and improve mental well-being. I use trail running and yoga as forms of moving meditation to help myself be in the present moment and increase mindfulness. I've also created a support group for teens called Running to Wellness. It incorporates group discussion, learning coping skills and training for a 5K run together. It's a great way for teens to see that they are not alone, experience the emotional lift of exercise and build self-esteem by accomplishing a goal.

As a parent, or guardian, you play an important role helping your teen learn skills to reduce and contain stress. Teens may not always seem receptive to parental efforts, but they are listening. Your efforts and expressions of support and love are key through the teen years.


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