Teens and Stress: Who Has Time For It?

Last Updated January 2024 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Deepak S. Patel, MD, FAAFP, FACSM

Stress is what you feel when you react to pressure. This pressure can come from the outside world, such as school, work, after-school activities, family, or friends. Or it can come from inside yourself, like when you want to do well in school, or want to fit in. Stress is a normal reaction for people of all ages. It’s caused by your body’s instinct to protect itself from emotional or physical pressure or, in extreme situations, from danger.

Is stress always bad?

No, stress isn’t always bad. In fact, a little bit of stress is good. Most of us need to feel the pressure of wanting to do well. This is how we push ourselves, whether it’s in sports, music, dance, work, or school. Also, many of us need the stress caused by a deadline. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to finish projects or get to work or school on time.

If stress is so normal, why do I feel so bad?

With all the things that happen when you’re a teenager, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Things that you can’t control are often the most frustrating. Maybe your parents are fighting. Maybe you’re having trouble with your social life. You can also feel bad when you put pressure on yourself. This could be pressure to get good grades or to get promoted at your part-time job. A common reaction to stress is to criticize yourself. You may even get so upset that things don’t seem fun anymore. Life might look pretty grim. When this happens, it’s easy to think there’s nothing you can do to change things. But you can!

Path to improved health

You can’t always control the things that are stressing you out. But you can control how you react to them. The way you feel about things results from the way you think about things. If you change how you think, you can change the way you feel. Try some of these tips to cope with your stress:

  • Take care of yourself. Eat well-balanced meals on a regular basis. Drink less caffeine. Get enough sleep, and exercise on a regular basis.
  • Make a list of the things that are causing your stress. Think about your friends, family, school, and other activities. Accept that you can’t control everything on your list.
  • Take control of what you can. For example, maybe you don’t have enough time to study to get the grades you want. You may need to cut back your work hours. Or you might have to drop one of your activities after school.
  • Give yourself a break. Remember that you can’t make everyone in your life happy all the time. And it’s okay to make mistakes now and then. Take a few minutes to take some deep breaths, do some relaxation exercises or try to meditate. Go for a walk or do some exercise.
  • Don’t over-commit yourself. If you’re already too busy, don’t promise to decorate for the school dance. If you’re tired and don’t want to go out, tell your friends you’ll go another night.
  • Find someone to talk to. Talking to your friends or family can help. It gives you a chance to express your feelings. However, problems in your social life or family can be the hardest to talk about. If you feel like you can’t talk to your family or a friend, talk to someone outside the situation. This could be a religious leader, a school counselor, or your family doctor.

There are also unsafe ways to deal with stress. It’s dangerous to try to escape your problems by using drugs and alcohol. Both can be very tempting, and your friends may offer them to you. Drugs and alcohol may seem like easy answers, but they’re not. Using drugs and alcohol to deal with stress just adds new problems, such as addiction, or family and health problems.

Things to consider

There are warning signs that could mean you have too much stress. These include:

  • Feeling depressed, edgy, guilty, or tired a lot
  • Having headaches, stomachaches, or trouble sleeping
  • Laughing or crying for no reason
  • Blaming other people for bad things that happen to you
  • Only seeing the downside of a situation
  • Feeling like things that you used to enjoy aren’t fun anymore or are a burden
  • Resenting other people or your responsibilities
  • Feeling like giving up

Sometimes you try dealing with your stress, but you still feel like giving up. This is a danger sign. Stress can become too much to deal with. It can lead to such awful feelings that you may think about hurting—or even killing—yourself. When you feel like giving up, it may seem like things will never get better. Talk to someone right away. Talking about your feelings is the first step in learning to deal with them and starting to feel better.

You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How does stress affect my health?
  • Can too much stress be bad for me?
  • What can I do to cope with stress?
  • I feel pressure from my friends to “do it all.” How can I cope?
  • I’m completely overwhelmed with life. What can I do?


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 988

The American Institute of Stress: Stress in Teens

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