Transforming Stress for Teens

The recent alarming reports that a growing number of American teens are experiencing high levels of stress clearly signals a burgeoning crisis and an immediate need for solutions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported in June suicide was the second leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds. The widely reported 2014 American Psychological Association's Stress in America survey said teens experienced even higher levels of stress than adults. And a study out last year from New York University found "very high levels of chronic stress in a wide number of arenas" among 11th-graders in a private-school setting.

We believe teens, their parents, teachers and counselors will find highly effective strategies in Transforming Stress for Teens - the HeartMath Solution for Staying Cool Under Pressure.

Today's teens are growing up is strikingly different era than past generations. The speed, complexity and deluge of information filling teenage brains is accelerating their stress.

World events, wars, refugeeism, global warming and a deteriorating national discourse certainly may be on the periphery of those brains. Among many other more immediate and personal pressures, however, are homework overload, excessive hours of social networking and texting, bullying and harassment. Additionally, high school seniors and graduates report great anxiety about the college application process and leaving home for the first time to attend college.

What is stress?
Four hours of homework each night? Being bullied at school or online? Working tirelessly to get into a top-rated college or university? Having your sexual identify questioned? The answer is none of these - directly.

As we write in the book, "Stress is not the 'thing' that just happened or the situation on the outside. Stress is the feeling or emotion you experience inside yourself in response to the thing, that external event or situation. It's the emotion that makes you feel lousy, not the thing itself."

Frequently feeling any number of emotions such as anger, anxiety, bitterness, boredom, fear, frustration, helplessness or impatience among others is a sign of elevated stress. Feeling any of these most or all the time is a signal of very serious and unhealthy stress.

Central to the solutions presented for dealing with stress successfully is self-regulation of emotions. Learning to self-regulate and slow down on the inside is not just another feel-good exercise. It is a tool decades of scientific research have validated for increasing resilience and lowering harmful stress. Self-regulation is a vital skill teens can learn to function better and be happier during their school years and beyond.

Face stress head-on. Ignore in the hope it will go away invites a lot of unnecessary anxiety, heartache and generally bad days.

"Managing stress," we explain, "means learning to manage your emotions so you can deal with whatever comes your way with more balance, clarity, and self-assurance rather than with anger, impatience, frustration, or anxiety."

Increasing our capacity to self-regulate is the essence of maturing. We are like little kids learning to stop and look for cars before crossing the street, to share and play well with others and not charge more than we can afford as we get older.

The fact is, one of the most challenging areas for many teens, and adults is learning to maintain our inner emotional composure when dealing with people, especially those who push our emotion-reaction buttons.

A good time to transform stress is before something triggers it, but you also can do it in the moment or even hours later.

Preparing for something you know could or will be stressful can save you a lot anguish and heartache. One teen who recalled doing an exercise at school using HeartMath's Heart-Focused Breathing Technique, described here:

Focus your attention in the area of the heart. Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area, breathe a little slower and deeper than usual.

"Our health education teacher gave us an assignment. We were supposed to practice Heart-Focused Breathing while walking across campus and try not to judge anyone ... to celebrate how unique everyone is and not how they are different from us. That was really fun, to appreciate people rather than judge them."

Said another, "I used Heart-Focused Breathing when I was in an embarrassing moment. I calmed down and then I handled the situation calmly."

Even when you can't immediately shake the upset, anger or sadness of something, going to your heart and using the breathing tool hours later can work wonders. The sooner you get the stress hormone cortisol out of your system, however, the better.

Transforming Stress for Teens speaks directly to today's teenagers, addressing what's causing excessive stress and how to combat it. The science for why stress happens - heart coherence vs. incoherence, heart-brain interactions, energy drain and more - is presented in a format suitable nonprofessionals and professionals alike.

Each chapter incorporates the research-based insight of recognized experts and includes teen-approved exercises and tools thousands have used successfully around the world.
Following are benefits teens have reported from these exercises and tools:

  • Think more clearly.
  • Better sense of what's truly important.
  • Bounce back faster after stressful situations.
  • Communicate and talk things through more easily.
  • Enjoy life more.
  • Less boredom.
  • Less drama.
  • More calm.
  • Greater confidence.
  • Focus and concentrate longer.
  • Better decisions

The authors of Transforming Stress for Teens are Rollin McCraty, Jeff Goelitz and Sarah Moor of HeartMath Institute in California and Stephen W. Lance of the Youth Learning Institute of Clemson University in South Carolina.