Tips for Helping Teens Practice Self-Care to Improve Mental Health and Well-being
The phrase “self-care” has gained popularity as we realize stress and anxiety’s profound impact on our bodies. According to Wikipedia, self-care is the process of establishing behaviors that ensure a holistic wellbeing to promote health and manage illness when it occurs.
Self-care is critical for helping attain balance and wellness in one’s life. Teenagers are particularly prone to anxiety and depression. Studies show that more teens feel tremendous stress and pressure to perform well in school, sports, and extracurricular activities. In addition, many feel pressure from their peers and social media to look, act, and dress a certain way.
Parents and caregivers can help teens navigate the stress and uncertainty of this phase of life.
Here are some tips for helping encourage self-care in your teen.
- Open the lines of communication with your teen. While some teens maintain an open dialogue with one or both of their parents, many keep to themselves. The pressure to perform well and not disappoint may cause teens to keep their anxiety, fears, and stress to themselves. Over time, this pressure can bubble up and spill into other areas of their lives. Pay attention to cues your teen may be struggling and be a good listener if and when they want to talk. Whenever possible, prepare meals and eat most dinners together as a family. These opportunities allow for time to connect and talk about life. Go for a walk, grab a cup of coffee or tea, or pass the ball back and forth. Take time to connect with them. Doing so will help them feel safe and secure at home, which is critical when they feel stress outside the home.
- Model healthy behaviors. One of the best expressions of self-care is to honor one’s body. This means doing the things that encourage health and wellness.
- Eat nutritious foods.The old adage, “You are what you eat,” is accurate. The food you consume impacts the way you look and feel. If you want your teen to be as healthy as possible, encourage a healthy diet and provide lots of nutritious foods that they can choose instead of processed foods that will cause them to feel sluggish and make them more prone to illness. Eating a balanced diet also helps with brain development, performance and information retention.
- Exercise. The path to wellness involves staying active. Exercise can come from walking the dog regularly, going skiing or biking, or participating in a club or school sport. Being part of a team is great for building relationships and releasing pent up anxiety and restlessness.
- Sleep. Teens need at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Sadly, many don’t get nearly enough sleep and try to make up for it on the weekends. The truth is, you can’t get back what you’ve missed when it comes to sleep. Instead, create a routine that encourages relaxation and rest. During sleep the body repairs itself. Without enough sleep, illness is more likely to occur. Set guidelines for screen usage to stop two hours before bedtime. The light emitted from screens can impact sleep quality, so limiting its use can help teens unwind and prepare for bedtime.
- Use technology wisely. Technology is a part of your teen’s world so it is important that parents and caregivers model healthy technology use. Create a media plan for your family by using the American Academy of Pediatrics’ online tool.
- Encourage your teen to engage in activities that calm their mind. This can be listening to music or playing it, going for a walk, meditating, practicing yoga, journaling, or snuggling with the family pet. Choosing activities that help them center their mind when life is rocky is important for learning to adapt to stressful situations.
The teenage years will likely be some of the most challenging in your child’s life. Your role as a parent and caregiver is to love them and show them how to manage the stress and uncertainty that will appear throughout their life. We know this time is also very challenging for parents too, and as your family’s pediatric provider, we are here to help. Let us know if you have concerns about your child’s wellbeing.