Let’s face it: Life is stressful. Whether you’re a teenager, a young adult, a middle-aged adult, or a senior citizen, there are parts of daily life that are frustrating, annoying, and unpleasant. In addition, all of us have phases and seasons of life that are more stressful than others. Stress can be short-term, such as a several-month stint of unemployment, or long-term, like a chronic health problem. Teenagers are dealing with the pressures of school, jobs, friends, and household responsibilities, as well as the huge undertaking of taking steps toward adulthood and independent living. Learning to relax can go a long way toward making life more pleasant for both you and your teen. Take a look at some of these relaxation techniques and tips for what you can do when the stress of life gets to feel like too big of a burden.
1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When you or your teenager feels tense, it’s natural to hold onto that tension in the muscles of the body. Some common places to hold onto tension include the shoulders, neck, and jaw, but you might also have tension in areas like the legs, hips, and hands. One of the relaxation techniques you and your teen should know is progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR. This can allow you to focus on each body part, one at a time, and relax those muscles.
The whole exercise takes maybe 15 minutes, so find a time when you’re unlikely to be disturbed for that amount of time. Turn off your phone, take off your shoes, and sit or lie down comfortably. If you’re both doing the exercise or you are alone, you can find videos on YouTube that will walk you through the steps of progressive muscle relaxation. Alternatively, you can read aloud a script, such as this one (make some adjustments for a teen, as it’s written for a younger child).
Meditation is sometimes wrongly assumed to be very spiritual or “New Agey” in nature. While it certainly can be, the act of meditation is really just about clearing the mind of bothersome, unwanted thoughts. Usually the thoughts that we want to stop are negative, but even too many positive thoughts can be overwhelming and make it difficult to focus and concentrate on what we need to be doing. Learning to meditate can reduce stress in both the short-term and the long-term.
There are many different ways to meditate. You might focus on one word or sound, or you might watch a candle flicker. In addition to making you feel more relaxed, meditation can lower high blood pressure, slow the heart rate, make your breathing more regular, and lower the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in your blood.
3. Guided Imagery
Have you ever tried to picture yourself on a beach or at a quiet park in order to calm your thoughts? This is called imagery. Some people can do it on their own, but others need to have a voice guiding them to picture certain relaxing scenes with their mind’s eye, which is guided imagery. The person doing the guiding can help keep the person relaxing on track and help him or her to avoid letting the mind wander into more stressful thoughts. Having someone guide the imagery also can help you not only “see,” but “hear” and “feel” what’s going on in your imagined scene.
What you prefer in terms of guided imagery depends on what you find most relaxing. If you strongly dislike the beach, for example, an imagery session focusing on the sand and surf might not be the best one for you! If you can’t find what you are looking for, you can make your own by recording your voice with music that you’ve chosen to be relaxing or uplifting.
4. Deep Breathing
Breathing exercises can be a form of meditation, but they’re also one of the relaxation techniques that you or your teen can do anytime to help bring stress levels down a bit. When in the midst of a panic attack or strong anxiety, we tend to take quick, shallow breaths. This can lead to hyperventilation, which makes us breathe even more quickly and make us feel like we’re not getting enough air, which leads to further anxiety.
You can get out of this cycle by focusing on breathing more slowly and deeply. One method is to use diaphragmatic breathing, where you focus on breathing air into your belly rather than into your chest. Another is to try square breathing: Inhale for five seconds, then hold for five, then exhale for five, then hold for five, then repeat. You can lengthen the time spent on each “leg” after you do several cycles.
While not exactly the same as other relaxation techniques, exercise can go far in defeating anxiety and stress. Getting your heart pumping a bit faster improves your overall health, can help you sleep better, and can combat depression, too. Exercise releases endorphins that can reduce pain, and it improve both self-esteem and cognitive thinking. In short, whatever is making you feel stressed out often takes a backseat while you’re exercising.
Try to find a time during the day or evening when you can exercise with your teenager. Go for a walk, take him or her with you to the gym, or consider signing up for a dance class or a yoga class. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or time-consuming; you can just include your teen in your regular activities: do some housework and put on some music to get both of you moving with a little more pep in your step.
Learning how to reduce stress through various relaxation technique is a skill that will last your teenager a lifetime. It can be used at any stage of life and for any reason, and there are no side effects. While relaxation techniques shouldn’t be used as a substitution for needed counseling or medications, it is an excellent complimentary self-treatment that can make both of you feel better as you navigate the tricky, stressful situations of daily life.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.