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What’s The Difference Between Distress And Stress In Teen Boys?

When teenage boys experience too much negative stress, they look for ways to reduce the stress and level back out. Some find healthy coping mechanisms like joining a sports team or playing music. Others develop negative coping skills like drinking or doing drugs. In both situations, the teens blow off some steam and calm back down, but the negative coping skills can lead to some pretty serious consequences.

If your teen son has developed negative coping skills as a stress-management technique, you should get help from a professional counselor. Some parents send their sons to military schools or boot camps to whip them into shape, but those schools don’t have the best long-term results. Sure, your kid might stop drinking or doing drugs while they’re at school, but they won’t learn the coping skills necessary to overcome negative stress as an adult.

The teenage years are filled with stressful situations, both good and bad. Between school, home, and social interactions, teens have a lot to balance. As adults, we sometimes forget just how hard high school can be. Compared to adulthood, high school stress can seem minimal. However, that stress is very real and can sometimes feel overwhelming to teens. Kids must learn to manage their stress during their teen years to prepare for grown-up stress.

Good stress vs. bad stress

Though we tend to think of stress as a bad thing, it can be beneficial as well. Stress is the body’s reaction to a threat (real or perceived) that helps us navigate the threat safely. Our heart rate goes up, so we get more blood pumping throughout the body. Our adrenaline increases to give us more energy and more agility. “Fight or flight” kicks in, and we’re ready to either face the problem or run away from it.

In certain situations, this can be a really helpful response. Stress can get us out of a dangerous situation quickly, or it can motivate us to take action. It might make us feel like our heart is racing or our palms are sweaty, but it gets us through the moment.

Some typically positive stressful situations in high school include:

  1. Cramming for a test that you forgot about

  2. Asking your crush out for the first time

  3. Trying out for a new team

  4. Learning to drive

  5. Giving a presentation in class

  6. Interviewing for your first job

Stress alone is not a bad thing. However, prolonged stress can be quite problematic. When stress lasts too long, it keeps us in that “fight or flight” mode much longer than we should be. This can lead to both physical and mental problems. When stress lasts too long and becomes problematic, it changes from stress to distress.

Some common distress situations in high school include:

  1. Bullying at school

  2. Fighting between parents at home

  3. Drug or alcohol abuse in the home

  4. Chronic or severe illness (self or a loved one)

  5. Death of a loved one

  6. Difficulty understanding classwork

  7. An overwhelming amount of responsibility

  8. Worrying about the future

Noticing distress in teen boys

Distress in teen boys can show up in a few different ways. The results of chronic, long-term stress can be physical and mental, and they can compound one another.

Symptoms of distress include:

  1. Anxiety

  2. Trouble sleeping

  3. Upset stomach

  4. Trouble focusing

  5. Elevated heart rate

  6. Elevated blood pressure

  7. Headaches

  8. Fatigue

  9. Self-medicating (substance abuse)

  10. Antsy or on-edge

Positive stress-management techniques

If you notice that your teen son displays signs of being distressed, talk to him about it. Teens don’t typically have the life experience needed to know how to properly manage their stress yet. Teens need to learn positive stress-management techniques to identify the things that are causing them stress and know how to alleviate overwhelming stress.

Put words to the stress. Rather than just saying that they are “overwhelmed” or “stressed out,” help your teen put words to the stress. By identifying what is causing the chronic stress, you have a better chance of alleviating it. This will also help them learn to identify when they are feeling distressed so that they can address it sooner in the future.

Prioritize self-care. Since chronic stress can manifest in physical conditions, encourage your teen to practice self-care. Help them set a schedule that allows for adequate sleep, healthy eating, and enough exercise. If they feel better physically, they are more likely to have the energy to address the situation.

Develop positive outlets. We all need positive outlets for de-stressing. Some people find solace in running or biking. Others prefer things like art or music. Having a positive outlet to vent and calm down is extremely important for stress-management.

Get outside help. If your teen is experiencing distress, consider getting outside help. Talking to a therapist helps many teens who are sorting through their feelings and don’t know how to manage them. Therapy can help your teen learn new coping skills, identify their stressors, and manage their anxiety.

If your teen son is having a lot of problems at home or school, consider changing his environment for a while. By sending him to a therapeutic boarding school, you would remove him from his day-to-day stressors and give him the chance to develop new stress-management techniques while he is away.

The therapists at Sundance Canyon Academy work with each student to develop personalized treatment plans that address their problems. Contact us today to find out more about our school.

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