Navigating stress can be tough as a teen, but here are some tips for building healthy resilience.
Sometimes it could feel like adults dismiss what you’re living through with a blanket call to “be resilient” or the dismissive compliment that “you’re so resilient, you’ll be OK.”
How you seem to be handling things on the exterior might not match up with what you’re feeling on the inside. Your experience is valid. You’re seen, and Psych Central supports you.
While it’s known that stress affects each person differently, it’s important to note that what’s needed to support you through adversity can also be different.
What we don’t mean by ‘resilient teens’
Resiliency can be important for moving forward, but it shouldn’t be set as an expectation or a marker for trauma or adversity. Nor should figuring out how to build it mean a lack of overall strength, especially as a teen.
Resilience is the ability to get through difficult situations and cope with life afterward healthily.
Samantha Newton, a licensed clinical social worker with The Therapy Suite in North Carolina says, “Being resilient doesn’t mean that you aren’t impacted by negative life events — it means that you do work on coping with them and recovering from them without allowing them to fully define who you are.
“There will always be things that happen, big and small, that are out of our control. If you have the ability to be resilient, then you will be able to adapt to these changes without staying in a state of upheaval.”
According to Newton, if you find yourself having trouble bouncing back from a situation, it could be a sign of an additional factor, such as depression or anxiety.
“Mental health issues can be triggered or exacerbated by negative situations and it is much more difficult for a person to be resilient if they are also experiencing symptoms of a disorder,” she says.
Dr. Venkata Jonnalagadda, a Greenville, North Carolina psychiatrist with Mindpath Health says, “During a person’s teen years, the opportunities to develop resilience [are] critical for healthy growth … Subtle but significant changes start happening to bodies and minds, hormones kick in and impact emotions in the early teen stages.”
There may also be times when it feels harder to be resilient, and you may question if you can make it through, especially if you’re feeling external pressure to succeed from parents or teachers.
As time goes on, the hope is that you’ve stored plenty of tools in your toolbox and surrounded yourself with enough support for those seasons.
Newton says, at times, the term resilient can be weaponized. By definition, it’s intended to be positive.
But it can be used as a way to suggest people “get over” what they’ve experienced, insinuating that having a hard time is equivalent to weakness.
“It [can have] a deep, visceral impact on people of color to see someone like them going through something so terrible. But sometimes those not directly affected by those situations express a desire for people to ‘move on from the past,’” says Newton.
Teens of color
An immediate call to resilience after trauma could serve as an imbalanced expectation of adapting to negative situations, for underprivileged groups.
When discussing systemic issues or trauma, a demand for resilience could unfairly place the onus on the harmed individual rather than the entity or person who caused the initial harm.
“But individuals who are engaging in advocacy, using their voice to connect to others in similar situations, or fighting for change are being resilient by gathering the strength to push for forward-movement in their lives and the lives of others,” Newton says.
“You can’t, and maybe shouldn’t, just ‘bounce back’ from some situations that are inherently wrong or traumatic.”
Jonnalagadda says that growing up in adverse and unsafe environments can lead to the idea of “tolerating” adversity. “Burnout is not only a concern for people in their adult careers; it can impact anyone, including teenagers,” she says.
“Survivors of trauma often do not give themselves enough credit for their ability to be resilient,” Newton says. This can be as a result of food insecurity, exposure to violence, or any number of factors within Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scoring,” she says.
Newton emphasizes that invalidating your own resilience “can cause long-term emotional damage.”
Resiliency may be as seemingly simple as getting back to a routine or even just getting through the day. Only you can define what resiliency looks like in your life.
Newton suggests focusing on your strengths to get started. By nature, people tend to be empathetic toward others but self-critical.
Consider working on your positive self-talk and taking the time to acknowledge your strengths and the things you do well, rather than only highlighting what needs improvement.
Jonnalagadda shares what she calls “a simple game with a powerful imprint” that small children in grade school play called “The Compliment Circle.”
The Compliment Circle (An exercise in positive self-talk)
- You start by saying something positive about yourself.
- Then you tell the person beside you something positive about them.
- They verbally receive the compliment with a “thank you.”
- They continue to the person beside them.
“For teens, adding in relaxation breathing, negative thought blocking, reframing negative fears into realistic facts all work to bring the focus back on the current moment where a tough day still has a support person to talk it through,” Jonnalagadda says.
Making a habit of praising yourself for the progress you make — no matter how big or small — can ultimately lead to a stronger sense of inner strength.
Creating and maintaining a self-care routine could be a major step toward resiliency. Because much of being resilient is internal and mental, Newton suggests making your self-practices habitual.
That way, when your need to utilize a tool arises, it’ll feel like second nature.
Self-care can be simple and include positive daily routine items such as:
- Good sleep hygiene
- Eating regularly throughout the day
- Drinking plenty of water
- Soaking up vitamin D by spending time outside when it’s safe
- Having clean clothes handy
- Keeping your living space organized in a way that feels good to you
- Making time for creative endeavors, such as journaling or painting
Self-care can also look like setting boundaries, being intentional about your social group, and joining positive and supportive circles.
Coping mechanisms and support
“People are often much nicer to others than themselves, so it helps to think about how you would talk with a friend about a tough situation and apply those skills to your own thoughts,” Newton says.
“All of these qualities help build on the mental, emotional, and physical skills needed to be resilient.”
Additionally, the option to connect with a mental health professional is always present — you can even do it online. They can assist you in learning more about and building out healthy coping mechanisms, in addition to how to communicate with your loved ones about your needs.
Coping mechanisms can include:
- surrounding yourself with “your people” friends or family who enjoy the same things you do
- jamming out to music
- sweating your frustrations out in exercise or athletics as a catharsis
- healthy use of social media for
seeking outpositive reinforcement, information, and problem-solving
- programs that promote self-efficacy
- self-regulation as a strengthening tool to cope with life’s crises
Building resilience is a great way to learn how to work through tough situations, but it shouldn’t ever be used as a way to dismiss what you’re experiencing.
Sometimes adults in your life can be adding more pressure than they realize. It’s OK to sit them down and discuss openly what would work for you — there’s a good chance they don’t know.
It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to take the space that you need. It’s OK to take time to figure out what methods work best for you.
Be gentle with yourself. Part of growing up is figuring out how we navigate the world around us, and part of that includes developing the necessary skills to thrive.