According to a report from the American Psychological Association, only 45% of Generation Z feel that they are in excellent or very good mental health, the lowest of any generation studied. Out of those surveyed, only 50% of Gen Zs feel that they do enough to manage their stress. For teens, stress and mental health issues can stem from any number of situations: school, pressure to get into college, work, and home life, just to name a few.
Unfortunately, mental health issues among teens are all to often ignored or chalked up to just being typical teenage moodiness. But overwhelming stress, anxiety, and depression should never be pushed aside. Luckily, there are small changes you can make to healthily cope and manage mental health.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is so important for our physical and mental wellbeing. The National Sleep Foundation reports that those with sleep disorders such as insomnia are 17 times more likely to have clinical anxiety and 10 times more likely to have clinical depression than those with healthy sleep patterns. But between extracurricular activities, regular school work, sports, and social lives, it can be hard to find the time to sleep. Experts recommend that teens get between 8 and 10 hours of shut-eye a night.
- Reduce stress through exercise. Not only does exercise keep us in good physical shape, but it is also effective in lowering stress levels. Physical activity increases the production of endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals in your brain that reduce our perception of pain. Scientists have shown that routine aerobic exercise has the ability to stabilize and elevate mood, decrease tension levels, improve sleep, and lower anxiety levels.
- Find a balance. Just trying to survive high school can take a lot out of a teen. Try to keep in mind that school, while important, isn’t everything. Time with friends, family, and our hobbies is necessary as well. Avoid burnouts by dedicating some time to these other areas of your life. And you may actually discover that when you find a balance, your performance in school will improve.
- Talk it through. Nearly three quarters of Gen Zs reported that they wish they had more emotional support in the past year. Many people find it easier to cope with life’s obstacles, stress, and mental health issues when they have someone to talk to. If you feel like you need extra emotional support, find a trusted adult to confide in. This could be a parent, teacher, counselor, or anyone else willing to lend an ear and help you find ways to manage your stress. Never be afraid to ask for help if you feel like you need it.
- Practice self-care. Self-care isn’t just for adults. Make sure you are paying attention to yourself and engaging in activities that make you happy. Reward yourself for your achievements and victories, both large and small. There’s no “right way” to do self-care because everyone is different, but here’s a small list of easy ways to show yourself some love:
- Listening to music
- Watching your favorite movie/TV
- Creating something
- Making a gratitude journal
- Going for a hike or bike ride
- Reading a book or your favorite magazine
- Learning to play an instrument
- Don’t isolate yourself. Even though we all need time alone to recharge sometimes, isolation can make depression worse. Try not to withdraw from friends and family, even if being social is the last thing you want to do. It may be difficult at first, but getting out and connecting with people in real life can ease depression symptoms. Spend time with those whose presence generates positivity in your life. Stay away from peers who make you feel insecure or who may lead you down the wrong path.
- Volunteer for a cause that’s important to you. Helping others through volunteer work gives us a sense of purpose and can be a natural antidepressant. Knowing that we are making a difference in the world generates feelings of satisfaction and contentment. And if you’re having trouble connecting to others in the world, being with people that are working towards a similar goal as you can help you reconnect.
- Cut back on social media. Social media distorts our view of others around us. Everyone presents the best version of themselves online, leaving us to compare ourselves and our lives to others unrealistically. Even though it feels like being online gets our mind off of our own problems and feelings, this constant bombardment can actually worsen depression and anxiety. Take time to unplug and opt for face-to-face interactions with those you normally communicate with online.
- Watch what you eat. Yep, what you eat can have an effect on your mental health in addition to your physical health. Sugary drinks, refined carbs, and junk food can leave you feeling tired and sluggish, which only worsen any symptoms of depression that you may already be experiencing. Make sure you’re taking in fruits, vegetables, healthy carbs, and protein for a balanced diet.