Helping Teens Navigate Stress About the Future

Teens are stressed about what's in store for them.
The past few years have been a lot.

The past few years have been a stressful time for everyone, particularly young people, with the pandemic exacerbating what is already a challenging time. Between the pressure of assignments and exams, a shift to online learning for some, important milestones being missed, changing friendships and relationships, and conversations turning to gap years, university, TAFE, vocational training and even finding a job and establishing a career, there’s been a lot going on.

As a result, many young people are feeling stressed about the future and experiencing different emotions ranging from fear to uncertainty, frustration, anger or disappointment. While these emotions are understandable, they can impact teens’ mental health and wellbeing. This makes finding ways to help them manage their worries so that they can re-focus on and enjoy the present so important.

New research* from ReachOut has found that stress about the future is having a moderate or major impact on the wellbeing of 55% of young people. In addition, 54% of young people are feeling moderately or extremely stressed about the future and these stress levels are on the rise because of the pandemic. The most common causes of feeling stressed about the future were study and exam pressures (39%), being able to afford the lifestyle they wanted (30%), being able to survive financially (29.5%), building a career in their chosen field (28%) and their mental and physical health (28%). These findings provide important insights about how stress about the future is manifesting for young people, when they are experiencing it and what could help.

Tiara, from NSW, said: “Feelings of stress about the future definitely have an impact on my wellbeing at times. Sometimes stress about things like uni morph into more stress about things like getting a good job. I also feel stressed about COVID and climate change and how it might impact my life.”

“I do place a lot of pressure on myself because of the sacrifices my family have made for me so that I have a good life, but I am really thankful I get lots of good advice from my sisters when I’m feeling worried,” she said.

In positive news, the research shows that young people are reaching out for help from trusted sources; 57% of those surveyed have sought support from friends when feeling stressed about their future, 46.2% have turned to their parents, and 19.2% of young people have sought help from a mental health professional.

Here is a list of positive self-help strategies to help parents and carers support their teens as they navigate stress about the future.

  • Find ways to connect. Consider spending time connecting in a way that works for a teen. This might look like going for a walk together, cooking a meal or going for a drive. Sometimes they may just need someone to vent to and listen to them, not fix their problems, so try not to jump into action-mode straight away.
  • Cultivate decision making skills. Progressively ‘letting go’ and teaching a teen how to make decisions is a big step in preparing them for independence as it will teach them self-confidence, critical thinking and problem solving. Encourage them to think things through by brainstorming a wide range of possible outcomes, writing a pros and cons lists, and supporting them in trusting their own instincts.
  • Focus on things they can control. Help them to identify things that are within their control, such as keeping their room or desk tidy, completing a level on a game, or maintaining friendships and relationships. Talk about what they value and encourage them to practise gratitude for the things they currently have in their life.
  • Maintaining an interest in hobbies. Encourage teens to keep up their hobbies to help maintain a sense of control. Whether it’s working out, playing video games with friends, or taking weekly guitar lessons, sticking to a regular hobby will help keep them feel in control.
  • Talk to a professional. If you suspect that your teen might require a more experienced helping hand in order to cope with their mental health concerns, then ReachOut’s Getting Help page is a great place to start exploring options. They could also talk to a mental health professional online via sites such as eheadspace, beyondblue and Lifeline, or check out ReachOut’s Online Community where they can connect with peers in a safe and supportive space.

It’s important to remember that it’s completely normal for teens to feel stressed about the future. Remind them to focus on the things that they can control and to be kind to themselves and each other. Remember also, you can’t pour from an empty cup so make time for yourself and practice some self-care too.

*Findings from an online survey of 1000 young people aged 16–21 years conducted by ReachOut in February 2022.

Jackie Hallan is the Head of Service Delivery at ReachOut Australia and a passionate advocate for youth mental health. Jackie leads a team of 17 that combines the evidence and research insights with subject matter expertise and empathy to bring the service to life. Jackie has 15 years’ experience in program management, health promotion and social marketing across cancer prevention and youth mental health.

Image by Dids