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5 things you can do to look after your mental health in your teens

Tuesday 22 May 2018

A young girl stands in front of her group of friends, looking directly at the camera.
Looking after your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health.

‘Health in your teens’ is a series of blog posts all about how you can take care of yourself as a teenager. From getting enough sleep to learning how to manage stress, we’re covering the big health topics you and your mates might deal with during your teenage years.

Mental health in your teens

You’ve probably already noticed that there’s a lot going on in your teens. Your body is growing and changing. You might find that there are more expectations of you as you finish high school or start work. You have to learn how to navigate changing relationships with your parents, friends, work colleagues, teachers and romantic partners.

With all these changes and new things to learn, it might seem like looking after your mental health is just too much right now. But there’s never been a better time to check-in with your mental wellbeing. We've listed five things you can do as a teenager to help look after your mental health.

1. Understand – what even is mental health anyway?

Mental health is the health of your mind, thoughts and emotions. Mental health is something that everyone has, just like everyone has physical health. This means that mental health is something that everyone can take care of. In the same way that you take care of your physical body, you can look after your mental wellbeing through the choices you make about your lifestyle and environment.

Looking after your mental health means learning strategies that can help keep you well, and knowing when to get help if you need it. The habits you set up now can support you throughout your adult life.

Below we’ve gathered information and ideas about how you can take care of your mental wellbeing as a teenager, with links to organisations and tools that are designed especially for you.

A teenage boy sits behind the wheel of a car, holding up his Learner's plate and the car keys, smiling.

2. Think about how food and drink affect your mood

The food and drinks you eat can affect how well you feel, both physically and mentally. Regularly eating healthy food gives you energy to get through the day and can help to stabilise your mood.

Try these tips for eating to feel good:

Don’t skip breakfast

Breakfast kickstarts your energy for the day, getting you off on the right foot before you even leave the house. If you’re not sure what to eat, or you’re sick of having toast every day, you can find some healthy breakfast ideas here.

Drink plenty of water

Being dehydrated can give you a headache and make you feel tired or irritable. Carry a water bottle with you so you can keep sipping water throughout the day, and drink extra on hot days or after exercise.

Skip the sugary treats

Eating sugary lollies, pastries and drinks can make your blood sugar levels rise quickly – which makes you feel good – but then make them drop quickly, leaving you feeling sluggish, irritable and hungry. Looking for a snack that will fill you up and leave you feeling good? Try these easy ideas on Healthier. Happier.

3. Get active

You might have thought exercise was just about moving your muscles, but exercise can be beneficial for your mind, too.

When you exercise, your body releases hormones that make you feel good, like endorphins. Exercise can also help you relax your muscles, control your breathing and take your mind off your to-do list.

Try to fit some type of physical activity into every day, even if it’s just ten minutes at first. Exercise doesn’t have to be part of a dedicated training regime; any physical activity will do, so pick something you enjoy. You could go for a run, take the dog for a walk, have a dance in your bedroom or get some friends together to play a game of basketball or cricket at a local park.

You can find more information about exercise and ideas on how to get active as a young person in Queensland here.

4. Learn how to deal with stress

Stress is a normal bodily response to situations where you feel under pressure. You might feel pressure from upcoming exams, work or sport commitments, managing friendships and relationships, or just from life in general.

In little bursts, stress can actually be useful, helping you to concentrate and work hard. But when it’s ongoing and you feel like you can never relax, stress isn’t good. Ongoing stress can make you tired, give you a headache or upset stomach, or even make you feel anxious or depressed.

Try these tips for preventing yourself from getting too stressed out:

Take some time out every day

Build a break into your schedule every day when you can relax and just be yourself. Listen to music, watch a favourite show, cook something or go for a walk – whatever you enjoy doing is the perfect thing to do during your ‘you’ time. Even if you’ve got a big exam or deadline coming up, taking a little break can actually help you perform better when you return to your work.

Try mindfulness or relaxation techniques

The idea of learning how to relax might sound silly, but when you’re stressed out, relaxing isn’t always something that comes naturally. The good news is that there are techniques you can learn to help you chill out in stressful situations, and practising them can make your average day even better, too.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, not worrying about the future or reliving the past. When you’re being mindful, you focus on what you’re doing right at that moment.

Relaxation is about calming down the body and mind. You can practise relaxation every day to wind down and use relaxation techniques during stressful situations. Many people find that mindfulness and relaxation work together: they feel more relaxed when they try to be mindful, and being relaxed helps them practise mindfulness.  

There are lots of programs that can help you learn how to be more mindful and relaxed, and many of them are made specifically for teenagers.

Why not try Bite Back’s set of Power Up audio tracks? These short snippets of audio guide you towards being more mindful, and you can listen to them on your phone or computer.

Smiling Mind has a free app you can download that guides you through different mindfulness meditations.

And ReachOut has created Breathe, an app designed just for young people to help manage anxiety and worrying.

Strategies for when stress hits

Even if you’re practising mindfulness every day like a pro, you probably won’t be able to avoid every stressful situation in your life. When stress strikes, it’s good to have some strategies in place to help yourself get through the situation. We’ve listed five ways you can reduce stress in the moment here.

Two girls sit on the ground, one holding a phone. They smile for a selfie.

5. Know what mental health conditions are and that they’re really common and treatable

Mental health conditions, including things like eating disorders, depression and anxiety, are really common. In fact, one in seven young Australians aged 4-17 experience a mental health condition in any one year.

If you’re ever feeling really stressed, worried, down, angry, numb, or like things ‘just aren’t right’, for a couple of weeks or more, it’s important to know these feelings aren’t something you have to put up with and there are people who can help you feel better.

One of the best things you can do is tell someone about how you’re feeling: your doctor, school counsellor, a trusted teacher or sports coach, your parents or just a good friend – anyone you trust to listen to you is a good place to start. You could also call one of the helplines listed below if you feel more comfortable talking to someone you don’t know first.

You might want to start by taking beyondblue’s Brain Quiz, which helps you measure your mental health. The quiz gives you a score and some advice about what steps to take next in looking after your mental health.

The important thing to remember is that mental health conditions can be managed, and there are lots of different ways to help you feel better, from lifestyle changes to therapy and medications.

Want to know more about the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions? Watch beyondblue’s videos about how your brain can ‘have a mind of its own’, and making it hard to sleep, concentrate or go out with friends.

Tools for teenagers

Youth Beyond Blue is the organisation’s site dedicated to young people. You can find information to help you learn more about mental health, tools to help you look after your mental health, and resources to help you support other people.

BITE BACK is run by the Black Dog Institute. This website is designed to help you amplify the good stuff in life. They run Mental Fitness Challenges, have personality and mental fitness quizzes to help you learn more about your own wellbeing, and have videos and fact sheets about improving your mental health fitness.

Moodgym is an interactive program designed to help you learn skills to keep you mentally well. Like a self-help book you can interact with, moodgym has learning modules, exercises and quizzes to help you learn and practise strategies that will keep you mentally well.

ReachOut is an online mental health organisation for young people and their parents. They offer practical support, tools and tips through their website and apps.

Support services and helplines

Sometimes the best thing you can do to look after yourself is talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Listed below are links and phone numbers you can use to talk to someone right now.

Headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation in Australia. Headspace runs centres you can visit in-person across the state to talk to mental health professionals, and also has eheadspace, where you can chat with professionals about your mental health online. If in-person or online doesn’t suit, you can also call Headspace on 1800 650 890.

beyondblueruns a 24/7 phone hotline which you can call to talk to a trained mental health professional on 1300 22 4636. They also have an online chat service that runs from 3pm-12am 7 days a week, and forums where you can chat with other members of the beyondblue community.

Lifeline operates a crisis support hotline that you can call on 13 11 14, available 24/7. You can also access crisis support through their online chat from 7pm – midnight every day of the week.

If you think the situation is an emergency, or that your life or someone else’s life is in danger, you should always call Tripe Zero (000) for an ambulance.

Last updated: 13 June 2018