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  • Writer's pictureAshley Hudson LMFT

Why Teens Need a Break: 8 Ways to Help Your Burnout Teenager

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

Takeaway: In this post, I explain why teens need a break, how to identify signs of a burnout teenager, the benefits of your teen taking a break, and ways to encourage your teen to take breaks.

burnout teenager putting her hands on her head stressed needing a break

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Teens need a break. They are bombarded with social media, schoolwork, peer conflict, extracurricular activities, current news events, computer fatigue, the aftermath of the pandemic, and let's not forget regular teenage stuff. It is imperative for teens to need a break; emotionally, physically, and mentally from their responsibilities and commitments.

In this article, I discuss teens needing a break to gain more confidence in managing their stress and eight specific ways you can help your burnout teenager take a break.

Why Teens Need a Break

As a therapist that treats adolescents, the importance of teens needing a break; mentally, physically, and emotionally in my opinion is a requirement. Teenagers are in a sweet spot of their development where they are learning how to measure and manage their stress levels. It is very difficult for teens to pinpoint what is causing them stress and how to relieve it.

Typically, teens will respond to stress by acting irritable or neglecting responsibilities. It is hard for teenagers to communicate their needs appropriately, let alone respond to stress effectively. Teens taking breaks is highly beneficial in helping your teenager learn how to utilize their coping skills. In addition, teens taking a break gives them the opportunity to come up with the words to communicate their needs.

Using coping strategies to relieve stress and physical and mental strain teaches teenagers to become more aware of their tolerance for stress. Learning when to stop and take care of our mental and physical health is crucial to becoming aware of our stress level, how to manage it, and when to take a break.

Teenagers use a significant amount of their willpower complying with activities they may not want to do, such as taking classes they aren’t interested in and engaging in tedious homework. Teens need a break because juggling school, friends, extracurricular activities, family time, and completing all responsibilities is a lot to ask of a teenager.

Teenagers are learning to multitask and maintain their motivation to do things they don’t prefer to do. It can be incredibly stressful to be a teenager. So, you might be wondering what specifically is a “break” and how would you define it. A “break” is literally taking a moment to allow yourself to lower your stress level. It is when a teenager can give themselves permission to stop and take space to feel comfort.

taking a break in a hammock

Here are some examples of what a break can look like for a burnout teenager:

  • Distraction for a significant amount of time

  • Preferred activity

  • Being outdoors

  • Spending time with people

  • who bring them joy

Signs of a Burnout Teenager

What does a burnout teenager look like? Since teens have a difficult time communicating their needs when they feel symptoms of burnout, knowing the signs of a burnout teenager can help parents support them.

Here are Five Signs of a Burnout Teenager to be Aware of:

1. Overwhelmed with responsibilities and commitments

You might notice your teen having to say “yes” to everything because they feel guilty for saying no to commitments. They might just feel anxious and overwhelmed with trying to complete their tasks and responsibilities. They might communicate that they have so much to do, and they don’t know how they will do it all.

2. Reduced performance

You might notice a reduction in performance with their schoolwork or extracurricular activities. Burnout teens will feel physically and emotionally fatigued, which makes it hard to perform at the level they once did.

3. Loss of motivation

Teens might show a loss of motivation to get started with their tasks. They don’t have the spark or drive that they once did to tackle an assignment, practice, or start a household chore.

4. Difficulty concentrating

You will notice they are easily distracted and have trouble concentrating on one piece of work. Teens might task switch or be looking at their phones in the middle of attempting to finish something.

5. Negative mindset

Teens might express irritability and have a negative outlook. They might show their burnout by complaining often and having difficulty seeing the joy around them.

Benefits of Your Teen Taking a Break

There are so many wonderful benefits of your teen taking a break from life’s stressors and commitments. Having a break allows teens to gain the space to process their emotions and thoughts. They can sit with their painful or joyful emotions and absorb what they are truly feeling. Teens need a break so they can acknowledge their feelings and honor them by giving themselves permission to feel.

Increasing awareness of your level of stress is a big advantage to taking a break, especially for teenagers. When we take breaks mentally, physically, and emotionally, we are taking the time to listen to our bodies' responses to stress. We are learning and gaining awareness of how our body digests stress and what our body needs to relieve stress.

Teens taking a break provides the opportunity to develop their own coping skills which are unique to them. Being an anxiety therapist, one of my primary focuses is helping teens build their individualized set of coping skills. Some coping strategies are going to be helpful for some teens and some aren’t. Having allotted time to test out different strategies lays a foundation for teens to be prepared for when they do decide to take a break.

teenagers taking a break together reading

Having the space to rest our minds and settle our emotions increases creativity. When teens can clear their minds and rest their bodies, teens have the freedom to be creative. They can explore their passions, build, or create something new. Imagining new ways to communicate, express yourself, or construct something activates another part of the brain. Being creative helps process emotions by activating abstract thinking, imagination, problem solving, and motor skills.

Once teens get the hang of taking breaks, they begin building confidence with stress management. Teens become more resilient with stress and become able to recognize when and how to take breaks so they can manage their burnout. Burnout teens can acknowledge, “Yes, I need a break, and this is how I will take care of myself.” Also, there is a sense of strength and a positive mindset when facing adversity and challenges. Teens demonstrate hope in the midst of difficult situations because they are able to connect to their past experiences of taking breaks and managing stress.

Lastly, one of the most important benefits of teens taking breaks is their recognition of the significance and value of rest. Teenagers are constantly meeting deadlines and expectations of others. They are on the go and everything around them is so fast paced. Teens are blasted with messages around them that say “there is no rest for the weary,” “You will fall behind if you slow down,” or “Work hard, no play.” So, when teens actually implement taking breaks, using their coping skills, and building confidence with managing their stress they start ignoring those persuasive messages.

Side-Effects of Not Taking a Break

There are several side-effects of not taking a break. Here are just a few that I notice are common with teenagers.

Poor decision making:

Burnout teenagers are run down. When teens have no rest or breaks, teens begin making poor decisions. They don’t have the mental and emotional clarity to think through the benefits and consequences of their choices before making them.

Inability to shut it off:

Teenagers get used to constantly doing and thinking. They often don’t know how to rest. Not taking a break to explore emotions and learn to lower stress will lead to the inability to cancel the noise around you. At times, there might be expectations that teens put on themselves such as “I should be productive,” or “I feel worthless just resting.” It’s hard for teens to unplug and enjoy peace when they don’t allow themselves a break to quiet their minds.

Blinded to growth:

Taking a break allows for a chance for reflection on our accomplishments and personal growth. Teens who don’t take the moments to be proud of themselves and reflect on their progress only rob themselves of joy. They will constantly be looking for the next goal to undertake instead of appreciating how far they have come.

Meltdowns and emotional exhaustion:

Burnout teenagers have stored up emotional and mental energy that needs to come out. When teens don’t take breaks, the energy will express itself somewhere and somehow. That can look like emotional expressions such as meltdowns, crying, yelling, hitting, or throwing things. Physical symptoms can arise such as stomach aches, headaches, and/or fatigue. Physical symptoms that are caused from chronic stress and emotional exhaustion due to not taking breaks can lead to medical problems.

Allow Permission for Your Teens to Take a Break

Some parents expect their teens to have awareness about when to slow down and take a break. Teenagers have very minimal awareness of when to stop and how to slow down. With all the expectations from their teachers, coaches, parents, and friends, teens want to please authoritative figures and loved ones. Which means teens will be less likely to confront and resist others who are pushing against their emotional, mental, and physical boundaries. You as parents can help your teenager by giving your teen permission to take a break. Here are some examples on how to do that:

  • Take notice of when they are appearing overwhelmed.

  • Acknowledge all the activities and responsibilities they have

  • Inquire about what your teen is doing to relieve their stress.

  • Prompt them by saying “It’s okay to slow down, play, enjoy yourself, laugh, and have fun.”

Teens don't want to disappoint or risk getting yelled at, so they will keep working and working until they can’t. Giving your teen permission to take a break is a weight lifted off their shoulders. When you give them permission to take a break, they know that you see and understand them.

Taking a Break From Family

On one hand, teenagers spending time with family is a great thing and should be encouraged. However, constant family time can sometimes be a little much for a teenager. You might see your teen bickering at their siblings, arguing with you, or seem annoyed with everyone.

Teens are wanting to spread their wings, be independent, and around their friends. Being with peers gives teens a great opportunity to utilize their social skills, how to navigate relationships, problem solve, and a space to way out social benefits and consequences.

Taking a break from family helps teenagers figure out who they are outside of the family unit. It allows them to use their new independence to test out the waters of what the “adult” world will be like. Even though, I highly recommend family time. I do think taking a break from family is just as important.

Teens Need a Break This Summer

teens taking a break from school and playing a game

It’s summer! No more school, no more classwork, no more getting up early… what to do? Summer time is the perfect opportunity for teens to take a break. Teens need a break this summer so they can recharge their mental batteries and engage in play.

Yes, I said play! When teens make the intentional choice to take a break, it opens the door for guided play, independent play, or social play. Encourage your teen to spend time with their friends during the summer if that means forming a band, making a treehouse, or joining a kickball team.

In addition, teens taking a break this summer can give them the possibility to be quiet with themselves by reading a book, painting, enjoying a crossword puzzle, or building a model car. Guided play is where you the parent steps in and joins in on the fun with your teenager. Use this summer to take a break with your teen by having them help with redecorating part of the house, design a garden in the backyard, fix a car, volunteer at the local pet shelter, or go on a fishing trip.

How to Help Your Burnout Teenager Take a Break

1. Help them prioritize their time and tasks

Physically sit down with them and review all their commitments and responsibilities. Have your teen take out their calendar and to-do list to discuss time management. Ask your teen, where in their schedule can they implement breaks.

2. Psychoeducate on the importance and benefits of self-care

Some teens don’t quite understand the significance of taking a break and caring for themselves. Most self-care strategies take practice to see the long-term benefits. Teens are more attracted to instant gratification where they see and feel results immediately. It’s important for parents to teach their teenagers about the benefits of self-care and making self-care a part of their lifestyle.

3. Evaluating all responsibilities and seeing what can be taken off the list

Most people don’t like having to re-evaluate their commitments. It can bring about a sense of failure when having to say no to something you have committed to. However, if there is no time to implement breaks throughout the day, saying no to prior commitments is a must-do.

4. Ask your teen, “How can I help and support you?”

Most of the time, teenagers don’t want their parents to solve problems for them. Instead, teens might need help in other ways such as emotional support, venting their frustration, reviewing their options, or the permission to take a break. Asking your teen how you can support them empowers them to identify exactly what they need from you.

teen and parent taking a break sitting on top of a mountain hugging.

5. Engage in a coping skill together

Your teenager is learning what coping skills work for them. Utilize this opportunity to engage in coping skills together such as going on a hike, riding bikes, doing a puzzle, painting a birdhouse, or playing cards. Doing coping skills together also sends the message that you, as the parent, value breaks and taking moments to rest.

6. Use distractions to help relieve some stress

When you’re observing that your teen is overwhelmed with stress, it’s a good time to say, “stop” and distract them. Notice all the hard work they are doing and take them to a new environment. You can do this by observing that they need a break and offering to take them to their favorite restaurant or window shopping. Distraction can help shift your thoughts and get you in a mindset to be open to taking a break.

7. Praise your teen when they decide to take a break on their own

Be mindful of when your teen decides independently that they need a break. Provide verbal feedback that you notice them being aware of their stress level and when they need to rest. Teens who hear your praise will feel validated that they are valuing themselves and so are you.

8. Tell them their mental health matters and THEY matter

Remind your teen that their mental health matters. Let them know that if they aren’t taking care of themselves mentally and emotionally that everything else will eventually fall apart. Teen’s mental health is a priority. Verbalizing, modeling, and implementing taking breaks and rest yourself will hit home to teens that their mental health matters and they matter.

teen and parent laying on the grass together happy

Get Help with Parenting your Teenager: If you are a parent who feels disconnected and not good enough and you want help in reconnecting with your teenager, I’m here for you. Schedule a free consultation today with Ashley Hudson Therapy.

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