“A high school junior who arrives home from school promptly at 5:30 after volleyball practice begins a four-to-six-hour nightly ordeal called homework — on an average night. She has dinner over a textbook, which allows her to avoid conversation with her mom, and falls asleep exhausted at midnight, only to rise the next morning at 5:30 for band practice before her 7am AP calculus class.”

The excerpt above is from a book called Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. When I was a student pastor in Ohio, I taught an Intro to Youth Ministry course at Cedarville University. I frequently used Hurt 2.0 to help future pastors understand the private lives of teenagers. 

It’s no secret that teens today are under pressure. Research tells us that 2 million teens, ages 12-17, suffer from depression severe enough to impair daily life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 8% of all teens struggle with major emotional disturbances, most commonly anxiety disorders. These are the extreme cases. At a more moderate level, I’d wager 100% of teens struggle with some form of anxiety and day-to-day pressure.

In my experience, there are two fundamental components: the pressure to succeed and the pressure to be included. One fuels a teen’s external schedule, chocked full of extracurriculars and advanced classes, while the other feeds their internal angst: Why wasn’t I invited? Who else was there? What’s wrong with me?

The first paper to address the cultural phenomenon of FOMO, the “Fear of Missing Out,” was written back in 2000 by a marketing strategist named Dan Herman. Since then the term has become ubiquitous, especially among young people. It’s led to spin-offs such as FOBO, the “Fear of a Better Option,” and FODA, “the Fear of Doing Anything.” An article in the Boston News explains it this way: “With the advent of social media, FODA has become a major issue: FOMO sufferers report being unable to tear themselves away from their Facebook and Instagram feeds, ironically making it harder to engage in real life. For many, the fear of missing out has become self-fulfilling.”

In a world of increasingly intense and unique social pressure, coupled with age-old scholastic pressure, how can teens find peace? If you clicked on this article, you probably fall into one of two categories. Maybe you are the sufferer—the teen or preteen who aches for peace but feels as though it’s a distant illusion. Or perhaps you are the encourager—the friend or parent who longs to help, but doesn’t know where to begin. The following are a few practical strategies for each of you.

For the Sufferer

  1. Live life in small moments. Viewing your day or week as one event can be overwhelming. At Grace we value simple steps. Keep asking, “What is my goal for this one moment?”
  2. Cut out what is unnecessary in your life. To curb stress and anxiety, be willing to ask hard questions and cut back on what is not necessary. Sometimes “good” can be the enemy of what’s best. 
  3. Limit what causes your stress and anxiety. If your Instagram feed and Snapchats make you feel like you don’t measure up, or fear that you are missing out, consider taking a break for a period. If particular people are toxic in your life, avoid spending time with them. This can be a very courageous decision to make, but also incredibly helpful. 
  4. Prioritize rest and exercise. Make sure to get adequate sleep each night. It may sound counterintuitive, but exercise actually promotes healthy sleep because it releases stress and energy.
  5. Invite others into your life to help. We were never meant to do life alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Share what weighs on your heart and mind with friends and family. 
  6. Claim God’s promises and cling to them with perseverance. Write down specific promises from the Bible and put them where you can see them. Spend time with God by reading His Word and communicating to Him in prayer, even on the days when you don’t want to. Pace yourself and be gracious with yourself. Simple steps will remind you that it’s not about quantity but quality. Short moments with God can be just as meaningful as long ones.

For the Encourager

  1. Be a listener. You don’t always have to have all the answers. Learn how to prioritize asking the right questions more than offering solutions.
  2. Be long-suffering. Be gracious even if it doesn’t look like the person struggling is making changes at the rate you think is appropriate. There is no quick fix for anxiety and depression. Be patient as God is patient with us.
  3. When possible, bear the burdens of others. If there are ways to help relieve stress, be willing to come alongside and help. Serve when and how you can. 
  4. Hold out a Jesus who alone understands, even when we cannot. When you cannot understand or relate, point to Jesus. Charles Spurgeon, who faced a lifelong battle with depression, once wrote, “When we search for someone, anyone, to know what it means to walk in our shoes, Jesus emerges as the preeminent and truest companion for our afflictions. Those who suffer depression have an ally, a hero, a companion-redeemer, advocating for the mentally-harassed.” 

This Advent, cling to the Prince of Peace. He is the Champion of the unexpected—strength in the face of sorrow (John 16:33), beauty instead of ashes (Isaiah 61:3), and peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).