How to Help Your Overwhelmed Teen

How to Help Your Overwhelmed Teen

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that tackling your to do list feels equivalent to hiking a mountain? Your mind is flooded with questions like where, when, and how to begin your trek. Then someone says, “just start” or “do the best you can”, “have you e-mailed your guide?” While well intended, not helpful.

 With a new school year already here, many students are returning to classes that feel far from normal due to the pandemic. Your teenager may be feeling overwhelmed as they look at their mountain of assignments, college applications, and general high school activities. It’s totally normal to question how to approach them, without doing too much, but also offering relief.   

In this post, I will share how you can actually help your overwhelmed student move towards productivity and self-belief.

Take a Step Back

When we feel overwhelmed, it’s easy to spiral into thoughts about all the things we think we must do in a short amount of time. To separate ourselves from the thinking that feels so true, let’s take a step back to be still and present. In Mindsight, author and clinical professor of psychiatry Daniel Siegel shares “The Wheel of Awareness” technique that I found easy to try and very impactful. Your teen may feel reluctant because this exercise takes time away from working on homework. But this technique and other mindfulness exercises, such as focusing on breath, will save them time in the long run by disrupting the flood of thoughts contributing to the overwhelm. In turn, helping them focus and impacting the quality of their attention when getting to work.

Decide What’s Most Important Right Now

When your teen is feeling the mountainous overwhelm, it’s because they think they have no choice in all the things they have to do. While most tasks are nonnegotiable, your teen can decide what is the most important right now. Whether that’s completing the night’s homework or mapping out the strategy for the ACT next month, deciding what is most important results in the weight of everything else to dissipate. Acknowledging that every single thing doesn’t need to be completed right now, or at all, serves as a reminder that our ability to choose is present in everything we do.

One Step at a Time

Remember that elephant? Beginning with one “bite” at a time will allow your teen to take the first step accompanied by the belief that they can do this. I’ve personally found it helpful to think about strength training and the process of building muscle. The outcome is produced by every single rep, set, workout, and continued regimen. Thinking about the next set before me feels manageable, as compared to months of consistency I’m striving for. After completing the first few steps, we generate momentum and continue strengthening our belief in ourselves.

Unhelpful Thinking

Help them be on the lookout for thoughts that sound like they are behind or should be much further along. When we entertain thoughts like this, it derails our focus from the here and now (which is all we can control), with zero upside. Instead of interpreting and using a situation against ourselves, we can decide there isn’t anything wrong with us and we are moving towards growth, one task at a time. We are exactly where we are supposed to be.

As Byron Katie says,  “when you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.”



After making progress and feeling less overwhelmed, it’s important  to take some time to recognize the work they’ve put in. When owning their results, they see the impact of their choices. This creates empowerment knowing what we do does makes a difference. 

Life will always challenge us in unexpected ways. Your teen can use this experience as a time when they figured it out and came out on the other side.


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