Stress & How to Lower It

Young women's version of this guide
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Stressed student holding books, anxious, anticipation of finalsWhen you’re dealing with something challenging or upsetting, you might feel tense or stressed. You may have some good ways to deal with stress or may need help. This guide will give you more information about stress and what you can do about it.

What is stress?

When you’re stressed, you feel it in your body and mind. Here are some signs of stress:

  • Your heart beats faster
  • Your blood pressure goes up
  • Your muscles might tighten up
  • You may feel anxious
  • You may feel confused, or feel like you’re moving too fast
  • Your stomach might feel knotted up
  • You might feel more irritable or get into arguments more easily

What causes stress in our lives?

We live in an interesting, but also a hectic world. Teens can have lots of sources of stress, including:

  • Lots of homework and projects at school
  • Family tension as you try to be more independent from your parents
  • Pressure from friends to do risky things
  • Tension with your girlfriend or boyfriend
  • Difficult people in your life
  • Upsetting news about disasters, war, or personal tragedy
  • Not getting enough sleep

What are the effects of stress?

A certain amount of stress is OK, if it helps you deal with a short term problem. For example, if you’re stressed about writing a paper for school, and your stress causes you to ask your teacher for advice, and you finish the paper, then your stress has done its job.

In the short term, stress can:

  • Help you focus on a situation or solve a problem
  • Tire you out
  • Make you nervous or irritable

If, on the other hand, you’re stressed out day after day, your body may start sending you some warning signs that something’s really wrong. This kind of chronic stress can cause physical and emotional symptoms.

Long term stress can contribute to health problems such as:

  • Substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Self-Injury
  • Digestive problems
  • Lower immunity to colds and other illnesses
  • Trouble getting along with others
  • Bad mood

If you are getting stressed every day, you should take some steps to (1) lessen the number of stressors in your life, and (2) treat your body and mind to some stress-reduction techniques.

How can I lower my stress level?

Here are some ideas to lower your stress:

  • Simplify your life. Think about everything you’re supposed to be doing at the moment. If you see that there’s just too much to do TODAY, you’ll have to cut down on some activities to make your schedule more manageable.
  • Exercise is a great way to de-stress. Vigorous exercise releases chemicals in your body called endorphins, which make you feel happier and more relaxed. You don’t have to be a super-athlete to exercise. You can play sports at school, sign up for a class at your local YMCA, or go for a run.
  • Take a break. Find a quiet place to relax. Have a (healthy) snack. Read a book or a magazine, or even watch something low-key on TV.
  • Sleep. Even just a few nights in a row of not-enough-sleep can mess you up. One or two extra hours of sleep per night will leave you less stressed and feeling better overall.
  • Eat well. It can be tempting to overeat, undereat or eat a lot of junk food when stressed. It is helpful to make sure you eat enough and maintain good nutrition.
  • Meditation and prayer can help you feel calm, focused, and more positive. You can meditate or pray on your own, join a group, or get videos out from the library about different meditation and prayer techniques.
  • Writing. If you like writing, it can be a good way to de-stress. You may want to keep a journal or write a letter or a story.
  • Express yourself. In our culture we often try to convince people, especially guys, not to cry, as if it were a sign of weakness; but it really is no such thing. Crying can sometimes help you feel a lot better.
  • Talk to a friend or a trusted adult.

Note: A really harmful way to try to de-stress is by using drugs or alcohol, or binge eating. These may seem to make you feel better, but they have destructive effects on your life and your health. If you find yourself turning repeatedly to these harmful activities, it’s time to get counseling to help you deal more positively with your stress.

Some people like to distress by going online and chatting with friends or playing video games. Connecting with others can help you with stress but spending too much time online might make you more stressed. Also, when stressed, violent video games can increase stress.

What should I do if I’m dealing with extreme stress?

Sometimes the stressors in a person’s life get very serious. Some examples of an extreme stressor are: being in a serious accident; being the victim of a crime; violence in your family or neighborhood. These serious stressors can have lasting effects on your body and mind. Here are some resources for coping with
more extreme stress:

  • Parents or other trusted adults. If you feel that your stress is more than you can manage, you should definitely seek help. Have an in-depth talk with one of your parents, or another trusted adult in your life. Be as honest as you can about the stress you’re dealing with, and the effect it’s having on you. Confiding in a caring adult can help you feel less alone, and that person can help you find ways to manage your stress.
  • Counseling and medication. In addition to help from family members, counseling can be a great resource. It involves meeting with a professional who can help you figure out the cause of your stress, how to minimize it, and how to learn techniques for handling stress better in the future. Sometimes your health care provider will prescribe medication to help you manage your stress symptoms as they work with you to change your life so that it’s less stressful.

If you realize that you’re getting stressed out, keep in mind that you can do something about it. Stress-reduction activities can really help you keep your stress at a manageable, low level. If you start to develop good stress-reduction habits now, you’ll be able to use them in the future.

If you’re concerned about stress, here’s a tip on how to bring it up with your provider: “I’ve been feeling really stressed out lately, what can help?”.