Just look at all these Tweets! It turns out you guys are all stressed out?!
Who knew? Well, you all knew, that is for sure. And I knew. A while ago, the American Psychological Association came out with a big report on Teen Stress that made the news. All the headlines said: “Teen stress approaches that of adults” and that went out all over the news outlets. So probably now, the adults around you know a bit more about teen stress too.
I think often adults forget how stressful being a teen can be. In fact, I have heard time and time again from young people such as you, that adults really don't "get" or believe teen stress exists to the degree that it does. And as a result adults sometimes aren’t as sympathetic to your stress level as you’d like. But that is because all of life is stressful, so the adults around you are dealing with their own stress. And because all of life is stressful, it is really important to understand stress and to learn good and healthy coping mechanisms that work for you.
And that is what this post is all about. We'll go into exactly what stress is, what it feels like, is it stress or anxiety, and finally, what tools can help you manage your stress.
Now, if you are feeling so stressed that you are worried about hurting yourself, the Suicide Prevention Hotline is there for you: 1-800-273-TALK. Your doctor can help you, your family, your friends, and your school counselors and nurses. Just reach out for help – there are people in your life that really want to help you!
Moving on….. This video from the BBC is great at describing what stress is.
As so nicely defined by the CDC, “Stress is a condition that is often characterized by symptoms of physical or emotional tension. It is a reaction to a situation where a person feels threatened or anxious.” It is your body reacting to a situation with its “fight or flight” response that you hear about all the time. That heart-pounding, blood-pressure-soaring sort of reaction. Now, not all stress is bad stress – for instance, stress can be positive (e.g., preparing for a big event like graduation or performing in a big show, or finally going on a date with your crush) or negative (e.g., dealing with a tough class, worrying about your family’s financial situation, having tension in a close relationship). And we need some stress sometimes for us to perform our best (class oral report, big playoff game, debate match, college or job interview). In fact, dealing with stress helps you learn how to deal with challenges and difficult situations later in life. But sometimes (or maybe often, as the case may be) stress can become exhausting and make you unable to function.
What does stress feel like?
You probably could tell me this! That APA study I mentioned when we started, reported that teens like yourselves often felt they had an unhealthy level of stress.
In that study, the most common stress related symptoms that teens experience are:
- Feeling irritable or angry (40% of teens in the past month)
- Feeling nervous or anxious (36%)
- Feeling tired (36%)
- Lying awake at night (35%)
- Headaches (32%)
- Feeling as though they could cry (32%)
- Feeling overwhelmed (31%)
- Feeling sad or depressed (30%)
- Having a change in sleeping habits (26%)
- Having upset stomach (21%)
What about you – which do you feel? Others like clammy hands? Jittery? Lightheaded? Heart racing? Something else? Which gets me to a related point. Sometimes you may feel the symptoms that stress causes, but not realize that you are stressed. It may require some thought to sort out what might be the source of stress that is making you feel bad, so that you can come up with a game plan to manage it so it doesn’t mis-manage you! Of course, you may have any or all of these symptoms WITHOUT them being due to stress – and that is something your regular doctor can help you sort out.
What is causing all this stress?
Let me sum up what you already know! The most common source of stress in teens is school-related (shocker, I know), but another one is time management with a bunch of academic and social and family demands and only a 24-hour day (during which sleep is not optional) but I digress. Then there are your friendships, relationships, your changing body, family problems (divorce, chronic health problems in the family) and family financial stresses, feeling not good enough, and on and on and on.
So, how do you know if what you are feeling with the jitters and fluttery stomach and irritability, is stress or anxiety?
Now that is a good point - we often use the words “stress” and “anxiety” interchangeably even though they are not the same thing. A good way to think about it, is stress is your body’s reaction to an external situation – like a test, an argument, a difficult basketball game, a challenging part of a play that you are in, etc. Anxiety is worrying about the worry, rather than about something that is happening. Worrying about what COULD happen. Having constant worries about school or friends or illness. Perhaps having repetitive rituals or unwanted thoughts. You can get all the same physical symptoms as those with stress, but unlike stress, it doesn’t get better when a stressful situation goes away. It stays there and you worry about the next thing. Your doctor can help you if you think you might have anxiety that is interfering with your life.
OK, here is another video for you – real teens, like you, talking about what stresses them out. But then also, what they DO to manage their stress. Maybe one of these tips will help you:
Well, there are the basics I say again and again: Eat a healthy diet (now, there is room for fun food in there too – just don’t let the fun food take over everything you eat!) – and sleep a healthy amount. For the average teen, we are talking 9 hours. A NIGHT! Yes, YOU! Your body needs fuel and rest to deal with the stressful stuff that life throws your way.
And then you can try these things:
- Get outside – there is a lot of data that shows that contact with nature decreases stress.
- Music is a great stress buster.
- Get some exercise (if you play an outdoor sport or even take a long walk you are killing 2 birds with one stone (OK, maybe not the best imagery when we are talking about nature, but you get what I am saying).
- Take a break – with reading or drawing or playing a video game or chatting with friends.
- Take a breath. Seriously, deep breathing exercises helps to settle down the racing heart and the soaring blood pressure and the panting breathing that stress brings on. If you can quiet down the physical symptoms of stress, then you can start to collect your thoughts to tackle the problem of what is causing your stress.
- Nice transition to the next point – take that stressful situation and break it down into doable tasks. Examples: Make a study plan for exam week. Rehearse what you are going to say when you see that friend you had a huge fight with.
- Talk nicely to yourself – banish all that negative talking you do to yourself.
- Remember that every time you successfully get through a stressful situation, you have learned skills that will take you through life to help you get through those as well.