Even though stress makes us feel uncomfortable, it's not always a bad thing. Sometimes stress can really help us deal with tough situations. A lot of stress changes our bodies quickly and helps us react to an emergency. A little stress keeps us alert and helps us work harder.
What is stress?
Stress is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you're worried, scared, angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed. It is caused by emotions, but it affects your mood and body. Many adults think that kids don't have stress because they don't have to work and support a family. They are wrong! Stress can come from things that happen to you and people in your life like your parents, friends, and even yourself.
How does the body handle stress?
The body is a finely tuned machine that can change quickly to do what we need it to do—like react to stress. The body actually has 2 different sets of nerves. One works while we're relaxed, and the other works when we're stressed or there's an emergency. These 2 systems can't work together at the same time. It's important to know this because we can shut off the emergency system by turning on the relaxed system. That helps us feel better!
Ways you can deal with stress
Nobody can avoid all stress, but you can learn ways to deal with it. When you're stressed, it is normal to want to feel better. Some people turn to drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, bullying, or fighting. These harmful choices might feel good for a short time, but they can be dangerous. They end up messing up your life, and then you end up a lot more stressed. They're especially dangerous if they are the only way you manage stress.This is one of the ways addictions start.
There are many healthy ways of dealing with stress. They are safe, help you feel better, and end up making you happy. Here is a 10-point plan to help you manage stress. All of these ideas can lower stress safely. None of them are quick fixes, but they will lead you toward a healthy and successful life. The plan is divided into 4 parts.
When you read over the plan, you'll notice that you can come up with a bunch of ideas for each point. Please do not think you should try them all. This plan is supposed to help you manage stress, not give you more. Try out some ideas and then stick to one or two ideas for each point. Don't choose an idea just to impress someone else.
Tackling the problem
Point 1: Figure out what the problem is and make it manageable.
A lot of people deal with problems by ignoring them. This does not make them go away; usually they just get worse. People who try to fix their problems tend to be emotionally healthier.
Point 2: Avoid things that bring me down.
Sometimes we know exactly when we are headed for trouble. Avoiding trouble from a distance is easier than avoiding it up close. You know the people who might be a bad influence on you. You know the places where you're likely to get in trouble. You know the things that upset you. Choose not to be around those people, places, and things that mess you up.
Point 3: Let some things go.
It's important to try to fix problems, but sometimes there is nothing you can do to change them. For example, you can't change the weather, so don't waste your energy worrying about it. You can't change the fact that teachers give tests, so just start studying instead of complaining about how unfair they are. You can't change the fact that your parents need to know were you go, so prove to them that you are responsible and deserve more freedom. People who waste their energy worrying about things they can't change don't have enough energy left over to fix the things they can.
Taking care of my body
Point 4: Exercise.
Exercise every day to control stress and build a strong, healthy body. Exercise is the most important part of a plan to manage stress. You may think you don't have time to exercise when you're most stressed, but that is exactly when you need it the most. If you are stressed about a test but too nervous to sit down and study…exercise! You will be able to think better after you have used up that stress energy.
Regular exercise builds a strong body that better deals with stress. I will work my body hard at least 20 minutes every other day. The kinds of exercises I like to do routinely include
When I am feeling most worried, nervous, or fearful, a really hard physical workout will help me calm down. During these most stressful times, the kinds of things I might do include
Point 5: Learn to relax my body.
You can fool your body into being calmer by turning on the relaxed nervous system.
Point 6: Eat well.
Everyone knows good nutrition makes you healthier. But only some people know that it also keeps you alert and your mood steady. People who eat mostly junk food have highs and lows in their energy levels. This hurts their ability to manage stress.
Point 7: Sleep well.
Most kids don't get the sleep they need to grow and think clearly. Tired people can't learn as well and can be much crankier.
Managing my emotions
Point 8: Take instant vacations.
Sometimes the best way to de-stress is to imagine yourself in a more relaxing place.
Point 9: Release emotions.
Feelings sometimes get so strong and scary that we cram them all in an imaginary box and think we'll deal with them later. But later, there's so much stuff in the box that there is too much to deal with. Sometimes it's good to pick just one problem to work on and forget the rest for a while. When you decide to deal with only one problem at a time, it seems much less scary.
Making the world a better place
Point 10: Make the world a better place.
Young people who work to make the world better feel good about themselves. They have a sense of purpose and handle their own problems better. They learn that they can make a difference in other people's lives. We need young people to build a better world.
When to get help
Even if you are great at dealing with problems, there may be times when stress feels like it is getting to you. You are not alone. This does not mean you are crazy, weak, or a failure. Strong people turn to others for support when they have too much to handle. It's okay to turn to wise friends for advice, but it is also important to turn to your parents or another adult to help you. You deserve to feel good!
The following signs suggest that you should seek some extra guidance:
Remember that one of the best ways to be happy and successful is to manage stress well.
Adapted from Ginsburg KR, Jablow MM. A Parent's Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2006
Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics American Academy of Pediatrics