A Teen's Guide to Managing Stress | Creating Your Personal Stress Relieving Plan
A Teen's Guide to Managing Stress
Stress is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you are worried, scared, angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed. It is caused by emotions, but it affects both your mood and your 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 comes from many different places:
First, two short definitions:
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 two different nerve pathways. One works while we're relaxed, and the other works when there's an emergency. These two systems cannot 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!
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.
Ages ago, when people had to survive in the jungle - where a tiger might leap out at any moment - the "emergency" nervous system was a great thing to have. Imagine your great, great, great ancestors, Sam and Zelda, eating some berries and soaking up the sun in the jungle. Suddenly they saw a tiger and they knew they had to RUN!!! Hormones gave them the huge burst of energy that they needed to escape.
How did their bodies react? First Sam and Zelda got that sinking feeling
in their stomachs as the blood in their bellies quickly went to their legs
so they could run fast. Then when they jumped to their feet, their hearts
beat faster to pump more blood. As they ran from the tiger, they breathed
faster to get more air. Their sweat cooled them as they ran. Their pupils
became bigger so they could see in the dark, in case they needed to jump
over a log while
Sam and Zelda would have never survived without the stress reaction.
But stress helps us do more than run from tigers. It keeps us alert and
Few of us need to outrun tigers today, but we all have problems and worries that turn on some of those same stress responses - like that panicky feeling you sometimes get when you're studying for a big test. Your heart beats almost as fast as it would if you were running from a tiger. Your breathing becomes heavier. You sweat and experience flashes of heat because your hormones are confused about why you aren't listening to them. Why are you standing still when they are telling you to run?
Good old Sam and Zelda had few choices when the tiger chased them. Either the tiger ate them or they escaped. As sick as it sounds, if they had been eaten, they wouldn't have much to worry about anymore, right? If they lived, you can be sure their burst of energy allowed them to outrun the tiger or at least outrun Zok (their slower friend who was eaten by the tiger instead of them). In their run for survival, Sam and Zelda used up every drop of their hormone burst and then took a well-deserved nap.
In the modern world, our biggest worries are not usually about life or death. We don't really have to run away from our problems. But those same stress hormones stay in our bodies because, unlike Sam and Zelda, we don't use them up by running. Instead, those hormones continue to hang around, unused and confused. They seem to be asking, "Why did my body stand still when that 'tiger' attacked?"
Even when there are no real emergencies, our emotions can make our bodies act like there is a huge crisis because the brain controls both emotions and stress hormones. If your brain thinks something terrible is happening your body will react as if it really is! Even a little bit of stress stress that never seems to go away can confuse the body. It makes the body work harder to prepare for an emergency that may not really be there.
A tiger running at you is a real crisis. If you believe a mild stress, like a math test, is an emergency, you will not be able to study. Your body will be preparing to deal with a real tiger, and you won't be able to concentrate on anything but escaping. The trick is to figure out when something is really an emergency and when your emotions are only treating it like one.
Nobody can avoid all stress, but you can learn ways to deal with it. When you are stressed, it is normal to want to feel better. Anything that makes you feel better is called a coping strategy. Negative strategies are easy, quick fixes, but they are harmful and make stress worse in the long run. Think about some of the ways people cope with stress that can really mess them up:
These harmful choices may help you feel good for a little while, but they can be dangerous. They end up messing up your life, and then you become a lot more stressed. They are especially dangerous if they are a major way you deal with stress because you are likely to turn to these behaviors more often if life gets harder. This is one of the ways addictions start. If you are doing some of these things, ask yourself, "WHY?" If it is to deal with problems, you should consider other ways of dealing with the same problems.
There are many healthy ways of coping. Healthy coping strategies are safe, help you feel better, and end up making you happy.