Cool Links:

BAM Body & Mind - Stress-O-Meter - Interactive Quiz - The BAM site is designed for children 10-13 years of age and the site was created by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Basic Stress Relieving Games for Teens - Effective at lowering blood pressure, elevating mood, and increasing feelings of optimism.

A Teen's Guide to Managing Stress | Creating Your Personal Stress Relieving Plan

A Teen's Guide to Managing Stress

What is Stress?
What Causes Stress?
How Does the Body Handle Stress?
Is Stress Always Bad?
If Stress Is a Survival Tool, then Why Does It Make Us Feel Awful?
How Do People Deal with Stress?
Creating Your Personal Stress Reduction Plan.

What is 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!!

What Causes Stress?

Stress comes from many different places:

  • From your parents: "Hurry up, finish this, do your homework, go out for the team, practice your music, try out for the school play, do your best, stay out of trouble, make more friends, don't ever try drugs..."
  • From your friends: "Be cool, try this, show us you aren't a loser, and don't hang out with those dorks..."
  • And even from yourself: "I need to lose weight, wear the right clothes, get better grades, score more goals, and show my parents I'm not a baby..."

And from...

  • Watching parents argue
  • Figuring out how to be independent
  • Feeling pressure to get good grades
  • Thinking about the future
  • Being pressured to do something, like smoking.
  • Not being good enough at sports
  • Worrying about how your body is changing
  • Dealing with sexual feelings
  • Worrying about neighborhood or world problems
  • Feeling guilty

How Does the Body Handle Stress?

First, two short definitions:

  • Hormone - a chemical made by one part of the body to send a message to the rest of the body.
  • Nervous System - the brain, the spinal cord, and all of the nerves. The nerves send messages between your brain and the rest of your body.

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!

Is Stress Always Bad?

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
running away. They didn't think about anything but running... because they weren't supposed to stop and figure out a friendly way to settle their differences with the tiger.

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 prepared.
(You can be sure that the next time Sam and Zelda sat down to munch on berries, they listened for the sounds of a lurking tiger.)

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?

If Stress Is a Survival Tool, then Why Does It Make Us Feel Awful?

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.


  • Stress is an important tool that can help us survive.
  • The body reacts to stress when the brain, nervous system, and hormones tell the body to prepare for an emergency.
  • Emotions play an important role in how we experience stress. How we think about stress and what we choose to do about it affect how stress makes us feel.

How Do People Deal with Stress?

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:

  • Drugs
  • Cigarettes
  • Alcohol
  • Bullying
  • Fighting
  • Sex
  • Cutting/self mutilation
  • Skipping school
  • Eating disorders
  • Running away
  • Isolation
  • Gangs

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.

Stress Survival Skills:

  • Stress is an important tool that can help us survive.
  • Emotions play an important role in how we experience stress. How we think about stress and what we choose to do about it affect how stress makes us feel.
  • It is important to be able to identify the things that make you feel stressed out.
  • Stress that is not well managed can cause negative effects on both mental and physical health.
  • People who express themselves don't need to hold it inside. Creative outlets like art, music, poetry, singing, dance, and rap are powerful ways to let your feelings out.
  • Every young person deserves a responsible adult to talk to and some friends to trust. Have a support system and ask for help.
  • Write out your feelings of sadness, frustration or anger to get a clearer perspective of your emotions.
  • Give yourself permission to feel your emotions fully.
  • Be realistic—don't try to be perfect, no one is. And, expecting others to be perfect can add to your stress level.
  • Stress can cause such discomfort that people need to develop coping strategies that lessen these uncomfortable feelings. But there are "positive" and "negative" (drugs, smoking, and alcohol) ways of coping.
  • Because everyone is different in regards to what they find stressful or how they respond to it, developing a personal stress management plan is a positive coping strategy.
  • Treat your body well. Regular exercise helps people to manage stress, and eating well helps the body get the right fuel to function at its best. Getting enough sleep helps keep the body and mind in top shape, making you better equipped to deal with any negative stressors.

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