What is stress?
Stress is what you feel when you react to pressure, either from the outside world (school, work, after-school activities, family, friends) or from inside yourself (wanting to do well in school, wanting to fit in). Stress is a normal reaction for people of all ages. It's caused by your body's instinct to protect itself from emotional or physical pressure or, in extreme situations, from danger.
Is stress always bad?
No. In fact, a little bit of stress is good. Most of us couldn't push ourselves to do well at things – sports, music, dance, work, school – without feeling the pressure of wanting to do well. Without the stress caused by a deadline, most of us also wouldn't be able to finish projects or get to work or school on time.
If stress is so normal, why do I feel so bad?
With all the things that happen at your age, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Things that you can't control are often the most frustrating. Maybe your parents are fighting, or your social life is a mess. You can also feel bad when you put pressure on yourself – like pressure to get good grades or to get promoted at your part-time job. A common reaction to stress is to criticize yourself. You may even get so upset that things don't seem fun anymore and life looks pretty grim. When this happens, it's easy to think there's nothing you can do to change things. But you can! See the tips below.
Signs you're stressed out
- Feeling depressed, edgy, guilty, tired
- Having headaches, stomachaches, trouble sleeping
- Laughing or crying for no reason
- Blaming other people for bad things that happen to you
- Only seeing the down side of a situation
- Feeling like things that you used to enjoy aren't fun or are a burden
- Resenting other people or your responsibilities
Things that help fight stress
- Eating well-balanced meals on a regular basis
- Drinking less caffeine
- Getting enough sleep
- Exercising on a regular basis
How can I deal with stress?
Although you can't always control the things that are stressing you out, you can control how you react to them. The way you feel about things results from the way you think about things. If you change how you think, you can change the way you feel. Try some of these tips to cope with your stress:
Make a list of the things that are causing your stress. Think about your friends, family, school and other activities. Accept that you can't control everything on your list.
Take control of what you can. For example, if you're working too many hours and you don't have time to study enough, you may need to cut back your work hours.
Give yourself a break. Remember that you can't make everyone in your life happy all the time. And it's okay to make mistakes now and then.
Don't commit yourself to things you can't do or don't want to do. If you're already too busy, don't promise to decorate for the school dance. If you're tired and don't want to go out, tell your friends you'll go another night.
Find someone to talk to. Talking to your friends or family can help because it gives you a chance to express your feelings. However, problems in your social life or family can be the hardest to talk about. If you feel like you can't talk to your family or a friend, talk to someone outside the situation. This could be your priest or minister, a school counselor or your family doctor.
What are some things that don't help you deal with stress?
There are safe and unsafe ways to deal with stress. It's dangerous to try to escape your problems by using drugs and alcohol. Both can be very tempting, and your friends may offer them to you. Drugs and alcohol may seem like easy answers, but they're not. Using drugs and alcohol to deal with stress just adds new problems, such as addiction, or family and health problems.
I've tried dealing with my stress, but I just feel like giving up.
This is a danger sign. Stress can become too much to deal with. It can lead to such awful feelings that you may think about hurting – or even killing – yourself. When you feel like giving up, it may seem like things will never get better. Talk to someone right away. Talking about your feelings is the first step in learning to deal with them and starting to feel better.
National Youth Crisis Hotline
National Adolescent Suicide Hotline (also called the National Runaway Switchboard)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff