You Can Deal With It. Here's How.
By Shari Levine
Do you ever get stressed? If the answer is yes, you are in good company. In our society it sometimes seems like being stressed and overworked is normal, and being relaxed and calm is rare. If you have ever been stressed out, you know that it can be an unpleasant feeling. But how do you know if what you are feeling is really stress, and then what can you do about it?
Stress is the body's reaction to change, and every person reacts to change differently. Anything that causes stress is called a stressor. Stressors can be both good and bad. A good stressor is something that motivates you to get stuff done like your homework. A bad stressor is something that makes you feel uncomfortable. There are four basic types of stressors:
- physiological (in your body)
- psychological (in your mind)
Environmental stressors are the annoying things that you usually cannot control. A good example of this is the weather. I live in Vermont, and therefore have to deal with a very long winter, sometimes lasting nine months! It is cold and snowy, and every day I have to wear layers of clothing, a hat, mittens, scarf, and boots just to go outside. This is okay for a couple of months, but when it is May and I am still wearing my winter coat, I get stressed! Another example of an environmental stressor is traffic. You may have seen some drivers (maybe even your parents) get very upset in traffic, especially when the driver is running late.
You may have to deal with unsafe living conditions, especially if you live in a city such as parts of Manhattan or Los Angeles, or a high crime neighborhood where there are drugs or guns being used and sold. Feeling unsafe in your home environment or school can be extremely stressful for a girl. One way to relieve some of this stress is to take a self-defense class. Ask your parents or someone at your school, church or synagogue where you can find a self- defense class for women. Often the YMCA will offer these classes at a low cost.
Any change or adjustment having to do with yourbody is considered a physiological stressor. The best example of this is puberty and the teen years. There may be times when your body is growing and changing so much that you do not even recognize yourself. Your pants are too short, you need to wear a bra and to top it all off, you have zits to deal with. Stress can be the result of other changes in your body such as an illness, lack of sleep or exercise, and unhealthy eating habits.
Sometimes young people get sick, or get into serious accidents. Kids can get illnesses such as diabetes or cancer. The changes that can occur in your life after an accident or the diagnosis of an illness are physical, emotional and mental. Think about when you have had a bad cold and you didn't want to get out of bed. You could not do many of the fun things you normally do like go to school, play with friends or even fight with your brothers and sisters. If you are sick, try to maintain a positive attitude and talk to your parents and doctors when you are feeling stressed or depressed.
The way your mind reacts to changes in the environment or your body is called a psychological stressor. Walter B. Cannon, a researcher at HarvardUniversity in the late 1800s first described the "flight or fight response" as the body's way of preparing to deal with danger. If you were a cavewoman, you would have needed a quick burst of energy to either fight or flee from large animals that could eat you. A modern example of this is when you are crossing the street and a car is speeding toward you. Your heart begins to race and you breath heavily. You decide not to fight the oncoming car, so you take flight and run to safety.
Finally, we all must deal with social stressors in our lives. You know about these: demanding teachers, controlling parents, and too much homework are a few things that can cause a lot of stress in a girl's life. The pressure from friends to do something you do not want to do—like drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or have sex—can be intense. Other things like your parents getting divorced, a death in the family or financial problems can be long-term stressors.
Now that you know what can cause stress, let's discuss what if feels like. As I said before, each person experiences stress differently. You may feel some or all of the following symptoms when you are stressed:
- Physical: muscle tension, especially in your back and neck; a shaky, jittery feeling; pain in your mouth from clenching or grinding your teeth; stomach ache, diarrhea or heartburn; a headache; fast heartbeat and breathing; or changes in your eating or sleeping habits.
- Emotional/mental: you can't concentrate; you find yourself daydreaming or less interested in school you argue a lot with teachers, friends, and parents; you feel sad or depressed; or you want to be alone more than usual.
Many of the things that cause you to feel stressed are temporary, you fight with your best friend, and make up the next day, or your parents make you go shopping with them on a Saturday when you wanted to go to the mall with friends, so you go with your friends on Sunday. During these times you may feel your body getting stressed, but that feeling goes away quickly.
When something is really bothering you, and it takes time to work out your feelings, you may feel stressed for a few days, a week or longer. Your parents getting a divorce is something that can make you feel stressed and sad while you are learning to deal with the huge changes in your family.
For many young people, their family is a source of stability and security. Changes in your family structure can be very stressful for all involved. Disruptions like an older brother or sister going to college, parents getting divorced, or an illness or death in the family can shake up the feelings of security and comfort that your family provides. The good news is that over time, things will not seem as bad as they did at first. But while you are waiting for time to pass, it is a good idea to talk to someone you trust about your feelings. This can be your parents, a teacher or a professional therapist. If you decide that you want to see a therapist, ask your parents or yourschool psychologist for a referral.
Don't let anyone tell you that your stress or problems are not real. Adults can sometimes be insensitive to the concerns of young people.
It is really important to deal with your stress in a healthy way.
Not dealing with it is unhealthy. Choosing to drink alcohol or do drugs to deal with stress is very unhealthy for many reasons. First, doing these things does not solve the problem or deal with what is making you stressed. It may or may not make you feel better for a very short time, but the stressed out feeling will always return if you do not deal with it directly. Second, using substances like alcohol or drugs to deal with problems only leads to more problems, like addictions. Use healthy stress busters to help you manage stress.
If you don't, it can build up inside of you. Eventually it will somehow get out, usually in an explosion of anger or tears.
People who do not deal with their stress, and let it build up are at risk for serious medial conditions. These include high blood pressure which can lead to a heart attack, stomach problems like ulcers (when excess acid burns a whole in the stomach), heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome (constant diarrhea). People who are always stressed are also more likely to become depressed, and depression can cause people to commit suicide.
Use these easy steps to squish your stress:
- Think about the source of your stress. Where is it coming from? Will it be over soon, or is it going to take some time to work it out? Is it something you can control, like talking to a friend who pissed you off, or not? For the best and fastest relief from stress, deal directly and assertively with the source.
- Ask yourself if this stress is disrupting your normal patterns of eating, sleeping, or physical activity. If the answer is yes, get yourself back on track by making an effort to eat healthy foods, and get back to your normal level of activity. Doing these things will help you to sleep better and that will make you a more relaxed person.
- Try one of the following stress busters:
- Talk it out with someone you trust. Sometimes just talking about the situation and getting another person's input can make you feel a lot better. But beware: do not let anyone tell you that your stress or problems are not real. Adults can sometimes be insensitive to the concerns of young people. They may say something like "what have you got to worry about, your life is so easy compared to mine!" Remember that your concerns and problems are just as important as anyone else's.
- Sweat it out. Sometimes a good, long, sweaty game of soccer, basketball or any physical activity that gets you moving can make you feel a lot more relaxed. Many people use exercise to relieve stress and clear the mind.
- Get it over with. Leaving things to the last minute like studying for a test can cause a lot of stress. If there is something you need to get done, do it!
- Relax. There are so many healthy ways to relax, it should not be hard to find something that works for you. Some people relax while listening to music, reading a good book, taking a bubble bath, or watching a funny movie. These are great things to do when you are at home, but sometimes you feel stressed and cannot physically leave the situation, like when you're in class or taking a test. At times like these, try this quick and easy exercise:
- Sit with your feet comfortably on the floor.
- Place your hands on your belly.
- Close your eyes (if you can).
- Focus only on your breathing.
- Take a deep breath in, feeling your belly rise under your hands.
- Let the breath out feeling your belly flatten under your hands.
- Continue to focus on breathing in and out. Follow your breath in your mind, saying to yourself, Breath in, breath out
Here's a fun breathing exercise which can really help you to relax or get rid of a tension headache. You may not want to do this one during class, read on and see what I mean.
- Sit with your feel comfortably on the floor.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb.
- Inhale slowly through your left nostril.
- Now, close your left nostril with your finger and open your right nostril by removing your thumb.
- Exhale slowly through your right nostril.
- Inhale through your right nostril.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and open your left nostril.
- Exhale through your left nostril. Inhale through your left nostril.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
This may seem difficult when you read it, but print this page and practice a few times. The following exercise can be used when you have trouble falling asleep.
I SEE, I HEAR, I FEEL
- Lie quietly in your bed and focus on your breathing.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
- Clear your mind of any thoughts or troubles.
- Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I see . Name five things you see from under your closed eyelids. It may be colors, shapes or just darkness.
- What do I hear . Name five things you hear in your bed. You may hear your breath, the television, or your parents talking
- What do I feel . Name five things you feel as you lie in your bed. You may feel the soft sheets, your pajamas, the pillow, or your braces.