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Learning About Stress in Teens

What is stress?

Stress is your body's response to a hard situation. Your body can have a physical, emotional, or mental response. Stress is a fact of life for most teens, and it affects everyone differently. What causes stress for you may not be stressful for someone else.

A lot of things can cause stress. You may feel stress when you take a test, do a class presentation, or prepare for a sports event. This kind of short-term stress is normal and even useful. It can help you if you need to work hard or react quickly. For example, stress can help you finish an important job on time.

Stress also can last a long time. Long-term stress is caused by stressful situations or events. Examples of long-term stress may include pushing yourself to do well in school, feeling bad about your body or yourself, or having problems with your parents or family. Long-term stress can harm your health.

How does stress affect your health?

Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach before taking a test? Or felt your heart speed up when a teacher asked you a question you couldn't answer? These are symptoms of stress.

When you are stressed, your body responds as though you are in danger. It makes hormones that speed up your heart, make you breathe faster, and give you a burst of energy. This is called the fight-or-flight stress response. If the stress is over quickly, your body goes back to normal and no harm is done.

But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have bad effects. Long-term stress can make you more likely to get sick, and it can make symptoms of some diseases worse. If you tense up when you are stressed, you may develop neck, shoulder, or low back pain. And stress is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Stress also can change how you behave. You might feel cranky and get upset at small problems or get angry and yell at others. Stress might make it hard to focus on your schoolwork. Stress also can make you worry a lot or think that bad things are going to happen to you.

What can you do to manage stress?

How to relax your mind

  • Write. It may help to write about things that are bothering you. This helps you find out how much stress you feel and what is causing it. When you know this, you can find better ways to cope.
  • Let your feelings out. Talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when you need to. Talking with friends, family, a counsellor, or a member of the clergy about your feelings is a healthy way to relieve stress.
  • Do something you enjoy. For example, listen to music or go to a movie. Practice your hobby or do volunteer work.
  • Meditate. This can help you relax, because you are not worrying about what happened before or what may happen in the future.
  • Do guided imagery. Imagine yourself in any setting that helps you feel calm. You can use audiotapes, books, or a teacher to guide you.

How to relax your body

  • Do something active. Exercise or activity can help reduce stress. Get plenty of exercise every day. Go for a walk or jog, ride your bike, or play sports with friends.
  • Do breathing exercises. For example:
    • From a standing position, bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent. Let your arms dangle close to the floor.
    • Breathe in slowly and deeply as you return to a standing position. Roll up slowly and lift your head last.
    • Hold your breath for just a few seconds in the standing position.
    • Breathe out slowly and bend forward from the waist.
  • Try yoga or tai chi. These techniques combine exercise and meditation. You may need some training at first to learn them.

What can you do to prevent stress?

  • Feel good about how well you do things. You don't always have to be perfect.
  • Challenge bad thoughts. For example, don't think "I'll never get this right." Instead, think "I've been practicing a lot, so I'll do better this time."
  • Manage your time. This helps you find time to do the things you want and need to do. Break larger tasks into smaller ones. Write down what's very important and not so important to you, and use your list to help you make choices about how to best use your time.
  • Get enough sleep. Your body recovers from the stresses of the day while you are sleeping.
  • Get support. Your family, friends, and community can make a difference in how you experience stress.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.