Stress is a normal reaction to certain tasks or events in our lives, which happens automatically in our bodies. However, when stress gets too much and goes on for too long it stops being helpful to us, eventually this can become a risk to our mental health.

Stress can build up without us really noticing, so it is important to look out for early signs that things are getting too much or starting to feel out of control, then we can take steps to reduce it and find some healthy ways to cope.

 

Signs of too much stress include:

  • Feeling under pressure or overwhelmed all the time
  • Feeling you can’t cope
  • Feeling tense, anxious or panicky all the time
  • Feeling low, irritable, moody or ‘burned out’
  • Losing your temper lot
  • Finding it hard to concentrate or make decisions
  • Blocking out difficult feelings by using drugs or alcohol

 

Stress can also give you physical symptoms, you might:

  • Have lots of headaches, stomach aches or muscle pains
  • Feel sick, dizzy or light headed
  • Have a racing heart or shaky hands
  • Feel exhausted and run down
  • Lose your appetite, or only feel like eating sugary, fatty foods
  • Find it hard to sleep
  • Get lots of colds, coughs, cold sores, mouth ulcers or infections.

 

Stress is a normal response to certain tasks, pressures or events in our lives, causing a reaction in our bodies and our minds. You may have heard of the ‘fight or flight response’ – this is when your body gets a surge of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which make you more alert and ready to react – it is very useful when we are threatened or in danger and need to run away from a bear, or rescue someone from a burning building! However, when this reaction occurs regularly in situations where there is no real physical threat it can start to have a negative impact on both our mental and physical health.

Watch our video World of Science’ for an alternative perspective on ‘fight or flight’.

There are many reasons why you might feel over-stressed, different things cause stress in different people and often stress is the build-up of lots of things rather than a single event.

These are some of the things that can cause or add to feelings of stress:

  • Pressure from school/college work and exams
  • Lots of change – starting at a new school or college or moving to a new area for example
  • Problems with friendships or your boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Arguing with your parents or lots of conflict at home
  • Being bullied
  • Your parents/carers splitting up
  • Financial problems in your family
  • Having a lot of responsibilities – for example having to care for a parent or sibling, on top of school work
  • Being homeless
  • Being a young parent
  • Someone close to you being ill or dying

See Epic Friends  or The Mix for more information about stress and tips on how to manage it

There are lots of things we can do to reduce stress – although you may feel you don’t have time to make changes actually you will find you are able to get more done when you are not so stressed out.

1. Take time out – take some time to unwind and relax. Here are some suggestions, find what works for you:

  • Make some ‘me time’ – take a bubble bath or a long, hot shower.
  • Read a book, watch a film, play computer games or listen to music
  • Go for a walk or a swim
  • Have a duvet day
  • Distract yourself – watch TV or read a magazine
  • Spend time with friends, family or pets
  • Try yoga or mindfulness or use relaxation techniques and breathing exercises

2. Look after your body – stress can be draining, being kind to our bodies will help us cope better.

Eat a healthy diet – although you might crave fatty, sugary foods or turn to energy drinks and caffeine these will only increase stress and tiredness. Try to eat a healthy diet including lots of fruit and vegetables, drink plenty of water and don’t skip meals!

Regular exercise helps to get rid of negative energy and releases ‘feel good’ chemicals in our brains that helps to boost mood. Try going for a run, cycle, swim or surf, or join a dance or boxing class. Playing Wii Fit, doing or punching a punch bag in your bedroom also count as exercise!

3. Get plenty of sleep – get some early nights and try to wind down before you go to bed – turn off the technology, stop working or studying, maybe take a bath or have a hot drink. Listen to music or watch TV if you are finding it hard to switch off.

4. Avoid using drugs, alcohol or smoking to cope with stress – these will only provide temporary relief and can make things worse in the long run

5. Talk – a problem shared is a problem halved! Talking to friends, family or professionals can help to put problems in to perspective.

6. Get creative – express difficult feelings creatively, they are better out than in! Creative activities can also be relaxing. You could try drawing, colouring, painting, writing poetry, lyrics or short stories, making music, dancing, doing crafts or baking.

7. Connect with nature – spending some time outdoors each week has been proven to reduce stress and improve wellbeing. Getting some fresh air, looking around us and noticing the landscape and wildlife can ‘blow away the cobwebs’ and boost our mood.

8. Make time for fun and laughter – do something you enjoy each day, take up a new hobby, play a computer game or socialise with friends or family. Humour and laughter are great ways to relieve stress, so find things to laugh at every day.

9. Switch off from technology – while social media is a great way to keep in touch it can also add to our stresses and anxieties. If you are feeling stressed by social media try taking a few days off and see how you feel.

10. Take control – feeling in control of a situation helps you to cope with it better. Try breaking down tasks or problems which feel huge in to smaller chunks that you can tackle one at a time. You can also prioritise things – think about what is most important right now and what can wait. If you are feeling stressed about exams, then you might want to try writing a revision timetable with small tasks to achieve each day. Problems are easier to deal with one at a time, and writing things down can make them seem less scary.

But … pick your battles – there are lots of things in life we cannot change or control. Sometimes it is just best to accept that these things (or people!) are as they are, and focus on what we can control or change instead.

11. Practise positive thinking – this doesn’t mean ignoring difficult situations, it means trying to approach these with a more positive and productive attitude. Changing the way you think about stressful things can help you to cope with them better. Try replacing negative and unhelpful thoughts such as ‘I can’t cope’ or ‘I’m going to fail’ with more positive and realistic ones – ‘I can do this, I’ve done it before’, ‘I’ve done the work and will do my best on the day’.

And don’t beat yourself up – we tend to be much harder on ourselves than we are on others. Try following this simple rule – ‘don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend’.

12. Ask for help – you don’t have to cope alone, if things feel really overwhelming then it is important to ask for help from a parent/carer, trusted adult or professional.

Myth buster #1

Myth: All stress is bad

Fact: People tend to talk about stress as if it is totally negative, actually some forms of stress can be good for us! A little bit of stress or stimulation can help us to stay motivated and productive, it gives us energy and can help us to concentrate and focus, it drives us to meet deadlines or perform well in exams, sports or public speaking for example. This type of good stress is called ‘eustress’ – it can feel exciting and even enjoyable. Without any stress we could feel very lethargic, lazy and even bored. Stress becomes a problem when it is long lasting and feels overwhelming.

Watch this TED talk to find out how to make stress your friend!

Myth buster #2

Myth: Stress is a sign of success

Fact: We live in a society where busyness and stress seem to be worn like a badge of honour, showing how important and hardworking we are! However, while a little bit of stress and stimulation can motivate us to perform better, too much stress quickly overwhelms us and leads to underperformance. Overworking can lead to burn out in the end, rather than making us more successful – so remember to take a break.

Myth buster #3

Myth: Stress is everywhere and you can’t do anything about it.

Fact: There are lots of things you can do to reduce stress, for example setting priorities and problem solving rather than worrying, and making sure you build activities to help you unwind into your daily routine – this could include exercise, relaxation, a hobby or club, or just watching something you like on TV.

Useful resources

BASE

A self-help app for young people to manage stress, anxiety and depression

Stresshead

Try out the ‘Stresshead’ app for some immediate stress relief

Need help now?

If you need to speak to someone urgently call your GP or family doctor!

or

Childline up to 19yrs : 0800 1111
The Samaritans: 116 123
In an emergency go to A&E or call 999

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