Stress is a feeling that’s created when you react to certain events. It’s the body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness.
However, stress can become a problem when it starts to affect how you cope with day-to-day stuff.
How does stress affect the body?
The human body responds to events that provoke stress (stressors) by activating the nervous system and specific hormones. The hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands to produce more of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, and release them into the bloodstream.
These hormones speed up heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. The physical changes prepare you to react quickly and effectively to handle the pressure of the moment.
This natural reaction is known as the stress response. Working properly, the body’s stress response improves your ability to perform well under pressure.
What causes you to over-stress?
Stress affects everybody in a different way. What causes one person to become over-stressed may not have the same effect on someone else.
Many things may cause people to become over-stressed, including:
- problems at school or work
- sexual, physical or emotional abuse
- new responsibilities
- moving to a new place
- a traumatic event – such as the death of a loved one
- new or chronic illness or disability
- peer pressure, being bullied
- unrealistic expectations placed on you by yourself, friend, family or culture.
What can happen?
If you become over-stressed, it can have unwanted consequences for your health – both physical and psychological. Some of these may include:
- feeling hostile, angry, or irritable
- feeling anxious
- avoiding other people
- moodiness – feeling frustrated with things that normally don’t bother you
- low self-esteem or lack of confidence
- anxiety attacks
- depression or sadness
- upset stomach, diarrhoea or indigestion
- inability to sleep
- eating too much or too little
- raised heart-rate
If you’re experiencing any of these problems you might want to talk to your local doctor, youth worker or school counsellor – have a read of the benefits of talking to someone.
Relationships and stress
Maintaining relationships with friends, family, people we work with, or boyfriends/girlfriends can be really tough at times, and make you stressed. This might be because you have different values or expectations from each other.
There are times when situations can be helped, or conflict avoided by effective communication. This is something we need to learn and doesn’t come naturally to all of us.
If the relationship still causes you stress, talk to someone about what’s upsetting you. Talking to someone you trust helps you to work out why you’re stressed out by the relationship and what you can do about it.
It’s not usually possible to completely remove the stress from your life. But, managing it is definitely possible and lets you get on with things. Here’s some ideas for how to do that:
Go for a walk or run – exercising can be a really good way of relieving stress. It helps to get rid of all that pent up energy and can leave you feeling much calmer. Any sort of exercise can be good.
Hang out with friends - you might need to take your mind off things for a while. Hanging out with friends is one way of doing that. You might find that similar things stress you all out, so talking about your problems with them may be helpful.
Take some deep breaths – deep breathing can help to relax the body and calm you down. Taking deep breaths before an exam, game, job interview or before going on stage can help to calm you down and focus on what it is you are about to do.
Set realistic goals – becoming over-stressed may make it harder to keep things in perspective. Setting realistic goals (both for the short-term and long-term) and priorities, and time management, can be really useful ways of managing your stress.
Have multiple options to achieve your goals - there’s never just one way to achieve something. It’s important not to put all your eggs into one basket – investigate and plan other ways to get to where you want to go, whether it’s a college degree, job, or holiday.
Try to avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine – it may be tempting to use smoking and alcohol as a means of managing your stress. Try to avoid using these things as a way of coping, as in the long run they may make you more stressed out.
Watch what you’re thinking - your outlook, attitude, and thoughts influence the way you see things. Is your cup half full or half empty? A healthy dose of optimism can help you make the best out of stressful circumstances. Even if you’re out of practice, or tend to be a bit of a pessimist, everyone can learn to think more optimistically and reap the benefits.
Speak to someone – if you’re finding you’re always stressed and it’s hard to carry on with day-to-day stuff, it may be helpful to talk to someone about it. Parents, teachers, a school counsellor or youth worker are people that may be able to help you cope. Check out the benefits of talking to someone.
See face-to-face help for more information on who can help you.
Try a breathing exercise
As well as taking deep breaths try to learn some breathing exercises. Here’s one to start you off.
Measure your pulse
To do this you need a watch, a clock or your mobile phone with a stopwatch function. Turn the palm side of your hand facing up. Place your index and middle fingers of your opposite hand on your wrist, approximately two fingers below the base of your hand. Press your fingers down in the groove between your middle tendons and your outside bone. You should feel your pulse throbbing.
Count the number of beats for 10 seconds, then multiply this number by 6. This will give you your heart rate per minute. Example: if you count 12 beats in 10 seconds, multiply
12 x 6 = 72. Your pulse is 72 beats per minute. A normal resting pulse rate (that is when you are sitting or lying still) is between 60 and 90 beats per minute.
- Put your hands on your stomach
- Breath in and then out, counting how long it takes each way.
- On the next breath, breath in for five seconds and out for five seconds. Do this for 10 breaths, making a conscious decision to try and relax as much as possible.
- For 10 more breaths, breath in for seven seconds and out for seven seconds.
- Measure your pulse rate. It should be lower, as the exercise has started bringing your breathing and your heart rate to its optimal level.
When you notice you’re stressed, try breathing in for five seconds and out for five seconds for just three breaths.
At the end of each day, no matter how stressed you feel, do the breathing exercises. Like any kind of skill, practice makes perfect. Doing the slow breathing when you’re not stressed will mean you’re primed for those pressure situations.