Feeling like there are too many pressures and demands on you? Losing sleep worrying about tests and schoolwork? Eating on the run because your schedule is just too busy?

You're not alone. Everyone feels stressed out at times — adults, teens, and even kids. But you can avoid getting too stressed out by handling everyday pressures and problems, staying calm, asking for help when you need it, and making time to relax.

What Is Stress?

Stress is a response to pressure or threat. Under stress we may feel tense, nervous, or on edge. The stress response is physical, too. Stress triggers a surge of a hormone called adrenaline that temporarily affects the nervous system. As a result, when you're nervous or stressed you might feel your heartbeat or breathing get faster, your palms get sweaty, or your knees get shaky.

The stress response is also called the fight-or-flight-response. It's an automatic response that prepares us to deal with danger.

But a situation doesn't have to be physically dangerous to activate the stress response. Everyday pressures can activate it, too. For example, you might feel stress before taking a test or a giving class presentation, facing a tough opponent in a sport, or going on stage for a performance.

Even in these situations (which are hardly life-or-death), the stress response activates to help you perform well under pressure. It can help you rise to a challenge and meet it with alertness, focus, and strength. Facing these challenges — rather than backing away from them — is a part of learning and growing. 

When the challenge is over, the stress response lets up. You can relax and recharge, and be ready for a new challenge. 

When Stress Doesn't Ease Up

Stress doesn't always happen in response to things that are immediate and over with quickly. Ongoing or long-term events, like coping with a divorce or moving to a new neighborhood or school, can cause stress, too. 

Long-term stressful situations can produce a lasting, low-level stress that can leave a person feeling tired or overwhelmed. Finding ways to cope with the difficult situation can prevent this from happening, and ease stress that's been lasting. Sometimes, people need help to deal with difficult situations that lead to intense or lasting stress. 

Keep Stress Under Control

Here are some things that can help keep stress under control:

  • Take a stand against overscheduling. If you're feeling stretched, consider cutting out an activity or two, choosing just the ones that are most important to you.

  • Be realistic. Don't try to be perfect — no one is. Don't put unnecessary pressure on yourself. If you need help with something like schoolwork or dealing with a loss, ask for it.

  • Get a good night's sleep. Getting enough sleep helps keep your body and mind in top shape, making you better equipped to deal with any negative stressors. Because the biological "sleep clock" shifts during adolescence, many teens prefer staying up a little later at night and sleeping a little later in the morning. But if you stay up late and still need to get up early for school, you may not get all the hours of sleep you need.

  • Learn to relax. The body's natural antidote to stress is called the relaxation response. It's the opposite of stress, and is a feeling of well-being and calm. You can activate the relaxation response simply by relaxing. Learn and practice easy breathing exercises, then use them when you're caught up in stressful situations. 
  • Make time for fun. Build time into your schedule for activities you enjoy — read a good book, play with your pet, laugh, do a hobby, make art or music, spend time with positive people, or be in nature.

  • Treat your body well. Get regular exercise and eat well to help your body function at its best. When you're stressed out, it's easy to eat on the run or eat junk food. But under stressful conditions, you need good nutrition more than ever.

  • Find the upside. 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 of stressful circumstances — and even recognize something you've learned from the situation.

  • Solve the little problems. Take action to solve problems that crop up. For example, if you're stressed out over homework, size up the situation and figure out ways to handle it better.

  • Build positive relationships. Knowing that there are people who believe in us boosts our ability to deal with challenges. Ask for help and support when you need it. Share what you're going through — including the good things that are happening.

You can do things to handle the stress that comes along with any new challenge, good or bad. Stress-management skills work best when they're practiced ahead of time, not just when the pressure's on. Knowing how to "de-stress" and calm yourself can help you get through challenging circumstances.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2019 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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