It’s not just the long list of to-do’s and school assignments due by the end of the week that stress us out. It’s the expectations, demands, comparison, pressure, isolation, jealousy, insecurity, depression, anxiety, uncertainty, questions, lack of answers, unknown, wanting to belong and fit into the world, noise of technology, feeling that the world is spinning wildly out of control – without us – that leaves us constantly feeling panicked.
God created us to respond to perceived danger. Stress is a nervous system reaction to mental or physical pressures or threats that trigger a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. It prepares us to deal with change through a “fight-or-flight” reaction. Anything that places a burden or stress in our life will result in this response. The majority of us are experiencing this extreme response nearly every moment of our life through daily accounts (such as deadlines and social pressure) rather than fatal extremes (such as physical attack that threaten our life). This constant struggle with stress is not normal, nor is it healthy. The more this feeling is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger and harder to shut off. This means that small stressors, now feel much bigger.
We were not made to sustain the feeling of stress for long periods of time. The same process that turns the stress response on, turns it off. As soon as we determine that we’re no longer in danger, our mind and body will relax and calm down. It’s important to convince our body and mind that it isn’t under pressure or threat every day. When we experience the stress response for long periods of time, we don’t have the resources left to fend off stress like usual. This is happening more and more as stresses heighten and demands increase.
Signs of Stress
It’s true that some stress is good, but significant stress levels can make us more susceptible to academic and relationship struggles, mental health problems and sickness. Therefore, it’s important to understand when we’re feeling overwhelmed by stress. Here are five signs to look out for:
- Emotional changes: becoming quickly agitated and irritated, struggling with anxiety and/or depression, skipping school, talking back or lashing out in anger.
- Physical changes: experiencing headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension or other increase in sickness.
- Cognitive changes: struggling to concentrate, stay on task or problem solve; experiencing forgetfulness, clumsiness or carelessness; increased worry, nervousness, restlessness or feeling on-edge.
- Sleep changes: having a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep, or wanting to sleep all day long.
- Social changes: isolating ourself or lacking an interest in interacting and engaging with friends.
Developmentally, our teenage brains aren’t fully fused together, therefore, we’re most likely not able to admit and verbally state that we’re stressed. This prevents us from being able to pinpoint what is causing the stress and how to overcome. As a result, we act out in one of the above ways, with emotional changes commonly being on the top of the list. This is normal, and okay. But, we can’t let our stress rule our lives and our relationships.
It’s essential for us to develop stress management skills. Managing our stress keeps us healthier and prevents us from feeling helpless. There are a plethora of skills that help manage stress. Each having it’s own benefits, making it easier to find the right technique for your personality and time. Some tactics may work for your entire life, while others are better for particular seasons, so test to see what works for you. Keep in mind that there are several ways to manage stress that aren’t included on this list:
- Participate in sports, physical activity and exercise.
- Social activities.
- Eat healthy foods regularly and avoid excess caffeine which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation.
- Establish a good sleep routine to ensure you receive enough sleep.
- Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.
- State feelings in a firm and assertive way, without yelling.
- Plan and prepare for situations that cause stress (for example: If you have a presentation in school, practice your presentation over and over again. Or, If your parents always yell at you when you come home from school, then practice telling them how their expressions make you feel). Pretend what it will be like to go into the situation that is making your nervous.
- Envision success. See yourself succeeding or overcoming the situation at hand.
- Set healthy goals and break large tasks into smaller, more manageable goals.
- Replace negative self-talk with positive speech and biblical truths (for example: Change, “My life will never get better,” to “God says He has a plan for me to prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:11) or Change, “I am worthless,” to “I am fearfully and wonderful made.” Psalm 139:14
- Don’t demand perfection, accept a job well done and giving it all you can in the moment.
- Listen to encouraging and inspirational music.
- Take a break from stressful situations.
- Express yourself through writing, drawing, dancing, whatever healthy outlet compliments the talents and skills God’s given you.
- Learn relaxation exercises and techniques.
- Eliminate unnecessary or extra activities in your life. Simplify.
Managing stress isn’t just about tackling a to-do list. Stress resides in our daily activities. It’s not just about tasks; it’s about lifestyle and the world in which we live. Stress management involves setting goals and making large tasks more manageable, but it also includes life maintenance and developing healthy habits for creating and establishing balance so we can participate in what God has called us to do.
As a general rule, if we’re experiencing stress for longer than two weeks, we may need to seek help. Don’t be ashamed if we need to visit an adolescent psychiatrist or qualified mental health professional to overcome our struggles and feelings of stress. Shame overwhelms our society, and it’s not worth letting it have a grip on life. It’s better to gain proper treatment so we can live a healthy life and enjoy the freedom that God intended. There are a lot of people who struggle with the feeling of being overwhelmed with stress. No one is alone in dealing with stress. We must not allow ourselves to believe that we are.
Keys to Overcoming Stress
Socializing Away Stress
Spending time and socializing with other people is incredibly helpful when it comes to overcoming stress. Positive peer support and adult role models are key to managing daily life. It’s imperative to spend time with real people – face-to-face, not online. Living a life online, leaves us lacking in basic relationship development opportunities. We risk being able to establish authentic relationships that are vital to life and understanding our identity. Being involved in relationships helps us have our thoughts and feelings validated appropriately. Connections with other people provide support to work through emotional challenges.
Failure Isn’t the End in Signs of Stress
Contrary to what society presents: failure is acceptable. In fact it’s expected and anticipated. Mistakes are healthy and good because they provide room to learn and grow. We can’t expect ourselves to get everything right. We’re far from perfect, but we can engage with and learn from Christ, who is perfect. It’s key to set realistic expectations for ourselves. When we need help, we can talk to our parents, teachers, youth pastors or counselors.
Our self worth and value is not based on our performance. The love we receive in life isn’t based on what we do or accomplish. We are loved because of our identity in Christ! God loves us because we are His. He created us and is in awe of His creation. He thinks we’re wonderful, and we have permission to view ourselves the same.