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Thursday, November 15, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: Explosion in 3...2...1

I am so stressed out! What are the affects of stress on my body and how can I keep calm?

Everyone is under a whole lot of stress these days.  Dealing with school, family, friends, boyfriends, Hurricanes for goodness sake!  Life is not easy, and some days are much worse than others.  Added to the external stress (stuff that happens around or to us), we also have additional stress that we put on ourselves (internal stress).  Some of the internal stress comes from doubting ourselves or thinking that we are not able to handle everything around us.  And -- as the icing on the cake -- puberty and the hormonal changes that happen during adolescence only crank up these feelings, so what is normally annoying (like your mom telling you to do the dishes or make your bed) feels like it's the end of the world and all you want to do is EXPLODE!!!

Okay, first thing you need to know is that it is completely normal.  We've all been there.  Adults just black it out of our memories because it sucked so much.  Stress is our bodies response to what it understands as a difficult situation.  Sometimes, stress can be a good thing.  It keeps us awake if we're driving late at night, and it can even improve your vision!  That's because your body reacts to stress by releasing the hormones adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream.  The problem comes when we are feeling stressed out all the time and our body is always drowning in the adrenaline and cortisone.  Not good for your body and not good for the way you feel!  Check out the chart below for some common symptoms of stress.

Common effects of stress ...
... On your body ... On your mood ... On your behavior
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal

But don't lose hope because there are ways to make it better.  Here are a few suggestions about what to do when you are feeling stressed out!

When you are feeling frustrated and want to take it out on someone else (family, friends or romantic partner), you could...
--> Take a walk -- sounds simple, but leaving a situation before it gets ugly is one of the best ways to make sure that you don't have to deal with more stress because you hurt someone else
--> BREATHE -- I know you've heard it before, but deep breaths actually have a physical impact on your body.  It helps calm the systems that are telling your brain to release the extra hormones.
--> Talk about it -- You would be surprised how much a situation can improve if you simply say that you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.  Since everyone has felt that way before, they can relate and maybe even give you a break.  But if they don't know why you are slamming doors or not answering them all they see is your annoying behaviors.

When you feel stressed ALL the time, you can...
--> Exercise!  I know everyone says this, but there are so many good things that come from physical activity.  Here's the technical reason -- when you raise your heart rate due to aerobic exercise (running around) your body releases different chemicals into your bloodstream that leads to you feeling good, worn out and like you did something meaningful (which you did!)
--> Sleep -- it is so important to get 8 hours every single night.  Sleep is the time when your body takes a break.  Stress will only increase if you don't allow your body to tune out and replenish itself.
--> Do something FUN -- Now that doesn't mean that you have a legitimate excuse for why you went to the movies instead of doing your homework, but it is important to realize that sometimes we need to give ourselves a break.  Adults do it all the time with their brunches, mani/pedis, yoga and massages, and you can too.  Think about something that always makes you smile -- baking cookies, the swings at the park, game night with friends -- now make it happen!  You will be surprised how much more relaxed you feel afterwards.
--> Break it down --Try and write down the things that you have to do or are on your mind.  Then circle the top 3, now star the number 1 priority.  Good!  Now, figure out the first 3 steps that you need to do to complete it.  You've just made something that felt overwhelming into 3 steps that you can actually do!  Congratulations, that is the most important step to learn when it comes to managing stress at school, at work, and with family!

It's easy to deal with feeling stressed by eating, watching TV all day, smoking or even doing drugs.  The problem with those choices is that all of those options don't fix what is making you stressed AND their side effects actually add to the stress on your body.  So what feels good for 10 minutes will eventually make you feel much worse, and can make you physically sick!  All of a sudden that walk sounds pretty good right now, doesn't it!  And as always, if the feelings don't go away after exercising, sleeping well, having fun and breaking down your "to do" items, then it might be time to talk to your parents about seeing a doctor.  There might be other physical or mental stuff going on.

Okay, now you know what stress is, what the possible symptoms of stress look like, and a list to help you deal.  As a reward for all your time and attention, here is one last tip for dealing with stress -- look at cute pictures of baby animals!!  They are just too cute! And here's a freebie for the road...

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