Defining and Coping with Stress

How do you define stress?  What is Stress??

The dictionary defines stress as “the sum of biological reactions to any adverse stimulus, physical, mental emotional, internal or external, that tends to disturb a persons normal state of being.”

Here are some common causes of stress in teenagers:

  1. Break up with boy/girl friend
  2. Arguments with parents
  3. Trouble with brother or sister
  4. Increased arguments between parents
  5. Change in parents’ financial status
  6. Serious illness or injury of family member
  7. Trouble with classmates
  8. Loss experience such as a death or suicide of a friend or family member;
  9. Loss of a close friendship or relationship
  10. Family move
  11. Unmet personal or parental expectation such as failure to achieve a goal, poor grades, social rejection
  12. Unresolved conflict with family members, peers, teachers, coaches that results in anger, frustration, rejection
  13. Humiliating experience resulting in loss of self-esteem or rejection
  14. Unexpected events such as pregnancy or financial problems
  15. Overbook/overextended

These events are centered in the two most important domains of a teenager’s life: home and school. They relate to issues of conflict and loss. Loss can reflect the real or perceived loss of something concrete such as a friend or money, and it can mean the loss of such intrinsic things as self-worth, respect, friendship or love

In a more informal survey of 60 young people (Walker, 1985), the primary sources of tension and trouble for teens and their friends were: relationships with friends and family; the pressure of expectations from self and others; pressure at school from teachers, coaches, grades and homework; financial pressures; and tragedy in the lives of family and friends (described as death, divorce, cancer).

Add that to the fact that adolescence is a time when ordinary levels of stress are heightened by physical, psychological, emotional, and social changes. Adolescents suffer a feeling of loss for the childhood they must leave behind, and undergo a difficult period of adjustment to their new adult identity. In single-parent families, this adjustment may be even more difficult. Yet society alienates adolescents from their new identity by not allowing them the rights of adulthood. They are no longer children, but they are not accorded the adult privileges of expressing their sexuality or holding a place in the work force.

Our achievement-oriented, highly competitive society puts pressure on teens to succeed, often forcing them to set unrealistically high personal expectations. There is increased pressure to stay in school, where success is narrowly defined and difficult to achieve. In an affluent society, which emphasizes immediate rewards, adolescents are not taught to be tolerant of frustration. Blurred gender roles can also be confusing and frustrating for teens.

Stress is not all bad. It’s the reason we respond to alarm clocks, earn our paychecks and slam on our brakes in time to stop short of that jerk ahead who’s waiting at a green light. Short bursts of stress actually help our immune systems.

That is why health professionals talk about stress management, not stress elimination. They search for a stress level that pushes us through life without trampling us.

Responses to stress (inability to cope with stress)

  1. Anxiety
  2. withdrawal
  3. Aggression
  4. Physical illness
  5. Drug and/or alcohol use
  6. Depression
  7. Insomnia
  8. Self-harm

What do you do to cope with stress before it becomes overwhelming or how do you deal with stress once it becomes overwhelming?

Here are some ways to cope with stress:

  1. Identify source of stress and address it
  2. Friendships
  3. Exercise
  4. Spirituality
  5. Deep breaths
  6. Relaxation
  7. Self-expression
  8. Setting limits
  9. Finding solutions
  10. Prioritize/organize/time management
  11. Do what you enjoy, which is a lot to remember
  12. Find someone to talk t

But they all seem to come down to focus and control. Focus on what’s really important to us, and control what we can without sweating the rest.

“Perfectionism or unrealistic notions of life can make stressors into distress,” Evans says

Decide what’s important, control what you can and go from there. That sounds easier than it is, of course, but maybe focusing on the big picture of serenity is easier than trying to memorize the steps to reach it.


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