One College Health survey reported that 94% of students chose “overwhelmed” as the word that would best describe their lives. In the most recent “Stress in America” survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), over 25% of teenagers surveyed said that they feel “extreme levels of stress” during the school year. (Even in the summer, more than one in ten teenagers said that they felt extreme stress.) They want to cry. They are exhausted but lay awake, feeling stressed. Some cut themselves, hoping to relieve stress; drug and alcohol use can be fueled by a need to cope with stress. Ten percent have thought about suicide. That’s just the data on teen stress. Adults are struggling, too.
Stress is a problem.
Obviously, dealing with an unintended pregnancy causes stress. But so do many other situations in life. Today, a group of teenagers told our CEO that they feel stress because of
- overcommitted schedules
- others’ unrealistic expectations
- fear of failure
- lacking resources they need
- interpersonal conflicts
The list could go on. Stress affects the ways our brains function and can create long-term physical, emotional, and mental struggles. We need to know how to address the symptoms of stress, so that we can help ourselves and help others.
Feeling stressed? Try these six proven strategies to combat stress:
S – Sleep. Sleep is food for your brain. When you start feeling stressed, be sure that you are getting enough rest. Turning off electronics by 8 p.m., or 2-3 hours before you go to sleep will help your brain slow down and rest.
T – Thanksgiving. Listing the good gifts that you’re enjoying is proven to combat negative emotions and increase your joy. In difficult times, taking a few moments to remember the many things you have for which to be thankful will help you push back the dark thoughts and feelings. Think about the separate parts of you that make up your human story: mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, material, relational. What do you have to be thankful for in each of those areas?
R – Respiratory exercise. That just means: BREATHE. Take slow breaths in. Let slow breaths out. Take deep breaths for at least 60 seconds. The extra oxygen will feed your brain. Slowing down your breathing will help you let go of anxiety. Standing up to breathe and doing some stretching exercises is even better!
E – Exercise. For the same reasons that breathing can reduce stress, exercise (and good nutrition) will combat the effects of stress. When you exercise, your body releases toxins but also floods your brains with hormones that reduce anxiety. Giving your body and brain the nutrition it needs (whole foods, lots of water, minimizing sugar, and fresh fruits and vegetables) means that your brain will be fully fueled rather than starved.
S – Surround yourself with healthy people. Interpersonal conflict is at the root of many stressful situations. Is there anything you can do to remove yourself from spending time around that difficult person? Identify the healthy people in your life. Who is willing to invest in meeting your needs and best interests, regardless of the cost? Spend time with those people. (We’re always ready to listen if you need someone!)
S – Speak truth. Speak truth to yourself about yourself, others, and the situation you’re facing. Often, when we start feeling stressed by a situation or another person, our anxious brains will begin feeding us thoughts about the situation that may not be entirely reliable. Remind yourself what is true about you. That you are not alone. That you are resourced. That you are capable. When you can back up enough to be objective, most situations don’t seem so overwhelming. We can start to see solutions and feel that we have the resources to overcome. Don’t let negative thoughts bring you down!
Stress seems unavoidable in our society. But knowing how to combat its effects can make all the difference to your ability to thrive. If you need help sorting out a difficult situation, let us know. We’re listening.
For now, just breathe.