Sue Scheff: Teens and Stress

teenhealthSchool is winding down, finals are piling up – the stress of getting good grades as well as keeping your GPA up to be able to get into that college or university you dream to go to, can be stressful.  Compound that with summer coming and if you are like many teens, looking for a summer job is in the plan but may be more difficult than last summer.  The economy is hitting all levels of employment, and parents are not the only ones having stressful times.

Here is a great article I found on TeensHealth.  Take the time to learn more about your teen and how stress can effect them.

What Is Stress?

Stress is a feeling that’s created when we react to particular events. It’s the body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness.

The events that provoke stress are called stressors, and they cover a whole range of situations – everything from outright physical danger to making a class presentation or taking a semester’s worth of your toughest subject.

The human body responds to stressors by activating the nervous system and specific hormones. The hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands to produce more of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol and release them into the bloodstream. These hormones speed up heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. Blood vessels open wider to let more blood flow to large muscle groups, putting our muscles on alert. Pupils dilate to improve vision. The liver releases some of its stored glucose to increase the body’s energy. And sweat is produced to cool the body. All of these physical changes prepare a person to react quickly and effectively to handle the pressure of the moment.

This natural reaction is known as the stress response. Working properly, the body’s stress response enhances a person’s ability to perform well under pressure. But the stress response can also cause problems when it overreacts or fails to turn off and reset itself properly.

Good Stress and Bad Stress

The stress response (also called the fight or flight response) is critical during emergency situations, such as when a driver has to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. It can also be activated in a milder form at a time when the pressure’s on but there’s no actual danger – like stepping up to take the foul shot that could win the game, getting ready to go to a big dance, or sitting down for a final exam. A little of this stress can help keep you on your toes, ready to rise to a challenge. And the nervous system quickly returns to its normal state, standing by to respond again when needed.

But stress doesn’t always happen in response to things that are immediate or that are over 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’s hard on people. The nervous system senses continued pressure and may remain slightly activated and continue to pump out extra stress hormones over an extended period. This can wear out the body’s reserves, leave a person feeling depleted or overwhelmed, weaken the body’s immune system, and cause other problems.

What Causes Stress Overload?

Although just enough stress can be a good thing, stress overload is a different story – too much stress isn’t good for anyone. For example, feeling a little stress about a test that’s coming up can motivate you to study hard. But stressing out too much over the test can make it hard to concentrate on the material you need to learn.

Pressures that are too intense or last too long, or troubles that are shouldered alone, can cause people to feel stress overload. Here are some of the things that can overwhelm the body’s ability to cope if they continue for a long time:

  • being bullied or exposed to violence or injury
  • relationship stress, family conflicts, or the heavy emotions that can accompany a broken heart or the death of a loved one
  • ongoing problems with schoolwork related to a learning disability or other problems, such as ADHD (usually once the problem is recognized and the person is given the right learning support the stress disappears)
  • crammed schedules, not having enough time to rest and relax, and always being on the go

Some stressful situations can be extreme and may require special attention and care. Posttraumatic stress disorder is a very strong stress reaction that can develop in people who have lived through an extremely traumatic event, such as a serious car accident, a natural disaster like an earthquake, or an assault like rape.

Some people have anxiety problems that can cause them to overreact to stress, making even small difficulties seem like crises. If a person frequently feels tense, upset, worried, or stressed, it may be a sign of anxiety. Anxiety problems usually need attention, and many people turn to professional counselors for help in overcoming them.

Signs of Stress Overload

People who are experiencing stress overload may notice some of the following signs:

  • anxiety or panic attacks
  • a feeling of being constantly pressured, hassled, and hurried
  • irritability and moodiness
  • physical symptoms, such as stomach problems, headaches, or even chest pain
  • allergic reactions, such as eczema or asthma
  • problems sleeping
  • drinking too much, smoking, overeating, or doing drugs
  • sadness or depression

Everyone experiences stress a little differently. Some people become angry and act out their stress or take it out on others. Some people internalize it and develop eating disorders or substance abuse problems. And some people who have a chronic illness may find that the symptoms of their illness flare up under an overload of stress.

Keep Stress Under Control

What can you do to deal with stress overload or, better yet, to avoid it in the first place? The most helpful method of dealing with stress is learning how to manage the stress that comes along with any new challenge, good or bad. Stress-management skills work best when they’re used regularly, not just when the pressure’s on. Knowing how to “de-stress” and doing it when things are relatively calm can help you get through challenging circumstances that may arise. 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, opting for just the ones that are most important to you.
  • Be realistic. Don’t try to be perfect – no one is. And expecting others to be perfect can add to your stress level, too (not to mention put a lot of pressure on them!). If you need help on something, like schoolwork, 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.

Read more: http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/emotions/stress.html#a_Good_Stress_and_Bad_Stress

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