When you start feeling like you’re under a lot of pressure, your body starts reacting differently. While you may not immediately realize what’s going on, signs of stress are beginning to take over. Stress affects people of all ages, but the signs and symptoms often change with time. Although stress is a natural reaction in life, handling stress may become more challenging as people get older.
People from different stages in life deal with stress in various ways. Stress in young people does not often look like stress in adults. They may find it difficult to express how they feel, and the stress manifests into short tempers and bad moods. Teens and adolescents cope with it differently. Their stress levels are higher, mostly stemming from factors outside their homes.
In the age of social media, where picture-perfect lives abound, teenagers have complained about feeling bad about themselves. They see unrealistic beauty standards and social media influencers seeming like they’re having the time of their lives, wreaking havoc on their self-esteem and leading them to question their mundane existence or feel intense pressure to keep up.
To compound the problem, some adults tend to dismiss the stress experienced by children and teenagers. The latter do not get enough recognition and support for the hard times they are going through. This results in poor stress management in young people. When they fail to address high stress levels in young people, the stress can balloon into something bigger. It might even lead to serious problems like depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse.
What Is Stress?
Stress happens when one cannot cope with specific demands and events around them. There might be strains from relationships, peer pressure, and school responsibilities that can take their toll on a young person. It is only natural to react and feel that way. However, it can become a chronic condition if left unmanaged.
Coined by Hans Selye in 1936,the termstress was defined by Selye as the “non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” During numerous experiments where laboratory animals were subjected to different physical and emotional stimuli, the results showed how the test subjects exhibited the same pathologic changes in the form of stomach ulcerations, shrinkage of lymphoid tissue, and enlargement of the adrenals. According to Selye, persistent stress could cause diseases similar to those seen in humans. This includes heart attacks, kidney disease, and stroke.
While Selye’s theory attracted significant interest, the word stress later evolved and took on a new meaning. People used it to refer to various circumstances, like a particularly bad boss or other unpleasant situations or experiences.
Since stress was generally considered to mean the same thing as distress, the word took on a negative meaning. Its positive effects were largely ignored.
Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal at TED highlighted a huge piece of research conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison that shocked many people. The way one views stress can impact their health more than the stress one actually feels. The research gathered data from 29,000 people for over eight years.
Stress can be considered a positive or a negative force. On the one hand, it can motivate one to perform well, making it an essential part of survival. If you think that stress is good for you, then it can energize and challenge you to get moving. On the other, if you believe that stress is always bad for you, your mindset will alter, and it will turn out the way you think.
Positive stress is called eustress, and it comes from feelings of excitement when faced with a fun challenge. Negative stress is also known as distress. When someone is in distress, they need assistance to cope with the situation and achieve a healthy state of mind. There are times when a situation can have elements of good and bad stress.
Long-term stress can have multiple adverse effects. Memory loss, signs of aging, weight gain, and changes in how you deal with people can be directly tied to stress. Studies have shown that heart attacks, strokes, anxiety, and depression are just some of the ways the body reacts.
According to a study published in Nature Communications, stress hormones have been known to increase the spread of cancer in mice. In humans, stress may reawaken dormant cancer cells.
While stress can be harmful to the body, there are times when stress can be good for you. The key is to know the difference, according to Summa Health. Good stress helps you focus and inspires and motivates you to do better. You feel this when you run in a relay race, participate in a debate competition, or ride a rollercoaster. While stressful, the situation excites you more than it distresses you.
On the other hand, bad stress can be draining. It can leave you confused, angry, sick, and unable to concentrate and function normally. If not treated or unmanaged, it can be detrimental to your overall well-being. Bad stress can cause other effects like weight gain, insomnia, and anxiety. Stress management is important, but eliminating or addressing the cause of bad stress, which is called the stressor, is the permanent solution.
The Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) defines stressor as anything that causes the release of stress hormones.” There are two types of stressors: physiological (physical) stressors and psychological stressors.
According to the CSHS, the former includes stressors that put undue or overwhelming burden on the body, such as hunger, sickness, pain, injuries, and extreme temperatures. The latter include “events, situations, individuals, comments, or anything we interpret as negative or threatening.” One example is the death of a family member, friend, or pet. For students, receiving a bad grade or struggling to understand lessons can be psychological stressors.
Not-for-profit health system Centerstone also shares different types of stress that show up in physical or emotional ways:
- Interpersonal stress - This results from interacting with people present in everyday life.
- Intrapersonal stress - This stress is inward, affecting the mind and body. This includes anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, and financial worries.
- Performance-based - Stress stems from professional or academic endeavors. This includes issues on the job or stress from teachers because of poor grades.
- Environmental - This stems from what is going on in your surroundings. This includes moving to a new place, items that need to be fixed at home, and family members constantly arguing.
Stress symptoms usually appear when there are underlying stressors present.
The resulting aftereffects manifest physically or emotionally. If you are starting a new job or getting married, these events may make you feel certain levels of stress, but it’s mostly positive stress. The holidays can be stressful, but being around family and friends elicits mostly joy and satisfaction.
Conversely, the loss of a loved one, relationship troubles, or financial distress can cause severe stress that manifests in different ways. The Cleveland Clinic cites the following physical symptoms:
- Aches and pains
- Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
- Headaches, dizziness, or shaking
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching
- Stomach or digestive problems
- Trouble having sex
- Weak immune system
Other signs of physical stress include hair loss, excessive sweating, weird dreams, and insatiable thirst. The Cleveland Clinic also enumerates the following emotional and mental symptoms of stress:
- Anxiety or irritability
- Panic Attacks
It is not uncommon for someone dealing with stress to develop unhealthy habits, like overeating, drinking, gambling, or drug use.
Stress symptoms differ in children and teens. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), children ages 6 to 11 may become aggressive, want to stay home all the time, have trouble concentrating, compete for more attention at home and in school, and avoid their friends and peers.
Teens aged 12 to 18 may have more physical complaints. Other warning signs of distress can also include resisting authority, withdrawal from family and friends, being disruptive, and risqué behavior.
Stress Facts, Statistics, and Trends
The number of kids diagnosed with anxiety and depression rose between 2016 and 2020, according to a study by the US Health Resources and Services Administration, as shared in an article in Education Week. Within those five years, the number of children diagnosed with depression rose by 27%, while anxiety diagnosis in kids grew by 29%.
Teenage stress is exceptionally high, with US teens rating their stress levels as 5.8 out of 10, shares a report at Research.com. About 75% of high school students indicate they often feel stressed by schoolwork. These students also reported experiencing stress, fear, anger, or sadness while in school.
According to an American Psychological Association (APA) report, Gen Zs were found to have higher stress levels than adults due to many factors, including gun violence, immigration, and high-profile sexual harassment cases.
Between the pandemic, shifts in the economy, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, stress levels among adults are very high. In a recent survey from the APA, respondents report their top sources of stress:
- 87% for rising costs of food, energy, and gas
- 81% for supply chain issues and global uncertainty
- 80% for possible cyber or nuclear attacks by Russia and the Russian invasion of Ukraine
Common Reactions to Stress
Many challenges in society have caused a great deal of stress across all age groups. These challenges and situations can make it seem like there is no solution to all the issues going on. Social and physical distancing at the height of the pandemic was difficult for many people as it placed them in isolation without physical interaction with others.
For children and teens, having connections with their friends and being in social settings are essential for their development and well-being, which is why many struggled during the pandemic. By taking those liberties away, many students found themselves frustrated and lonely having to sit behind a computer screen.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the following as common reactions to stressful events like the pandemic:
- Feelings of fear, shock, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
- Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares, concentrating, and making decisions
- Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances
The rising cost of commodities, gun violence, racism, conflicts in different parts of the world, climate change, and global insecurity are causing collective stress to populations. Many people have extra layers of stress from past or recent traumatic experiences.
Stress and Co-Occurring Health Conditions
Stress can negatively affect the body and mind in many ways. For some, dealing with stress is not the only concern. Co-occurring disorders, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depressive disorders, and mood disorders like anxiety, can add to the level of risk experienced when under stress.
Is it stress or anxiety? How can you tell the difference? Some similarities and differences indicate whether a reaction is stress-based or anxiety-based. Both are emotional in response, but there is usually something external causing the trigger when dealing with stress.
The anxiety can last for months in anxiety disorders, and the levels can be more severe, says the American Psychological Association. The symptoms are persistent and can be accompanied by hyperventilation and chest pains to the point of needing to seek medical attention. It can be challenging to fully diagnose the initial symptoms of anxiety, as they are almost identical to symptoms of stress. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 31% of American adults have experienced an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
There are different types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety. These disorders have different treatments and approaches, including medication, psychotherapy, or both. Exposure therapy has also been explored, helping confront the triggers to break the cycle of fear.
Aside from medical and behavioral treatments, good sleep habits, regular physical activity, and a healthy diet are essential for managing stress and anxiety.
Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
Learning how to manage stress can alleviate some of its negative effects on the mind and body. Here are a few tips on how to reduce or relieve stress:
- Get regular exercise. Being active and getting exercise can help flush any stress-related hormones. It increases blood circulation and can make a significant difference in how you feel. Regular exercise also promotes the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins and helps increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, which are natural mood boosters.
- Limit consumption of alcohol and other stimulants. Alcohol and other stimulants can have serious negative impacts on your health, which increases the likelihood of stress.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating the right foods and drinking more water are essential in keeping stress levels down.
- Establish work-life balance. Whether it’s a healthy balance of work and home or school and home, it’s important to take time to disconnect and have fun.
- Get quality sleep. Sleep is for more than beauty. It replenishes your body. Adequate amounts of sleep can help reduce or diminish your stress levels.
- Go on a trip. A quick vacation always does the body and mind good. Having a chance to get away and get your mind off things always helps with stress.
- Get a pet. Pets can help reduce high levels of anxiety due to the companionship they offer. Some pets also help their owners lead more active lives and connect with their peers.
- Relax Learn some relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation to help with stress levels.
There are some useful apps on the market designed to help manage stress. These include Breathe, Calm, Centre for Clinical Interventions, Headspace, Reachout Breathe, Reachout Worrytime, Smiling Mind, and Worrytree.
Although stress is manageable, there are times when professional help is needed. Here are some warning signs when you need professional help:
- Your ability to concentrate is completely gone.
- You no longer do the things you enjoy.
- Your personal and professional relationships are suffering.
- You start isolating yourself.
- You start having suicidal thoughts.
If you are experiencing any of the warning signs above, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for assistance in finding treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.
Families must know how to deal with children going through stressful situations. If you are a parent or a guardian, your support and guidance are valuable to a child who tries to cope with the difficulties of stress. Here are some tips to help you along:
- Create an environment where kids feel safe, loved, and cared for. This will help them offset stress and eventually learn how to cope with and overcome it. You may do this by providing routines, like a consistent bedtime, eating meals as a family, or fetching them from school. The routine will give the kids a comfortable rhythm and let them know there are things they can depend on to stay the same.
- Equip them with doable coping skills. This will help kids know that there are things they can do to manage stress, giving them back control over their minds and emotions. You can start by teaching them useful exercises like calm breathing and meditation.
- Encourage them to take a break. It is important to break the rhythm and step back when going through stressful events. Help your kids do just this by making time for fun activities, like playing, drawing, reading, or spending time with their friends.
- Take the time to be with them. Spending positive time together can help your kids do what they enjoy with your calming presence. If they enjoy music, you can join them when they listen to their favorite songs. They might like nature walks, so you can also spend quality time walking along their go-to trail.
- Prepare them for what’s ahead. Life is unpredictable. Kids must know that everything can change in an instant. If your family is going through a stressful time, you can talk them through the situation, but try to focus on the positive side. Make sure to hear what they think and know how they feel, as this can assure them that their feelings are valid.
Healthcare workers are dealing with mounting pressure and great demands in their everyday work, especially during the peak of the pandemic. These difficult times can lead to anxiety, stress, and other strong emotions. You must know the steps you need to take to cope with stress. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Learn how to recognize the symptoms of stress. This way, you will be able to devise ways to cope with them. Are you feeling anger and irritation? Do you feel nervous and uncertain or helpless and powerless?
- Be open about the job stress you are experiencing. Keeping the stress that you feel to yourself is not helpful at all. Instead, consider talking to your coworkers, supervisors, and employers. Let them know how stress is affecting your work. You may be able to work together to identify solutions, or they will be able to lead you to mental health resources in your workplace.
- Learn to accept the things that are beyond your control. Stoicism is a handy philosophy during the trying times of the pandemic, which affected almost everyone. If you can identify the things outside your control and know that you cannot do anything about them, it will be easier to accept and cope with them.
- Know your role’s worth. You perform a vital role in the frontline, and your efforts are recognized. This can help you see stress more positively, which can do wonders for your mindset.
- Take a break for yourself. You can spend time sitting back, relaxing, and recharging during your days off. You can do things you love, like watching your favorite shows, listening to good music, or walking your dog.
- Observe and listen. It’s important to listen to students and staff when they have concerns.
- Model coping behaviors. Students follow what they see. When stressful situations occur, remaining level-headed will help them stay calm too.
- Maintain routines. Students need structure and routines to keep stressors down. By doing this, everyone feels safe, secure, and informed.
- Provide concrete support. Consider implementing on-campus support groups, services, and mental health resources. Students should know where they can seek help when the pressure and stress prove unbearable.
- Offer tutoring and academic help. The main cause of stress at school is academic setbacks. Students who have a hard time dealing with academic stress might be able to benefit from tutoring and other educational strategies. They will be able to cope with academic difficulties better.
Many employers emphasize improving employee relations. This includes recognizing that excessive stress can be a health hazard in the workplace and finding ways to help employees cope with stress. Here are some useful ways to promote workplace wellness by minimizing stressors:
- Provide a safe and stress-free work environment. While it is impossible to eliminate stress from the workplace, you can help minimize its effects and assist employees in perceiving it positively. This means you should be able to set proper work expectations, reasonable deadlines, and healthy breaks.
- Let their voices be heard. Sometimes, employees only need an outlet to air out their ideas, suggestions, or even grievances. You should encourage them to speak up so you can have a healthy dialogue that helps in finding solutions.
- Give them regular break times. Working nonstop throughout the day can be detrimental to one’s health. Our brain needs to take a rest to focus. By providing consistent break times, you encourage employees to step away from their desks and clear their heads. They may use it to get coffee or take a short walk.
- Set proper boundaries outside work. Avoid forcing your employees to work beyond their office hours. They are entitled to a quiet time outside work to focus on their personal responsibilities. Minimizing or doing away with after-work emails and phone calls can be quite helpful.
- Consider implementing flexible work policies. The pandemic taught us that employees could be quite adaptable to changing situations. Giving them the flexibility they need, like staggered work hours and work-from-home arrangements, can help establish an ideal work-life balance.
People diagnosed with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, or arthritis can feel overwhelmed, lost, and debilitated. If you are one of them, you likely go through a rollercoaster of emotions, and one of them is serious stress. Your stressors may come from uncertainty about the future, financial difficulties, and the unpredictability of your disease. Here are some of the ways you can manage stress despite the challenges ahead:
- Confrontation is the best way to acceptance. Many who are diagnosed with chronic illness feel resigned to their fate. This may have made it hard for them to adjust even after years of dealing with their condition. The first step in coping with devastating news like this is to confront your diagnosis actively. This will give you the courage to seek social support and develop a plan of action.
- Build a strong support network. Seek the comfort and guidance of your family and friends. Keep your communication lines open. They can help ease your personal obligations and manage your disease in the long run.
- Consider seeking help from mental health professionals. If the stress you experience makes you feel incapacitated, it may be the right time to ask for help from a mental health provider. This step can help you get a treatment plan tailored to your needs, allowing you to regain control and improve the quality of your life.
- Try to live intentionally by helping yourself. Your will to live will understandably be affected by the diagnosis of a serious illness. However, there are things that you can do on your own that can help you immensely. This includes eating a healthy diet, getting as much physical activity as possible, and avoiding negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol abuse.
- Consider joining support groups. Another way to cope with the stress that a chronic illness diagnosis brings is to join support groups where you can find relief and comfort through sharing your experience. You can also learn new ways to deal with your illness by hearing other people’s own coping strategies.
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