Learn about stress and how to find help for children and teens in Ontario.
People can feel stressed when they are under pressure or strain. Children and teens may feel pressure to do well at school or to look a certain way. Or they could be feeling the strain of living with family conflict or being constantly picked on. Any of these stressors can cause the body’s “stress response” hormones to kick into gear. At such times, young people may say they’re feeling “stressed out” or that something is getting “on their nerves.”
The stress response is part of the body’s built-in survival system. In the natural world, it helps us face down immediate dangers, like an animal in the wild. Our stress hormones prepare us to act. We might run, or we might fight, but either way the stressful situation is over quickly and our body calms down.
The problem is, in today’s modern world, most of our stressful situations do not come and go so quickly. Many stressful situations can last a long time and a “fight or flight” response is not usually an option. So our bodies continue to be on alert and ready to respond. This kind of prolonged stress response is hard on us. It keeps us on edge and wears us down.
Stress is not all bad. A little bit of stress keeps us “on our toes” and can motivate us to study harder or run faster or get a job done on time. But stress becomes dangerous when it’s always present, day in and day out. Living with ongoing stressful situations can make someone sick, both physically and mentally.
Signs of being stressed out
Everybody’s experience of stress is different. Here are some warning signs that stress may be getting the upper hand:
- Constant anxiety
- Feeling under constant pressure
- Increased irritability or feeling constantly annoyed
- Easily angered
- Low energy
- Poor memory
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Stomach aches, headaches, skin problems
- Feeling depressed or moody
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty breathing
- Panic attacks
If someone is feeling stressed out, they might be more likely to:
- have trouble paying attention in school
- break the rules, at school or at home
- see their grades drop and not care much
- lose interest in friends and activities
Some people try to control these stress responses by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Although this may seem like a way to feel better, in reality it can make things a lot worse.
Managing stress – Self-help tips
Stress is unavoidable, so it’s a good idea to learn some coping techniques to manage it. Here are some self-help tips you can share:
Take care of yourself:
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat right.
- Find time for rest and relaxation.
- Move your body. Physical activity is a great stress-buster.
- Move your mind. Learn relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation or deep breathing.
- Think right. Try to develop a positive attitude of “realistic optimism.” For example, believe that good things can happen and note good things when you see them. Also, pay attention to your own “self-talk” and see how the positive versus negative messages stack up. You can decide to increase the positive messages you send yourself.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself because you’re not perfect – because nobody is!
Take care of problems as much as you can:
- Try to identify and solve little problems before they become big ones.
- Let friends and family know how you’re feeling. It can feel good to talk, and they may have ideas that can help you to cope with a difficult problem or situation.
More information about stress
Kids Have Stress Too!
Stress Lessons Toolkit
What’s Your Stress Index?