¢¢Just for Teens: A Personal Plan for Managing Stress
■■What Is Stress?
Stress is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you’re
worried, scared, angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed. It
is caused by emotions, but it also affects your mood
and body. Many adults think that teens don’t have stress
because they don’t have to work and support a family.
They are missing the point and are wrong!
■■What Causes Stress?
Stress comes from many different places.
From your parents. “Don’t disappoint me, clean up,
hurry up, finish this, do your homework, go out for
the team, practice your music, try out for the school
play, do your best, stay out of trouble, make more
friends, don’t ever try drugs.”
From your friends. “How’d you do on the test, try this,
prove you’re not a loser, don’t hang out with them,
don’t wear that.”
Even from yourself. “I need to lose weight, build
my muscles, wear the right clothes, get better
grades, score more goals, show my parents I’m not
a kid anymore.”
Watching parents argue
Figuring out how to be independent
Feeling pressure to get good grades
Thinking about the future
Being pressured to do something you know is bad for
you, like smoking
Not being good enough at sports
Worrying about how your body’s changing
Dealing with sexual feelings
Worrying about neighborhood or world problems
■■How Does the Body Handle Stress?
First, here are 2 short definitions.
Hormone: a chemical made by one part of the body
that travels through your blood to send messages to
the rest of the body.
Nervous system: the brain, spinal cord, and all of the
nerves. The nerves send messages between your brain
and the rest of your body.
The body is a finely tuned machine that can change
quickly to do what we need it to do, like react to stress.
The body has 2 nervous systems. The voluntary system
does what you choose to have it do—walk, talk, move.
The involuntary system keeps the body running without
your even thinking about it—breathe, sweat, digest.
The body actually has 2 different nerve pathways in
the involuntary system. One works while we’re relaxed,
and the other works when there’s an emergency. These
2 systems can’t work together at the same time. It’s
important to know this because we can shut off the
emergency system by flipping a switch and turning
on the relaxed system.
■■Is Stress Always Bad?
Even though stress is uncomfortable, it’s not always a
bad thing. Sometimes stress helps us deal with tough
situations. A lot of stress changes our bodies quickly
and helps us react to an emergency. A little stress keeps
us alert and helps us work harder.
Ages ago, when people lived in the jungle—where a
tiger might leap out at any moment—the emergency
nervous system was key to survival. Imagine your great,
great, great ancestors, Sam and Zelda, munching on
some berries. Suddenly they saw a tiger and had to run!
Hormones gave them the burst of energy they needed
How did their bodies react? First, Sam and Zelda got
that sinking feeling in their stomachs as the blood in
their bellies quickly went to their legs so they could take
off. When they jumped to their feet, their hearts beat
faster to pump more blood. As they ran from the tiger,
they breathed faster to take in more air. Their sweat
cooled them as they ran. Their pupils became bigger so
they could see in the dark, in case they needed to jump
over a log while running away. They didn’t think about
anything but running because they weren’t supposed to
stop and figure out a friendly way to work it all out with
Our ancestors never would have survived without the
stress reaction, but stress helps us do more than run. It
keeps us alert and prepared for the next lurking tiger.
Few of us need to outrun tigers today, but we all have
problems and worries that turn on some of those exact
same stress responses, like that panicky feeling you
sometimes get when you’re studying for a big test. Your
heart beats fast. Your breathing becomes heavier. You
sweat and get flashes of heat because your hormones
are confused about why you aren’t listening to them.
Page 1 of 7