Stress is an important health issue. The early teen years are marked by rapid changes—physical, cognitive, and emotional. Young people face changing relationships with peers, new demands at school, family tensions, and safety issues in their communities. The ways in which teens cope with these stressors can have significant short- and long-term consequences on their physical and emotional health. Difficulties in handling stress can lead to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety disorders. What is stress? It is the body’s reaction to a challenge, which could be anything from outright physical danger to asking someone for a date or trying out for a sports team. Good and bad things can trigger symptoms associated with stress. Getting into a argument with a friend is stressful, but so is the anticipation of entering a new adventure, such as starting college.

How can I personally handle it?

There are a number of ways that young people can address and balance stressors in their lives. One of the most successful strategies for dealing with problems is to identify the source of the stress and then ask a trusted adult for help. For instance, if the fear of a math test is causing you so much anxiety that you can’t focus and study, acknowledging your fears to your teacher is a guaranteed way to reduce mental strain. Why? Your teacher is a trained professional; not only is she an expert in the subject matter, but she also has years of experience helping adolescents cope with the pressure to succeed, fear of failure, etc. She can help you manage your stress by offering extra tutoring time after school and giving you additional homework problems for practice.

Another way to deal with stress is to get a good night’s sleep. When our bodies lack the rest necessary to build and repair themselves, our internal systems become vulnerable to a whole host of problems. According to WebMD, sleep deprivation decreases our performance and alertness, and also impairs our memory and cognitive (thinking) functions. Learn more about sleep and stress. Not getting enough rest can stress your body out, which in turn can hurt your performance in school. Going to bed at a proper hour and sleeping eight to nine hours a night will help you start each day, clear-headed and refreshed, so that you can successfully face the challenges ahead.

Good nutrition is another vital way to manage stress. Eating a balanced diet complete with fruit, nuts, leafy greens and vegetables, lean meats, and fish can replenish the nutrients your body loses throughout the day. Certain foods are also designed to help us balance and maintain stress hormones so that they don’t cause harm to our bodies. More information on the relationship between stress management and nutrition is also available on WebMD, a useful website for practical health information. Learn more about diet and stress.

What are the steps I need to take to prevent myself from feeling depressed?

1. Be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t handle. If your homework load is too heavy, tell your teachers or your parents that you need help dealing with all of it. If a classmate is bullying you in school, talk to a counselor about intervening on your behalf. Never suffer in silence! Some problems only get worse when you ignore them and pretend that they’ll go away. Making the proper decisions to get help will make you feel better in the long run.

2. Set realistic goals and stick with them. If you know you’ve been struggling in social studies, don’t convince yourself that you’re going to get a 100 on the next test. Pressure of this sort will only increase your stress and anxiety if you fall short of the goal. Instead, focus on a more realistic score. If you’ve been regularly receiving Cs on your homework assignments, maybe you can commit to elevating your test score to a B. Achieving a more realistic result will help motivate you to keep studying hard so that earning a 100 in the future becomes more obtainable.

3. Don’t succumb to isolation. Often times when we get stressed out, it feels normal to retreat inside our “shells” as we struggle to cope with each day’s challenges on our own. That’s the exact opposite of what we should do! Open up and connect with those around you when you feel down. Visit your elderly neighbor when you feel bored, frustrated or anxious. Offer to help him mow the lawn or walk his dog. Grab a broom and sweep up litter on the street. Go door to door and collect unused books for a neighborhood book drive. Help your Mom pack up old clothes to donate to the Goodwill. Helping others will make you feel better about yourself. Being kind allows you to focus your energies on something positive instead of falling prey to the negative side effects of stress. By nature, human beings are social creatures; we rely on one another to survive. How so? Think about this the next time you sit down at the dinner table with your family. Look at the broccoli on your plate. Think about how it got there. Farmers broke the ground and planted the seeds to make it grow. Field workers harvested and washed the broccoli when it reached maturity. Truck drivers loaded it up and transported it across the country. Supermarket employees stocked it in attractive displays in the produce department. The cashier rang it up, then your dad paid for it. Your mom washed and cooked it for dinner for your family. See how many people helped to bring your broccoli to your plate?

4. Spend time doing things that you enjoy. If schoolwork or other responsibilities are getting you down, make sure you also allow time in your life to relax and take part in hobbies that make you happy. According to the fitness magazine, Shape, studies have shown that taking part in hobbies can lower your heart rate, a factor that decreases the likelihood of stress-related heart disease. Learn more about exercise and stress. Whether it’s riding your bike, reading, or knitting, hobbies give us the chance to appreciate life at a slower pace, one filled with activities that bring us joy.

5. Express gratitude. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own troubles, we fail to realize that the good things in our lives far outweigh the bad. You might get upset when your big brother uses up all the hot water during his morning shower. Your shower is tepid at best, so your morning is already off to a bad start. But what would happen if you took a moment to rethink your attitude? True, your brother left you almost no hot water, but how would you feel if you lived in a country where there was no access to safe water at all? What if, like millions of kids around the world, you had to spend hours every day collecting water from sources that were dirty and unhealthy? Suddenly, the fresh water shower that you took this morning doesn’t seem so bad, right?

Instead of focusing on what’s missing in your life, make time to say “thank you” for what you do have. When you feel annoyed because your Dad told you to vacuum the living room, turn your thoughts around. Stop for a moment and consider, “I’m grateful that we have a nice house. I’m glad that my Dad goes to work every day to provide a good place for me to live. I will show him how much I appreciate him by listening and helping out.” Your positive thoughts will help reduce your stress, your parents’ stress, and make you feel like a valued member of the team.

Who can I talk to or call?

A trusted adult – parents, teachers, or your principal – are always a good option when you’re seeking relief from stressful situations. They have your best interests at heart and often times have the wisdom to know exactly how to help you – remember, they were once kids, too! Other members of the family, such as an older sibling, can also be helpful in offering guidance through difficult times. Because they’re closer in age, their experiences may closely resemble some of the same challenges you’re facing, so they can be useful sources of information.

Your community can also be instrumental in helping you find the support you need. Members of the clergy, such as ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams are trained to offer spiritual counseling and comfort during troubling times. Librarians are also very resourceful; they can point you in the direction of a variety of reading material that can shed light on your struggles, or just recommend a good book to help you relax and unwind.