With all the added pressure that comes with being a young adult, it isn’t surprising that so many suffer from stress. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily normal or healthy; in fact, the most recent Stress in America report found that American teens report stress levels higher than what they believe is healthy. The good news is that there are things you can do to manage your stress levels, and this in turn will bring on a whole world of other benefits.
What it is
Stress, in everyday terms, is a feeling that people have when they are overloaded and struggling to cope with the demands on them. Some common symptoms include:
- feeling irritable or angry
- feeling nervous or anxious
- feeling like crying
- being sad or depressed
You might also experience physical symptoms, such as:
- breathing quickly
- changes in sleeping or eating habits
How it works
Stress is the body's natural defence against danger - it flushes the body with chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline to help it run away from or fight a predator or threat. This is why it's known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. These hormones trigger an increased heart rate, heightened muscle preparedness, sweating, and alertness, all of which can be a huge help when responding to a dangerous situation.
Stress can also help you rise to meet everyday challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at school, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting a game-winning shot, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching Netflix.
Beyond a certain point, though, stress stops being helpful and starts affecting your quality of life, and a persistently negative response to challenges can have a detrimental effect on your health and happiness. However, being aware of how you react to stressors can help you to reduce the negative feelings effects of stress and manage it more effectively.
Stress vs anxiety
The causes and symptoms of stress and anxiety are pretty similar, but there are differences between the two:
In short, stress is your body’s reaction to a trigger and is generally a short-term experience that can be positive or negative.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a sustained mental health disorder. Anxiety doesn’t fade into the distance once the threat is addressed - it hangs around for the long haul, and can cause significant impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning.
Although they are different, stress can often lead to anxiety if it lasts for a long period of time, and the side-effects of anxiety can often lead to bouts of stress.
There are a few steps you can take to cope better with pressure:
- Identify your triggers – by working out what triggers stress for you, you can anticipate problems, prepare for them, and think of ways to solve them. Take some time to think about what could be causing you stress, such as:
- Issues that come up regularly, such as school or college deadlines.
- One-off events, such as moving house.
- Ongoing stressful events, such as a difficult relationship, suffering from a mental illness, or supporting someone who is.
- Organise your time – making some adjustments to the way you organise your time could help you feel more in control of the tasks you’re facing:
- Identify your best time of day and do the important tasks that require the most energy at that time.
- Make a list of things you have to do, order them according to importance, and try to do the most important task first – procrastination is a very common source of stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with school or college work, a teacher might be able to help you prioritise.
- Set small, achievable targets – large tasks are overwhelming, and we tend to put them off because of this, but if you break them down into small, manageable targets it can really help you to feel more in control and see your achievements more easily.
- Take breaks and take things slowly – there's lots of websites that can help you to structure your time more effectively, take regular breaks, and improve your concentration.
- Address some of the causes – it’s important to recognise when things are completely outside of your control. Que sera sera, as the French say. Moving house or losing a loved one, for example, would most definitely fall under this category. This being said, there might still be some practical ways you could improve some of the issues that are putting pressure on you. You might find it helpful to read some of our guides if they apply to your situation:
Stress isn't a medical diagnosis, so there's no specific treatment for it. However, if you're finding it very hard to cope with things going on in your life and are experiencing lots of signs of stress, there are treatments available that could help. These include:
- Talking treatments, such as cognitive behavioural treatment.
- Medication, such as sleeping pills or antidepressants.
- Ecotherapy, which helps you to improve your wellbeing or self-esteem by spending time in nature.
- Complementary and alternative therapies, such as yoga and mindfulness.
To access most treatments, the first step is usually to talk to your doctor.