When is perceived or anticipated, your body automatically switches into its emergency 'fight or flight' mode, enabling you to respond quickly. This reflex involves your autonomic nervous system, the part of the body that controls involuntary actions like the heartbeat and digestion.
Ever get nervous before an exam?
Do you find that your palms sweat, your legs shake, and your heart thumps rapidly? Those are signs that your body's 'stress response' is kicking into gear.
The stress response can be triggered by physical or emotional pressures or by anything perceived as a threat or challenge. If you are experiencing a stress , your body will be stuck in a constantly heightened state. You will feel tense, anxious and irritable most of the time. You may suffer from headaches, panic attacks, stomach complaints and insomnia.
Prolonged stress can lead to more serious health problems such as high blood pressure. Your immune system may become , making you vulnerable to colds and other illnesses.
Stress is everywhere in today's fast-paced modern world, and it would be impossible to eliminate it entirely from our lives. In fact, without a certain amount of stress to keep us motivated we might even become lazy and lethargic. In moderate amounts, stress us. The aim is to learn how to manage it effectively and to recognise when we are becoming overloaded with anxieties.
Being a teenager can be particularly stressful due to anxieties over , acceptance and rejection. Here are some of the problems a young person might encounter:
- School/exam pressures
- Taking on too many activities or having high expectations
- Moving schools
- Low self-esteem
- Physical changes
- Difficult relationships with friends or parents
- Separation or divorce of parents
- Family financial problems
- Illness in the family
- Death of a loved one
- Choices over drinking, smoking, drugs and sex
Some teenagers turn to drugs and alcohol to help them manage stressful times. Some develop mental health problems such as eating disorders and depression.
Exercise is a great way to relieve tension as it releases endorphins, which are 'feel-good' neurotransmitters found in the . Try exercising a couple of times a week to help you unwind. At the end of a hard day it is more tempting to collapse in front of the TV with a tub of ice-cream, but if you incorporate some gentle exercise into your week you will really notice the difference to your stress levels! Team sport is a fun way to exercise, provided that there is not a high level of competition, pressure to perform or fear of failure.
Cut down on caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulating substance which has a number of physiological effects on the body, including a slight increase in blood pressure and pulse. It has been proven to worsen symptoms of panic and anxiety, and it can interfere with sleep which in turn will make you more irritable and . No caffeine after 4 or 5pm is a good rule to follow. Remember that chocolate also contains a small amount of caffeine.
Get enough sleep. This is often easier said than done. Lack of sleep can lead to a ' vicious cycle' of daytime behaviours which make the situation worse; if you are tired you may try to your lack of energy and concentration by excessive caffeine intake, you may be too tired to exercise and you might nap during the day which will reduce your ability to sleep at night.
If you're having problems sleeping, the following ideas might help:
- Eat light meals in the evening. Eating heavily in the evening or just before bedtime can disrupt your sleep patterns
- Don't study just before going to bed as your brain will be too active to relax
- Exercise during the day but don't exercise strenuously just before going to bed
- Make your bedroom a comforting and welcoming place to be. Decorate it with your favourite photos and posters. Make sure your bed is comfortable
- Sprinkle a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow (check out our Aromatherapy pages for more tips to help you unwind using essential oils)
- Try a hot drink at bedtime such as milk and honey, Horlicks or Ovaltine. Avoid cocoa as it is a source of caffeine
Join a yoga class. Or try Qigong or Tai Chi, which are two types of martial arts that can improve relaxation skills. Qigong (pronounced "chee gung") is an ancient Chinese discipline that uses breathing, meditation, visualisation, and repetitive physical exercises to cleanse and strengthen the body. Tai Chi aims to harmonise the body, mind and . It uses flowing movements and does not rely on speed, strength or force.
Laugh! Experts claim that laughing relaxes tense muscles, speeds oxygen into your system, lowers blood pressure and triggers the release of endorphins. If you have a good sense of humour you are more likely to keep things in perspective which will stop you feeling overwhelmed. When you're feeling stressed, try watching a film or sharing a joke with friends.
- Try rehearsing situations which make you particularly anxious (such as a speech or class presentation).
- If you are revising for exams, take short breaks to do something relaxing such as listening to music or phoning a friend.
- Don't make important decisions during particularly stressful times as you may not be thinking very clearly.
- If you are feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone you trust such as a parent or teacher. Sharing your problems can often make them seem less huge.