So Stressed Out

Last year my Level 2 class did a massive brainstorm of ideas for a magazine feature article. The target audience was their peers. After five minutes I noticed a strong trend on the whiteboard. The S word.

Every single thing they had written had the word stress connected to it at some point.

Cleverly I deduced that they find life stressful. For many, it is the first time they have had to multitask, to make priorities, to potentially miss out now for later. And clearly, that is stressful.

Calling on years of wisdom, I pointed out that this was really just the start. That stress is a fact of life that can’t be avoided. You just have to learn to manage deadlines, to make sacrifices and keep going. What concerned me was how freely they used the word and how it automatically had negative connotations (and a clear inference that stress was disabling).

There is good stress and bad stress. Simply put bad stress makes you sick – physically and mentally – while good stress can be a motivator. It’s knowing you have to get something done by the end of the week, working hard and making the deadline. And that can generate satisfaction and improve your self-worth. In reality, often people truly experiencing negative stress are so stuck in the quagmire that they can’t articulate it in the manner many teens can and do.

So if stress can’t be avoided, how can it be managed? And how can we educate young people to understand the difference? There are obvious ideas like putting deadlines on a planner, saying no to extras and asking for help. But it also pays to consider:

  • Stressors – People? Places? Certain tasks? Can they be eliminated (er not the people), avoided or delegated?
  • Your reactions – Do you grab a glass of wine?  Stop exercising? Overeat? Under eat?
  • Your behaviour – Do you yell at the kids more? Shut down?
  • What could you do – Ironically the things you stop doing, such as exercising, and start doing, such as drinking more, need to be reversed.

Simply taking stock of what’s going on to make you replace positive behaviour with unhelpful behaviour is the first step to overcoming stress in the short term.

In the long term, if stress is caused by an unhealthy relationship or dysfunctional workplaces, then wait til you are feeling calmer, put on your big girl pants and ask the hard questions. Stress won’t go away on its own and sometimes we have to be brave to make changes and manage it.

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