Stress is a normal response to life’s demands and challenges. It is how the brain and body react to help us deal with sensed threats and danger. Stress also varies widely in intensity and how long it lasts.
This section has tips on how to lower your stress levels and feel calmer. Then you can think more clearly about how to best deal with what is causing you stress.
Causes of stress
Stress can be caused by many types of situations, such as:
- Everyday challenges from work, school, family and relationships
- Personal loss such as job loss, divorce or a death in the family
- Major disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes and pandemics
- Traumatic events ranging from abuse and assault to accidents
- Positive events that bring big changes, such as a new job, getting married or having a child
- Your own thoughts: how you think about a stress-causing event can make you feel worse – or better
Common reactions to stressful events include:
- Doubt, shock and numbness
- Feeling sad, upset and helpless
- Fear and worry about the future
- Anger and tension
- Problems focusing and getting results
- Less interest in life
- Wanting to be alone
- Loss of hunger
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Nightmares or bad thoughts
- Reoccurring thoughts of a stressful event
- Headaches, back pains and stomach problems
- Raised heart rate and trouble breathing
- Smoking, using drugs or drinking
Healthy vs. harmful stress
Stress itself is neither healthy nor harmful. Short-term stress can help when you need it – whether that’s passing a test at school, doing well in a job interview or stepping on the brakes to avoid a car crash. If stress lasts too long after what caused it has passed, that is not healthy.
Stress management tips
Having strong feelings, being nervous or having trouble sleeping and eating can all be normal reactions to stress. Taking part in healthy events and getting the right care can help lower stressful feelings in a few days or weeks.
To feel better, take better care of yourself
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
- Get regular exercise
- Get plenty of sleep
- Give yourself a break if you feel stressed out
- Talk to others: share your problems and feelings with a parent, friend, mental health worker, doctor or pastor
- Skip drugs and drinking: though they may seem to help with the stress, they make extra problems and cause more stress
- If your stress is caused by a public or local event, take breaks from listening to the news, which can raise your stress
Know when you need more help
- If problems do not go away or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a psychologist, social worker or trained mental health worker.
- Talk to your primary care provider about how you are feeling. They may have recommendations to help you feel better. For mental health or substance abuse treatment referrals, call the Behavioral Health Recovery Services (BHRS) ACCESS Call Center at 1-800-686-0101.
If you or someone you know needs urgent help, please call the one of these crisis hotlines:
- Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish-speaking callers)
- Youth Mental Health Line: 1-888-568-1112
- Child-Help USA: 1-800-422-4453 (24-hour, toll free)
Helping kids cope with stress
Because of their level of growth, children and adolescents often struggle with how to cope with stress. Young people can be overwhelmed when their stress is linked to painful and scary events — like natural disasters, a death in the family, school shootings or violence. Parents and educators can take steps to offer support that help young people feel better.
Tips for parents
It is normal for children to worry when scary or stressful events happen in their lives. Talking with children about these stressful events and checking what they watch about the events can help put scary news into a more balanced context. Here are some tips to help children cope with stress.
- Keep a normal routine Helping children wake up, go to sleep and eat meals at routine times gives them a sense of support. Going to school and taking part in normal after-school events also give extra support.
- Talk, listen and support expression Make time to let your children talk if they want. Don’t force them, though. Listening to your child’s thoughts and feelings, and sharing some of yours, can help them feel better. Letting them know that their fears and worries are normal can also help. Keep these talks going by asking them how they feel in a week, a month and so on.
- Watch and listen Be alert for any change in actions. Are children sleeping more or less? Are they withdrawing from friends or family? Are they behaving in any way not normal? Any changes in actions, even small changes, may be signs that the child is having trouble coming to terms with the event and may need support.
- Comfort Stressful events can test a child's sense of well-being and safety. Take time to comfort your child about his or her safety and well-being. Talk about steps that you, their school and your neighbors are taking to keep them safe.
- Talk with others Make an ongoing effort to talk with other parents and your child’s teachers about issues and ways to help your child cope. You do not have to deal with problems alone. The best way to support children’s well-being is for parents, schools and health experts to work together.