Updated: Oct 17, 2020
Stress. The culprit that has inevitably victimized you to bad habits, all-nighters, sudden panic, and incessant fear has become known to be a dreadful hormone that can control human lives. Little stress may make you motivated to take beneficial action, but a lot of it can feel like the whole world is on your shoulders. More than likely, you have felt overwhelmed and exhausted by daunting deadlines and mountainous tasks. Situations that range from being stuck in traffic to having an exam the next day can represent the spectrum in which stress can begin to get the best of you. Regardless, there are many things that can trigger this emotional and physical tension, even if they are small and on the back of your mind. Something to remember is that everyone handles stress differently, so some people are better able to handle it than others. However, just like many other forms of tension, there are many things that you can do to take care of yourself so that stress won’t get in control of you.
What is Stress?
So what exactly is stress, and why does it happen? Well, the science behind this kind of tension is fairly simple. When your brain detects a stressor or something that can be seen as a threat, your hypothalamus, a region of the brain, releases a hormone called cortisol, which makes its way into your bloodstream and moves into receptors in your organs and tissues. As a result, your blood sugar will rise, and so will your heart rate. This is all a part of a reaction caused by your body preparing to combat a threat, which is known as “fight or flight mode.” This can result in physical symptoms which include aches and pain, nausea, chest pain, and fatigue. Even though it may seem like it, stress isn’t always marked as a form of physical tension; it can be emotional as well. Some signs of changes in emotion when dealing with stress include: being irritated easily, constantly feeling nervous and hyper-focused on small things, mood swings, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. People with mental disorders such as anxiety, ADHD, OCD, and other disorders are more prone to being stressed out with the additional factors that these disorders provide. For example, some people who have OCD tend to repeat actions which can cause them great difficulty as they feel that they cannot ignore that particular action. In the end, numerous factors can contribute to stress, and many may not be in your control, which is completely okay.
For high schoolers, triggers for stress abound. According to a study by New York University, almost half of high school students reported overwhelming levels of stress daily. For all kinds of students taking classes ranging in difficulty level, school can be challenging, demanding, and taxing. Returning to school this fall has presented its own set of new stressors: the difficulties of online learning and, if you’re returning to campuses, returning to a traditional school schedule and environment after over six months away. You also have to balance schoolwork with extracurriculars, volunteer work, and jobs; with college looming closer every year, this becomes more important than ever. Competition fueled by the need to excel in these activities to distinguish yourself from millions of competitive applicants in the country is also a driving contributor to stress. Lack of sleep and poor eating habits inflame overwhelming feelings of stress, as do social pressures (which can compete for your attention among your other priorities). The major cause of stress, however, is lack of time. Students generally view time negatively, perceiving it to be against them in most situations. With all of the activities and commitments that demand significant amounts of time and energy, it’s difficult to create time to find healthy outlets for that stress. Many are aware of the negative effect of stress, but never know how to cope with it.
It’s important to make stress management a priority because stress has many short and long-term implications. First, let’s look at the three different kinds of stress. Chronic stress is the prolonged suffering of the symptoms mentioned earlier. It has the ability to significantly hinder your life by the consistent interruption of your sleep cycle, consistent physical discomfort, and worsened overall constant mood or mood swings. Acute stress is when you experience severe symptoms of stress for a short period of time; this usually has a direct trigger. Episodic acute stress is when you experience frequent attacks of acute stress, but you are not in a constant state of stress. These shorter-term effects can lead to the development of long-term problems. Disorders caused by stress include anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and eating disorders (from feelings of lack of control). Cardiovascular health is also influenced by stress, as is fertility, acne or skin health, hair loss, and gastrointestinal health. According to the National Ag Safety Database (NASD), about 90% of illnesses are stress-related.
In fact, stress immensely weakens the immune system. The immune system is composed of white blood cells that protect the body against viruses and pathogens. When cortisol enters the bloodstream, the white blood cells focus its attention on attacking those stress cells. In turn, the body is more susceptible to other pathogens because there are fewer white blood cells left to defend the body.
Dealing with stress
Fortunately, there are as many ways to manage stress as there are causes. These can be as simple as listening to music or as time-consuming a meditation. Here are five ways you can manage your stress without changing up your daily routine:
Even just ten minutes a day, three days a week, doing yoga has a significant impact on stress levels and stress management. Yoga also helps relieve some of the effects of stress. It can stretch out areas of tension caused by stress, counter decreased energy levels, create healthy breathing techniques, balance your metabolism and appetite, and improve cardiovascular health.
“I have learned through my yoga studies that I can only control the controllable and to let go of everything I can’t control. Through many years of practicing Asana (yoga poses) and advanced postures like headstand and mayurasana, I learned that changing perspective is always important. Physical postures that turn your world upside down literally teach you to change your perspective and look at things upside down. If I am feeling overwhelmed or starting to stress over something, I focus on my breathing. It may be a simple deep inhalation and slow exhalation through my mouth. I repeat it three times. If I’m still feeling overwhelmed, then I count my inhalation, hold my breath for the same amount of time, then exhale through my nose for the same amount of time. This is usually great at refocusing my mind and calming my spirit. If I’m finding that I’m feeling overwhelmed because I can’t focus, I practice alternate nostril breathing. Close one nostril with your ring finger, inhale, open that nostril and close the other nostril, exhale, inhale, open that nostril and close the other nostril and repeat. Another great stress management technique is counting meditation. Close your eyes and start counting “1-2-1, 1-2-3-2-1, 1-2-3-4-3-2-1” Keep going as high as you can go.”
- Paige Perry, Yoga Instructor, the Zoo Health Club
Just taking a walk or bike ride in between homework sessions produces endorphins that will increase your efficiency and deflect your mind from the nagging tension. “Running has been a big part of my life; it helps me be active and it gives me energy,” stated Alex Chen, a junior at Green Hope High School. Running and other forms of exercise are proven to be an effective treatment for dealing with stress, as it helps you stay energized and clear your mind.
3. List keeping
Keeping a to-do list in your notes, setting reminders, keeping a planner, using a calendar, or journaling. As long as you have some way of keeping track of all of the things you have to do, no matter how big or small, it reduces a large amount of stress. You no longer have to worry about forgetting to do something or increase your stress levels by trying to organize it all in your head.
“I’ve been dealing with chronic stress since I was a child. Even at ten years old, I remember feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty keeping track of the things I planned to do in my day or my week. I’ve always been a planner, but it wasn’t until I started middle school and my mental to-do list grew larger and more important that I started to physically write lists. I used to number items to do in my head and remember the number but not what I needed to do. Now, I keep a planner, a calendar, sticky notes, a list in my notes, and a list in my journal; all of them varying in occasion and urgency. Having a place to collect my thoughts and plans has helped relieve a lot of the symptoms of stress I feel. I can concentrate more on the present now that I’m not trying to use half of my brain to try to remember what I need to do next. Organized lists, along with drinking tea, help reduce the frequency of my headaches. I have fewer knots in my shoulders, and I sleep better knowing that I have a place to write down anything I feel like I’ll forget to do.”
- Carolina Larracilla, Junior, The Woodlands High School
4. Listening to music
Music can be a powerful distraction from stressors. It can significantly help increase concentration, an example of this being when students play music while doing their homework. Different kinds of music combat stress or symptoms of stress in different ways. Shouting along to music can release physical tension, and softer music induces calmer emotions. This can aid sleep, the lack of which is a symptom of stress. Different kinds of music also appeal to different kinds of pent-up emotions, providing an outlet for those emotions and making the listener feel understood.
5. Drinking tea
Theanine is an amino acid present in most teas and contains mood-balancing properties. In addition, different teas have different compounds that produce calming effects. Here are some of the most popular: