A young listener emailed me a topic idea — she runs her own pet care business (which is rad she’s a tween entrepreneur), and she wanted an episode about stress. I thought this was a great topic suggestion because I imagine many of you listening have been feeling some stress in your lives, and I know stress very well.
Plenty of things can cause stress: pressure to do really well in school, on teams, or in performances; relationships with family and friends, health struggles, changes in your life, responsibilities with family or work, events happening in the world, or being way too busy.
Good or regular stress can help you when you need to get something done — like when you remember you have a test tomorrow, stress motivates you to study for it. Stress can even help you react to danger — like if you’re about to cross the street and see a car coming, you back away and wait for it to pass.
You may have heard of “fight or flight” (scientifically known as “acute stress response”). This is our body and mind’s reaction to threats: either take on the problem or take off. It’s kept humans alive for thousands of years, and even without prehistoric predators, we still feel this response. When something makes you feel both excited and nervous — you’re about to speak in front of your class, jumping off a diving board, anticipating your team’s game or performance — your heart beats faster, you breathe more shallow, your palms sweat, you get butterflies in your stomach. And when it’s over, that response subsides and you feel much better. That’s all good stress.
But a lot of stress is bad and instead of a fight or flight response, it makes us freeze.
Bad stress makes us feel overwhelmed, worried, anxious, panicked, helpless, doubtful, afraid … These do not help us manage stress and can even cause physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, not wanting to eat anything or stress eating, biting nails/picking skin/pulling hair, or having trouble sleeping. Stress can also make people really moody or angry, not want to have fun or be around people, or make bad choices. And too much stress can lead to anxiety.
And since it’s something that will pop up throughout your life, I want to focus on Tools I’ve found helpful for coping with stress. We’ve explored a couple of them in previous episodes.
First, breathe. Take a deep breath. We discussed in ep. 005 how breathing properly sends a message to your brain to calm down, then your brain can tell your body to relax, which helps clear your head so you can think about how to best respond to the stress. Listen to ep. 005 for more on breathing techniques.
Next is Control. I’m not a therapist but something I learned in therapy is that worrying about something will not prevent it from happening. Instead, focus on what you can control. Like ep. 002, say what’s going on, name how you feel, focus on what you can control, and talk to someone or at least write out your feelings so they’re not bouncing around in your head. Letting out stressful thoughts helps clear mental space, then you can find solutions within your control.
These next tools are ones I’m looking forward to exploring in future episodes.
Slow down. Seriously though, busyness is overrated. Being overscheduled, constantly on the go, never taking time to catch your breath … you know what happens to your device when you don’t recharge it; you work the same way. So make and take time to recharge: sit in nature, read a book, watch the clouds or a sunset, soak in a bath, create art, listen to relaxing music, do guided mindfulness or meditation, or something else that helps you slow down.
Eat mindfully. If the opposite of this is eating mindLESSly, impulsive, and without thinking, then eating mindFULLy is intuitive and thoughtful. Pay attention to what your body is telling you it needs, listen for your cravings and hunger and fullness cues, and notice how it feels to be satisfied as you nourish your body mindfully.
Move your body. Physical activity has many benefits, one of which is stress relief. Studies show exercise lowers the level of stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, and increases endorphins, our body’s pain reliever and mood booster. You can do a team sport or activity, play on a playground, explore outdoors, stretch or do yoga, or something else that makes you start to sweat. Aim for 60 minutes total a day moving your body.
Make a list. This has been especially helpful for me. Instead of trying to remember all of the things on your To Do list, write them down. Keep a note to remind you so you don’t have to stress out about retaining all of the thoughts bouncing around in your head. And there’s a sense of accomplishment and relief when you cross off something you finished on my list.
Sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep each night, your body can’t fully reset for the next day. Lack of sleep zaps your energy, decreases your patience and resilience, and affects your performance in school and activities. For your ages, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 9-11 hours of sleep a night. Especially if you have a lot going on, you need to rest.
Sometimes stress affects how you live your life, and when that’s happened to me, I’ve found Therapy to be very useful. Talking with a counselor or therapist has helped me learn how to recognize my stress, deal with it, and even prevent it.
Living stressed out is not a lifestyle — believe me, I’ve tried and I don’t recommend it.
But I do recommend trying out these Tools for coping with stress:
- Focus on what you Can Control
- Slow down
- Eat mindfully
- Move your body
- Make a list
- Get enough sleep
And if stress is too much, a counselor or therapist can help.
To help you remember all of this, I created a “Stress Management” poster for you to print out, personalize, and post on your wall where you’ll see it, remember it, practice it, and believe it — that’s the important part.
A few of my favorite books that illustrate stress management are
Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival
A Little Spot of Worry by Diane Alber
Wilma Jean the Worry Machine by Julia Cook
What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner
If you have favorite books to share, or have a topic suggestion, I’d love to hear from you! Send an email (tweens get the OK from your parents) to hello@EmpowerfulGirls.com .