Stress is a valuable – actually, essential – chemical reaction when we’re faced with danger or challenge. In a split second, faster than we can decide to move, our body is flooded with chemicals, including adrenaline and cortisol. These send blood racing to large muscles and our brain and release glucose into the bloodstream for energy. This allows us to act as powerfully as possible.
But stress becomes a problem when it lasts too long and has no relief. Then, cortisol builds up and the consequences can be serious after a while: for example, impaired immune system, poor concentration, weight gain, increased risk of strokes and heart attack, depression and other mental illnesses. Even in the short term, too much stress can stop us doing our best and make us feel unwell and anxious.
That’s what it is, but how can young people deal with it? All these ideas are perfect for your pupils, though they also work for all ages.
1. Identify something (not harmful) that makes you feel good and do it whenever you need to – for me, it’s having a hot bath, by candlelight. But it could be lots of other things – a run, watching a film, meeting a friend for coffee, listening to music, whatever makes you happy. Do something every day.
2. Learn to breathe properly and notice when you aren’t. See here for a free audio to help.
3. Rewards, little and often. A five minute break every half hour of tough work, for example.
4. Exercise. Even a brisk walk is valuable. Doctors know that exercise has a huge effect on mental and physical health.
5. Get outside and find a great view. The human brain and psyche respond well to big open spaces and a view of greenery.
6. Read for pleasure – I call it readaxation. Getting immersed in an enjoyable book is a great way to relax.
7. Remember that you will not feel the same tomorrow or next week or next month. Everything changes.
8. Talk to someone before it gets too much. Find a trusted adult
9. Find a relaxation method that works for you – relaxation tapes, meditation, yoga, whatever. Practise it.
10. Have a laugh. Laughter is a really useful and very fast way of relieving stress, as it releases “endorphins” around our brain. Endorphins are often described as nature’s happy medicine. So, whether it’s watching another episode of Friends or cackling over this video of goats yelling like humans, do it often.
It’s really important to try to get young people to take stress seriously. Relaxation – relieving those powerful stress chemicals – is not a luxury but an important part of looking after our health. It makes a difference to results, relationships and wellbeing.
Nicola Morgan is an award-winning writer for teenagers and the author of Blame My Brain and The Teenage Guide to Stress. She offers training on aspects of adolescence and has created Brain Sticks™, teaching resources about the brain and mental health. Nicola is proud to be a co-author of Collins GCSE Study Skills publishing September 2015. – See more from Nicola here.
Copyright © Nicola Morgan 2014