Stress can be caused by a multitude of things such as sitting in front of a computer on Zoom for six hours a day, your sibling and parents arguing, having to create a project due at the end of the week, or having soccer practice every other day. With having all of this piling on top of one another, the COVID-19 pandemic is not helping by causing this burden to be at its peak. Yes, stress can motivate you and help you meet your daily challenges, granting the completion of tasks and the production of quality work. However, crushing amounts of stress can lead to unhealthy coping such as overeating, alcoholism, and self-harm all of which can possibly threaten your life. So, how do you deal with the weight of the world without damaging your health?
Stress is hard to identify and even harder to figure out how to manage it. Stress is unique to each individual, meaning that finding a solution for it takes trial and error because of the variation between a person and successful coping mechanisms. The following are suggestions from teens on how and where to begin one’s coping journey:
“I would tell them to breathe and take time to name the stressor! Things are a lot easier to deal with when you know what you’re dealing with and to take one step at a time.”- Li, 18, Georgia State University
“For those beginning to learn to cope with stress, I’d say it’ll take a while to develop your own methods, but be patient with yourself. Finding [a] coping method that works for you and positively affects your mental health is what’s most important. It’s all about overcoming and managing your stress, not ‘fighting’ through it.”- Keyallah, 17, Westlake High School
“I would recommend doing something that makes you happy, reminding yourself that this will pass just like everything. Ridding stress with your body first then your mind is really great for that. So yoga, meditation, exercise!”- Zenobia, 16, Tri-Cities High School
Deep breathing, also referred to as meditation, is a common yet very effective coping skill for most. It allows your muscles to relax and lower your heart rate as well. This coping mechanism also increases the amount of oxygen in the brain, arousing parts of the nervous system which will promote calmness throughout the body. This form of meditation grants your body permission to even out your blood pressure and regulate the amount of cortisol (“stress” hormone) released into the blood system. With the cortisol lowering, endorphins (the “feel good” chemical) will rise in numbers, giving you the ability to relax and come back to earth. Since there are many forms of meditation, here are three techniques to help you begin:
Step 1: Relax all of the muscles in your body.
Step 2: Inhale while mentally counting to four (4).
Step 3: Hold your breath while counting to four (4) again.
Step 4: With pursed lips, exhale while mentally counting to (6).
Step 5: Repeat as many times as needed to become relaxed and/or calm.
Step 1: Place yourself in a comfortable position.
Step 2: Place one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest.
Step 3: Take a slow, deep breath through your nose. Your stomach should push out while your chest stays still.
Step 4: Exhale through pursed lips. Use the hand resting on your stomach to push out all remaining air.
Step 5: Repeat 3-10 times or your desired amount.
Step 1: Find a surface and lay flat on your back with your eyes closed.
Step 2: Breath in through the nose for a count of six (6). Be cautious to not fill your lungs full of air.
Step 3: Exhale for another count of six (6). Allow the air to slowly and gently leave your body. Do not force it.
Step 4: Repeat as many times as needed.
Whether you are in a restaurant, shopping for groceries, or walking in a park, there is a form of music playing in the environment around you. Music can be seen as many things— background noise, entertainment, and even a coping mechanism for some. Physically, playing or listening to music is known to slow your pulse and lower your blood pressure. Certain types of music are even able to release neurotransmitters associated with reward, and reset a reaction where chemicals similar to the stress hormone are released.
Psychologically, music can have varying effects from person to person. It can be used for focus, crying, happiness, etc. When speaking to Thomas Bowie,21, from the mental health campaign Free Your Feels, he revealed, “When I first started really self-reflecting and trying to talk about my feelings which was very hard for a 14,15-year-old boy playing sports. We are not really allowed to do that, so what I would do is find music that did it for me and I would just listen to that music. And if the lyrics really resonated with me, that was kind of like me being able to say it, but I let the singer or rapper say it for me and I would just listen to the music.”
It is also said that in stressful circumstances, music helps remove the situation from the mind to give you a break. Jayden Mcllwaine, 16, from Tucker High School says, “It helps me cancel out the problem in a way. It helps me forget it.”
During this time of forget, you are able to relax and figure out strategies on how to tackle the issue at hand. This will make it easier to complete the task before an overwhelming sense of stress or anxiety kicks in.
Physical activity is a coping mechanism that many people don’t think of. An article written by Harvard Medical School states, “Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.”
Dr. Stephanie Pearson from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health also told VOX ATL,” A lot of time people won’t think about exercise because they don’t have the equipment and whatever, then walk. How about walking, running?”
Physical activity is also known to help you sleep better and combat against symptoms of insomnia because it can cause changes in your core temperature, mimicking the temperature change that happens right before you fall asleep. This alteration can confuse your body and allow you to have a more restful night.
As reading is used in school assignments, it can also be a great activity to do in your leisure. This endeavor is known to activate the “escape” strategy which is when people socially isolate themselves to relax. If you decided to read a book to help yourself “escape,” it will take about six minutes for your body to unwind after getting absorbed into it. Once consumed by the story, it will seem as though a movie is playing inside your mind. The advantage to reading instead of watching a movie is, statistically, reading reduces your stress levels by 68%, helps form a slow memory decline, and can enhance the mind while opening new perspectives.
Research has proven that fiction stories are the most effective genre to read when trying to cope. Personally, I agree as I find it is the most enjoyable. I suggest that you begin testing this coping technique with your favorite type of fiction sub-genre. It doesn’t matter whether it is science fiction, mystery, romance, or historical fiction. Then, if you have decided that reading is effective with helping you relax, you can branch out to other genres.
Talking to people, or venting to someone about problems in your life is a very effective way to help release built-up tension and will let you see the situation more clearly. With this new perspective, it will be easier to identify the stressor and find ways to work around it. Studies have also shown that people who talk with friends and family are more likely to find healthier ways to cope as an alternative to using unhealthy coping mechanisms as a way to deal with life’s issues. In addition, people in your life who support you and care about you are supposed to help you when you’re stressed. Reaching out and talking with someone about things that are bothering you can be beneficial to both of you; you are able to get this weight off of your chest and your friend or family member knows that you are dealing with your stress in a healthy way by disclosing this information.
All in all, deep breathing, music, exercise, reading and venting are five simple ways to help release your stress. However, they may not work for everyone, making it similar to a trial and error process. They can be tested out anywhere from your house to another state in whatever order you choose to try them. And one of the best parts about these particular mechanisms is that they are very accessible and almost all free! Hopefully, this will make the weight of the world just a little bit lighter.