Most young people feel stressed sometimes. A manageable amount of stress can be motivating, or even exciting, like if you’re racing to win a game or waiting to get tickets for a popular event. But feeling stressed can become a problem if it’s too intense or if it happens too often or for too long.
Causes of stress
Stress is often talked about as something that mainly affects adults – but it affects young people too.
Of course, lots of the things that trigger stress in adults also affect young people. For example, young people can experience bereavement, caring responsibilities, money worries, discrimination, the news, and mental and physical ill-health.
In addition to this, young people face pressures like exams, changing schools, becoming more independent, and making big decisions about their next steps in education or employment.
These triggers affect everyone in different ways. How stressed people feel (either after a big traumatic event or as a result of everyday pressures building up) depends on things like their past experiences, their access to resources like time and money, and the supportive people they have in their lives.
What stress is like
When we experience something stressful, our bodies get ready to deal with potential pressure or threat by releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
This can cause physical symptoms, like headaches, sweating, a fast heartbeat, and stomach problems. But it can affect how you think and feel too. You might find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions if you’re feeling overwhelmed or worried all the time, and it can make you feel angry, anxious, or sad.
Stress isn’t a mental illness – but it can make you unwell. Being stressed over a long period of time can lead to an anxiety disorder or depression, and a very stressful or traumatic event can cause PTSD.If you have a mental health condition, stress might make it worse. For example, someone with an eating disorder might experience more intense ‘eating disorder thoughts’. Someone with OCD might experience more intrusive thoughts or get pulled further into compulsions. Or someone who’s previously experienced psychosis might relapse and experience another episode.
Ideas for managing stress
Firstly, try to remind yourself that it’s OK to feel stressed and overwhelmed. It can seem like others are coping perfectly – but people respond to stress in different ways. Some people find it helpful to talk very publicly about their stress, while others might only tell a smaller group of trusted people.
The good news is that when young people feel stressed, there are that can make it easier.
It might be helpful to start by writing or drawing about what’s going on. From there, you might feel more able to put your experiences into words. It can also be helpful to recognise what’s in your control to change, and what you can’t control.
If you can identify specific triggers for stress (like looming exams or ill-health), you can ask an adult for practical support. For example, a teacher or mentor could help you draw up a revision timetable (with plenty of breaks) or your GP might be able to help you manage the symptoms of a health condition. If you’re worried about the cost of living, you could talk to someone at school, college, or university, or check out the Citizens Advice website.
Supportive adults like teachers, parents and carers, and GPs are often happy for you talk about how you feel too, even if the triggers aren’t clear. If you’d feel more comfortable talking anonymously, the Get help now page has links to confidential sources of support via text, phone, and email. You can always text NATTER to 85258 to message with a trained volunteer – it’s anonymous, confidential, and free.
You can also try to be aware of how much caffeine you consume because caffeine in things like tea and coffee can affect hormones in a similar way to stress. Finding an enjoyable way of moving your body can also be helpful, whether that’s a casual team sport, taking yourself on a relaxing walk, or dancing around your bedroom.
Best For You also signposts to a lists of mental health related books for children and mental health related books for young people, which can be a helpful starting point for learning more about wellbeing.
Finally, you can try making time for calming activities that you usually enjoy, whether that’s baking, making models, craft, playing an instrument, or spending time with pets.