Coping with Stress

The facilitator for this recent teen workshop is Heather Chapman, a homeschool mom whose five children range in age from 13 to 21. She holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology and worked for many years as a school therapist for high-risk kids and their families. Heather currently volunteers at Catholic Charities pregnancy center and serves as secretary on the board of directors for RiseUP Cooperative in Chattanooga.

Teens today are living in a world that delivers more stressors than ever before. A few common ones are friendships, dating relationships, loss, and pressure to perform. Heather Chapman shares that a staggering 83% of students surveyed report that their biggest stressor is school-related. This is easy to understand, given the vast range of complexities that a teen might face pertaining to school. For instance, a school stressor could come in the form of homework, testing, struggling with a school subject, school bullying, or school sports—and that’s just scraping the surface!

School stress affects any teen, regardless of school setting, and is also relevant for homeschool students. I was homeschooled from first grade through twelfth grade, and I vividly remember how stressful my senior year of high school was to me. When it came time to apply to colleges and take the ACT, I found myself battling anxiety as I began to prepare myself for the next chapter of my education.

In this workshop, Heather describes how to recognize that stress is impacting you. An example she gives is that if you are typically someone who is organized and then find yourself getting distracted more easily than normal—or not able to focus well or to get a full night’s sleep—those could be signs of unhealthy stress levels. Another warning sign could come from a family member or close friend who recognizes a change from your typical behavior. Try to be willing to listen when a family member points out that you seem stressed, because often this will become apparent to the people who see us every day, even before we realize it ourselves. I know from personal experience that this can be true. I wasn’t always willing to listen and would at times brush it off, but that probably wasn’t the best idea, because it led me to carry more and more stress.

Heather also dives into ways teens can cope with stress. First, she gives an example of a bad coping skill, such as choosing to take naps to avoid homework or other things you may not want to do. This is not helpful, since the issue you are trying to avoid will still be there after the nap. Emotional eating can be another negative coping skill. The term “eating your feelings” can be very real for some people, as food can provide a sense of comfort. Some researchers have even stated that food can literally lessen stress levels; however, this is not the best way to cope with stress, because it can easily lead to overeating and/or binge eating.

Some healthy ways to cope with stress include: 

• Deep breathing – This can quiet the nervous system and helps to calm you by allowing more oxygen to reach the brain.

• Writing – This helps to express the things that are causing your stress. It also can help you identify things you might be able to control versus things you can’t control. 

• Exercise – This can provide you with more energy and also releases endorphins, which can be a natural pain killer. Getting plenty of movement throughout the day can also improve your ability to sleep. 

Now we know healthy ways to cope with stress. Ask yourself: 

• What are my stressors? 

• What am I currently doing to manage this stress? 

• Can any of these techniques help me to manage it better? 

Leah Bilal, BA, has worked for more than eight years in social services with experience in forensics and in psychiatric residential, elderly and disabled, children and families, and hospital populations. She is happily married and the mother of a one-year-old Maltese named Shooter. She desires to use her talents to educate her community on the importance of mental health.

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