Sometimes, life feels tough.
The upcoming test that stands between a pass or fail grade? A championship game you’ve practiced for all season long? A tough break up, argument with a friend, or disagreement with your parents?
Regardless of age, gender, or race, no one is immune to the natural human experience we all know as stress. And as we age, our sources of stress expand. The more responsibilities we have, the more stressors we are exposed to daily.
The thing about stress is that it’s not always bad.
Stress can motivate you to finish a big school project, or it can be the reason you lose sleep at night. It can push you to practice for an upcoming dance recital, or it can overwhelm you into not going at all.
What we must remember about stress is this—while we can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we react.
Stress and Addiction Risk Go Hand in Hand
If we’re unable to find healthy ways to manage stress, we may be tempted to numb, erase, or run from stress in ways detrimental to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Experts have long linked early trauma to an increased risk for substance use disorders. Now, studies are revealing connections between chronic stress and opioid use disorder.
Research published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine shows a history of early life stress is associated with opioid use initiation, injection drug use, overdose, and poor treatment outcomes. Often folks are so overwhelmed with no knowledge of how to deal with stress, so they turn to harmful substances instead—with drastic consequences.
See also: Kara’s Story of Hope
Find a Healthy Outlet for Your Stress
Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy ways to cope with stress.
It may take some experimenting, but it’s more than possible to decrease stress levels when you feel worried, anxious, or overwhelmed.
Let’s look at five of them.
5 Ways to Manage Stress
Regular exercise is great for your body, but it’s great for your mind, too.
Exercise increases the “happy hormones” that make you feel joyful and calm. It benefits other areas of your life that also keep you healthy, like improved restful sleep, more energy, and a better mood.
Most importantly, exercise increases your capacity to deal with the hard parts of life.
Just 30 minutes a day is all you need to reap the benefits of moving your body. When you feel stressed, go for a walk, take a hike in nature, or throw on your running shoes. You may be surprised to find that after you exercise, the weight of stress feels lighter than before.
New to exercise? Start small with an activity you enjoy. Start with just 10 minutes per day. Eventually you’ll find you can exercise for longer as your mind and body become stronger.
Some examples are:
- Lifting Weights
- Exercise Classes
- School Sports
Get Enough Sleep.
If you’re not getting the sleep you need, your mind and body have less of a chance to deal with the stressors that come your way.
In the same way your body wouldn’t be able to perform well in a soccer game after an all-nighter, your mind isn’t able to cope well with everyday challenges without sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that teens between 13 and 18-years-old should sleep eight to 10 hours per night for optimal health.
Research shows those who do are more likely to be health, perform well in school, and have a positive attitude towards life in general.
To improve your sleep, try these tips:
- Turn off your phone, TV, and electronics an hour before bed
- Make sure your room is dark, cool, and quiet at bedtime
- Avoid strenuous activity and exercise in the hours before sleep
- Limit caffeine intake to morning hours only
- Go to bed and wake up around the same times each day
Children and teens are busier than ever before. Between schoolwork, sports, and social obligations, opportunities for rest and self-care are rare. However, it’s important to make time to decompress from life’s duties.
Schedule breaks for yourself and hold your boundaries strong. Inform your friends or acquaintances who may try to reach you that you’re not available and ask that your parents or caregivers support your downtime as well. If it’s peace and quiet you need, inform your friends you’re not accessible during this time—so you won’t be responding to texts, calls, or messages until your “rest time” is over.
Read a book, take a nap, and do what you need to do to let your mind and body relax, rest, and be present.
Talk with someone you trust.
Sometimes sharing your struggles with a trusted caregiver, friend, or professional is enough to take the edge off of a stressful situation.
Reaching out and knowing you’re not alone is a lifeline when life feels hard. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with a friend or parent, consider asking a school counselor, therapist, or other professional for help.
If you need solutions, ask for them. But if it’s just a listening ear you’re looking for, be clear with whoever you speak to that you’re not seeking advice in return. Sometimes stress decreases simply by talking about issues and “getting it off your chest”.
Find a Hobby as An Outlet
As important as it is to talk about your worries and confront them, it’s also important to find ways that avoid letting them consume you. That’s where finding hobbies comes into play.
Maybe you enjoy writing, creating music, woodworking, or exploring nature. Find something healthy and safe that you enjoy and turn to it when you feel stressed. You may find your hobby is also a way to express how you feel, particularly if you enjoy writing, painting, or other forms of art.
Not sure where to start?
Check out our suggestions on STAYING DRUG FREE: HOBBIES FOR SOBRIETY.
About Game Changer WV
Created in 2018, Game Changer is a student-powered movement with focus on substance misuse prevention among youths. We connect students, educators, and communities with education, training, coaching, and support services to prevent opioid and other drug use before it starts.
Visit ourresourcesto learn more.