Coping With Stress

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Stress is a reaction to a situation where a person feels threatened or anxious. Learning healthy ways to cope and getting the right care and support can help reduce stressful feelings and symptoms.

After a traumatic event, people may have strong and lingering reactions. These events may include personal or environmental disasters, or threats with an assault. The symptoms may be physical or emotional. Common reactions to a stressful event can include:

  • disbelief, shock, and numbness
  • feeling sad, frustrated, and helpless
  • difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
  • smoking or use of alcohol or drugs

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

Feeling emotional and nervous or having trouble sleeping and eating can all be normal reactions to stress. Here are some healthy ways you can deal with stress:

  • Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.
  • Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to help, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.
  • Take a break. If news events are causing your stress, take a break from listening or watching the news.
  • Recognize when you need more help. If problems continue or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a psychologist, social worker, or professional counselor.

Check out Taking Care of Your Emotional Health for more information and resources.

Helping Children and Youth Cope with Stress

Children and youth often struggle with how to cope with stress. Youth can be particularly overwhelmed when their stress is connected to a traumatic event—like a natural disaster, family loss, school shootings, or community violence. Parents, caregivers, and educators can take steps to provide stability and support that help young people feel better.

Tips

It is natural for children to worry when scary or stressful events happen in their lives. Talking to your children about these events can help put frightening information into a more balanced setting. Monitor what children see and hear about stressful events happening in their lives. Here are some suggestions to help children cope:

  • Maintain a normal routine. Helping children wake up, go to sleep, and eat meals at regular times provide them a sense of stability.
  • Talk, listen, and encourage expression. Listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings and share some of yours. After a traumatic event, it is important for children to feel they can share their feelings and that you understand their fears and worries.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Any changes in behavior may be signs that your child is having trouble and may need support.
  • Reassure. Stressful events can challenge a child’s sense of safety and security. Reassure your child about his or her safety and well-being. Discuss ways that you, the school, and the community are taking steps to keep them safe.
  • Connect with others. Talk to other parents and your child’s teachers about ways to help your child cope. It is often helpful for parents, schools, and health professionals to work together for the well-being of all children in stressful times.

Check out Helping Children Cope with Emergencies for more information and resources.

After a traumatic event, it is normal to feel anxious about your safety and security. Even if you were not directly involved, you may worry about whether this type of event may someday affect you. Check out the tips below for some ideas to help deal with these fears.

  • Talk to and stay connected to others. Talking with someone you trust can help you make sense out of your experience. If you are not sure where to turn, call your local crisis intervention center or a national hotline.
  • Take care of yourself. Try to get plenty of sleep, eat right, exercise, and keep a normal routine.
  • Take information breaks. Pictures and stories about a disaster can increase worry and other stressful feelings. Taking breaks from the news, Internet, and conversations about the disaster can help calm you down.

School personnel can help their students restore their sense of safety by talking with the children about their fears. Other tips for school personnel include:

  • Reach out and talk. Create opportunities to have students talk, but do not force them. You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are students withdrawing from friends? Acting out? These changes may be early signs that a student is struggling and needs extra support from the school and family.
  • Maintain normal routines. A regular classroom and school schedule can provide a sense of stability and safety. Encourage students to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but do not push them if they seem overwhelmed.
  • Take care of yourself. You are better able to support your students if you are healthy, coping and taking care of yourself first. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.
Coping with a Natural Disaster?

After a natural disaster, it’s normal to feel different and strong emotions. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover from a disaster. Resources to help with coping and stress after a natural disaster are available for teens as well as parents and professionals.

Need Help? Know Someone Who Does?

Find a health care provider or treatment for substance use disorder and mental health

Page last reviewed: November 25, 2020