Coping With Stress

mother comforting daughter

Everyone—adults, teens, and even children, experiences stress. Stress is a reaction to a situation where a person feels threatened or anxious. Stress can be positive (e.g. preparing for a wedding) or negative (e.g. dealing with a natural disaster). 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, well-balanced meals
    • Exercise on a regular basis
    • Get plenty of sleep
    • 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.

Helping Youth Cope with Stress

Children and adolescents 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 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. Going to school and participating in typical after-school activities also provide stability and extra support.
  • Talk, listen, and encourage expression. Create opportunities for your children to talk, but do not force them. 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. Keep having these conversations. Ask them regularly how they feel in a week, in a month, and so on.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are children sleeping more or less? Are they withdrawing from friends or family? 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.

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. This might be:
    • Parents, or other relatives
    • Friends
    • Teachers
    • Coach
    • Family doctor
    • Member of your place of worship

    Talking with someone can help you make sense out of your experience and figure out ways to feel better. If you are not sure where to turn, call your local crisis intervention center or a national hotline.

  • Get active. Go for a walk, play sports, play a musical instrument, or join an after-school program. Volunteer with a community group that promotes nonviolence or another school or community activity that you care about. These can be positive ways to handle your feelings and to see that things are going to get better.
  • Take care of yourself. Try to get plenty of sleep, eat right, exercise, and keep a normal routine. By keeping yourself healthy, you will be better able to handle a tough time.
  • 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. Try asking questions like, what do you think about these events, or how do you think these things happen? You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation. When children talk about their feelings, it can help them cope and to know that different feelings are normal.
  • 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, well-balanced meals
    • Exercise on a regular basis
    • Get plenty of sleep
    • Give yourself a break if you feel stressed out

See Suicide Resources for articles, publications, and additional resources for coping with stress.

Page last reviewed: September 3, 2019