Question of the Week

October 10, 2005


Whether a person is nine, nineteen, ninety, or somewhere in between, there is going to be a certain level of stress in life. And while the causes of stress vary at different stages in life, the coping skills learned as a child or preteen can often affect how teens and adult deal with stress.

"Every kid (and adult) worries and feels stressed out sometimes. But what do kids do about it? The National Association of Health Education Centers [NAHEC] and the Nemours Center for Children's Health Media (creators of, wanted to find out, so they asked 875 kids ages 9 to 13 to answer some questions about stress. First, kids were asked to choose from a long list of stuff that might worry them.

"The top five things kids said they worried about were:
* Grades, school, and homework - 36%
* Family - 32%
* Friends - 21%
* Brothers and sisters - 20%
* Mean or annoying people - 20%

"Then they asked kids what they do during those times when they feel stressed or upset. Here are the top things kids said they do most often. (Kids who answered could say more than one thing, so these add up to more than 100%.)
* Playing or doing something active - 52%
* Listening to music - 44%
* Watching TV or playing a video game - 42%"

This study also found that what preteens do, and what they want, can be in conflict.

"Only about 1 in 5 kids said they talk to a parent when they're upset, but a whopping 75% of kids said they'd like their parents to help them in times of stress. Sometimes parents might feel like kids don't want them to get involved. That's why it's good to talk to a parent - even if all you want to say is that this problem is going on and that you'd like to try to solve it on your own. More often, you might want your mom or dad to offer ideas or at least a little encouragement."

But what is stress?

"Stress is defined as a feeling of emotional or physical tension. Emotional stress usually occurs when situations are considered difficult or unmanageable. Not surprisingly, different people consider different situations as stressful."

What is "considered difficult or unmanageable" to one person, might be a fun adventure to another. Some things that might be stressful for one person, might be enjoyable or interesting for another.

"Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or anxious. Stress is a normal part of life. In small quantities, stress is good -- it can motivate you and help you be more productive. However, too much stress, or a strong response to stress, is harmful. It can set you up for general poor health as well as specific physical or psychological illnesses like infection, heart disease, or depression."

As preteens grow into teens and adults, how they deal with stressful situations can grow and change. For those teens who might (directly or indirectly) want the help of a parent, but don't want to ask, some suggestions for the parents include:

"Parents can help their teen in these ways:
* Monitor if stress is affecting their teen's health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings
* Listen carefully to teens and watch for overloading
* Learn and model stress management skills
* Support involvement in sports and other pro-social activities"

As a teen (or preteen), are these suggestions you would like a parent or other adult in your life to follow? Are these tips that might help you when dealing with a friend or family member who may be stressed? While adults, friends, and family members can help, each person really needs to take steps to take deal with the stress in his or her own life.

"Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:
* Exercise and eat regularly
* Avoid excess caffeine intake which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation
* Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco
* Learn relaxation exercises...
* Develop assertiveness training skills....
* Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks
* Decrease negative self talk...
* Learn to feel good about doing a competent or "good enough" job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others
* Take a break from stressful situations....
* Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way"

Balancing a healthy level of stress is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. Since different people find stress in different places, this healthy balance can be found in a different place for each person. That said, some physical and mental issues contribute to the level of stress in all of us.

"Attitude: The attitude of an individual can influence whether a situation or emotion is stressful or not. ...

"Physical well-being: A poor nutritional status places the body in a state of physical stress and at risk of infection. ... A poor nutritional state can be related to unhealthy food choices, inadequate food intake, or an erratic eating schedule. ... This form of physical stress also decreases the ability to deal with situations that are perceived as difficult or unmanageable (emotional stress) because malnutrition will affect the way our brain processes information. ...

"Physical activity: Inadequate physical activity can result in a stressful state for the body. Physical activity has many physiologic benefits. ...

"Support systems: Most everyone needs someone in their life whom they can rely on when they are having a hard time. Minimal or absent support systems make stressful situations more difficult to deal with.

"Relaxation: People with no outside interests, hobbies, or means of relaxation, may be unable to handle stressful situations because they have no outlet for stress."

Questions of the Week:
What adds stress to your life? What do you see adding stress to the lives of your friends, peers, and family members? In what healthy (and unhealthy) ways do you deal with stress? What could you do differently to help you better manage the stress in your life? What healthy (and unhealthy) stress-management habits do you see in your friends, peers, and family members? What could you do to help them better manage the stress in their lives? What would you like your friends and family members to do to help you? How can you communicate with them so that they know what they can do to help you? What can you do if you are concerned about the stress level in your life, or in the life of a friend or family member?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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