About Stressful Situations
Momentary vs. Lasting Stress
Life is full of ups and downs, and some of them can be stressful.
Sometimes stress just lasts a moment — like getting through a school play audition or making the foul shot that could win the game. But life can also bring situations that might keep us stressed for a few days, weeks, or months. Even if we're not always thinking about this stress, it can be like a background soundtrack playing in our lives.
If you're like most people, you've faced these kinds of lasting stressful situations. They can cause stress to build or wear us down over time.
Life situations can create stress for several reasons:
- We feel unprepared for them.
- We are unhappy about them.
- We don't feel able to cope with them.
Build Good Coping Skills
How well — or how poorly — we get through a stressful situation depends a lot on us. It's how we deal with stressful situations that makes all the difference.
Here are some steps you can take when dealing with a stressful situation.
1. Understand the Situation
This step helps people feel more prepared to deal with stressful situations.
- Take some time to think about the situation you're facing. Try to describe your situation in a sentence or two. What's stressful about this situation for you right now? It can help to write down your thoughts.
For example: My family just moved, so I switched to a new school in the middle of the year. The stressful parts are not knowing anyone, missing my old friends, and dealing with all new schoolwork.
- Notice and name the feelings you have about the situation. Accept your feelings — it's understandable to feel the way you feel, given your situation. It can help to write down your feelings, too.
For example: I feel lonely and sad because of missing old friends and my old school. I'm mad that we had to move, especially now. I'm worried about keeping up in math and social studies. I feel left out because I'm the new kid. I guess anyone would feel this way if they were in my situation.
- Learn more. Learn all you can about the situation you're dealing with. This might include reading about it, talking to others, or finding out what others in your situation have done and what to expect. Learning helps you feel more confident and prepared — plus it reminds you that you're not the only one who has gone through this.
Coping Skills (cont.)
2. Commit to a Positive Attitude
A positive attitude helps stop you from being dragged down by unhappy feelings. Having a positive attitude is about more than feeling better (or being nicer to be around!), though: A positive attitude actually boosts the problem solving that a stressful situation requires.
Research has shown that a positive attitude helps us see the possibilities within a situation, while negative thinking narrows our view.
- Don't dwell on the negative. Don't get stuck dwelling on negative feelings — or focusing on the bad aspects of your situation for too long. Your power lies in how you react to — and cope with — the situation you're facing. Be aware of any negative thoughts (like "I can't do this"), and replace them with more encouraging words. This is the time to believe in yourself.
For example: Others have switched schools before and come through it. I know I can manage this.
- Notice and appreciate life's good stuff. Be sure to notice some positive things in your life, too. Yes, even now. Each day, think of three things you're grateful for. Gratitude helps fuel a positive attitude and keeps problems — even the big ones — in perspective.
After you think about your situation and identify and accept the feelings you have, move on to actions you can take to lessen the stress you feel.
3. Take Action
- Decide what you can do. Pinpoint which parts of the situation you have the power to change, manage, or influence for the better. Think of actions you can take to improve any part of your stressful situation.
For example: I can talk to the guy who sits next to me in social studies class. I'll ask if he'll share notes and study with me. That could help me make a new friend — plus catch up in social studies.
- Get support. Find someone to talk to about your situation. Ask for help or advice. Be with people who believe in you, make you laugh, and help you feel good about yourself. Sometimes just a listening ear helps a lot. It helps you know that someone understands and cares about what you're going through.
- Care for yourself. Take especially good care of yourself when stress in your life is high. Be sure to eat nutritious foods and minimize junk food. Get daily exercise and enough sleep. Do something every day that helps you relax — whether it's yoga, a soothing bath, cooking, playing with your pet, taking a walk, listening to music, or playing your guitar.
Stressful situations can test our strength, for sure. Whatever you're facing, it can help to think through the situation, accept the emotions you feel, keep a positive attitude, focus your efforts on what you can influence, get support, and care for yourself. All these things can help you cope with your situation, lessen the stress and its effects on you — and help you come through feeling strong and confident.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: May 2013
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