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Coping With Stressful Situations

Momentary vs. Lasting Stress

Sometimes a stressful situation just lasts a moment — like getting through a school play audition or making the foul shot that could win the game.

But life also can 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. Feeling unprepared or unhappy about the situation increases the stress. Stressful situations can wear us down over time. Finding ways to deal with them can help us grow strong.

Build Good Coping Skills

How well — or how poorly — we get through a stressful situation depends a lot on us. How we deal with stressful situations makes all the difference.

Here are some steps you can take to cope with a stressful situation.

1. Understand the Situation

  • 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. A positive attitude also boosts the problem solving that a stressful situation requires.

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.

3. Take Action

  • Decide what you can do. Pinpoint which parts of the situation you have the power to change 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 friendplus 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 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, and 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 help you come through feeling strong and confident.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: October 2016

Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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