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What to Do When You Feel Stressed

Everybody feels stressed at times — even kids. When you feel stressed, there are things you can do to help yourself through it. Here are some of them.

Talk about a problem.

If you’re stressed over a personal problem, or if something is worrying you, talk it over with a parent or another trusted adult. If you want, you can talk about a problem with a friend, too. Keeping a problem to yourself can add to your stress. Sharing what’s on your mind can lessen lots of your stress. And talking it through can help you figure out what to do about the problem.

Have an "I’ve got this" attitude.

Lots of people feel stress before a test, a try out, or a big moment. You might feel your heart beating fast, your hands shaking, or "butterflies" in your stomach. You don’t have to let those feelings hold you back. Let them pump you up to get ready.

Try this: Rub your hands together, shake out your arms, tap your feet, or pace around. This can use up some of the stress energy and ease butterflies or other body feelings. You don’t have to get rid of all your stress. You can go ahead anyway. Your stress feelings will fade on their own after you step up to your big moment.

As you get ready, remind yourself that you have what it takes to cope. Gather your confidence and courage. Tell yourself, "I’ve got this." Then take a breath and go ahead and give it your best try. Each time you try something, it’s a chance to get better at it.

Take a breath.

When you feel stressed, take a few slow belly breaths. This can calm your body, steady your mind, and help you gather your inner strength. It’s is great to do before a test, or when you’re stressed over a big pile of homework. It also can help when you’re stressed because something didn’t go your way.

Slow belly breathing can lessen a lot of stress. But it works best if you’ve practiced ahead of time.

Practice like this: Breathe in through your nose. As you breathe in, let your belly puff out like a small balloon filling up with air. Breathe out through your nose. As you breathe out, let your belly flatten.

Put your feelings into words.

Let’s say you’re stressed because something didn’t go the way you hoped. You might have lots of strong feelings. You may feel upset, sad, disappointed, or mad. It’s OK to feel the way you feel. But it’s not OK to use harmful words or actions to show your feelings. When you put feelings into words, without raising your voice, it helps you choose wiser ways to act.

Try this: Notice how you feel. Then find words to describe how you feel and why. For example, "I’m so upset that we lost the game. It means we’re out of the finals. I wanted to win so much." You can say this to someone else or say it to yourself. You can’t change what happened. But you can say how you feel and why. And that helps you let go of some stress and strong feelings.

Talk to yourself in a kind way.

When you’re feeling stressed, you might be hard on yourself. You might tell yourself things like, “We would have won if I had played better. It’s all my fault. I should just quit the team.” But talking to yourself like this doesn’t help you cope. It just makes you feel worse. Plus, it isn’t kind, fair, or true. Try not to blame yourself or someone else for what happened.

Try this: Think of what you would say to a good friend who was stressed over the same problem. Maybe you’d say, “I know you feel bad. It’s hard to lose.” Or maybe you’d say, “You played your best — we all did.” Maybe you’d just be there quietly for your friend for a couple of minutes.

Then maybe you’d suggest what to do next: "Let’s go get our gear — I’ll walk you home." On the way home, maybe you'd remind your friend of a funny moment or joke around to lighten the mood. Or if you can tell your friend isn’t ready to laugh yet, maybe you'd just walk quietly together.

Try to be as kind, friendly, and fair toward yourself as you'd be to a good friend. When someone shows you a little kindness — even when that someone is yourself — you feel less stressed. You feel stronger and more supported.

Do things to de-stress.

When you’re upset and stressed, your body can feel restless. To release some stress, try something active. Do jumping jacks, march in place, run, dance, or practice a sport.

If you’re ready for a calmer mood, you can take some deep breaths, do yoga, or listen to music. You could write in a journal, meditate, or play with a pet. You could go for a walk or a bike ride. You can do art, watch a funny show, or hang out with someone who might brighten your mood or help you laugh. Doing things like these can help you feel more relaxed — and that’s the opposite of stress.

Get support.

If you have too much stress, reach out to the people who care about you. Talk to an adult. You could talk to a parent, a teacher, a school counselor, or a coach. And don't forget about your friends. They can listen, be there for you, and help you laugh. When you feel less stressed, it’s easier to think of what to do about a problem.

Remember, you’ve got this.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2022