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Stress

Have you ever felt stressed? You’re not alone. Everybody feels stressed at times, even kids.

But here’s something you might not know: Stress isn’t always bad. At times, stress can help you. Here are some examples.

Stress can help you stay safe.

Any time your brain detects a possible danger, it turns on an instant body and mind alert — called stress. Here how it works.

Let’s say you’re crossing the street. Suddenly, you see a car coming fast around the corner. Your body turns on stress hormones that prompt you to react quickly. Stress hormones give you an extra burst of energy, focus, strength, and speed. Your eyes open wider. Your mind is more alert. Your attention is focused. Your heart beats faster to pump extra oxygen to your muscles. You breathe faster. Thanks to this stress alert from your body, you dodge that car and jump back to safety. Whew!

When you’re safe, your brain turns off the stress alert. Your body turns off the stress hormones. As the stress hormones stop flowing, your body returns to your normal non-stressed state. Your body and mind settle down. You look both ways, and safely cross the street.

Your body’s stress alert is also called fight-flight-or-freeze. That’s because stress prepares you to fight harder, run faster, or freeze in place if you need to.

Stress can help you face a big moment.

Let's say it’s your turn to compete in a sport, try out for a spot on the team, sing a solo, walk on stage, or give a talk in class. These things aren’t dangerous. But they can feel stressful.

At moments like these, stress hormones can cause your heart to beat faster. Your hands or legs might shake. You might feel “butterflies” in your stomach. But you don’t have to let these feelings hold you back.

Try to think of these body feelings as a surge of energy. Let them be a signal to get ready, get set, focus.

If the stress in your body feels too strong, take a slow, deep breath in. Then let it out all the way. Tell yourself, “I’ve got this.” Gather your courage. Feel yourself standing strong, feel your feet on the floor. Take another slow steady breath. And then go ahead and give it your best try. When you face your challenge, your stress can ease up.

Facing big moments like these can be stressful. But with practice, you can get good at handling them. Each time you do, you’ll feel less stressed and more confident.

Stress can push you to get prepared.

There’s a test, tryout, or big event coming up in a few days. You might feel a little stressed over it. That can be a good thing. Let your stress remind you to study, prepare, or practice. When the big moment comes, you’ll feel less stressed. You’ll feel steady and ready.

What if you feel too much stress or worry about a test or tryout? Too much stress is hard on you. It can lead you to avoid getting ready for what’s ahead. And that makes it harder to do your best.

If you dread or worry about something that’s coming up, or if you feel butterflies in your stomach just thinking about it, talk to an adult. Ask a parent, teacher, or another adult to help you learn ways to lower your stress. That way, tests and tryouts — and other big moments — will be easier to handle.

Stress can tell you there’s a problem that needs your attention.

Some stress is caused by a problem that’s hard to cope with or a problem that goes on for a while. For example, some people go through things like bullying or a serious illness or injury. Some have parents who split up or who have a lot of conflict. For some, a loved one has died. Some people go through trauma, abuse, or injustice. Some don’t feel safe or accepted. Some have seen violence in their family, their community, or in the media.

Stress like this doesn’t turn off the same way as it does after a test or a tryout. With stress like this, your body’s stress hormones can stay turned on at a low level. When a problem is still going on, you might feel stressed a lot of the time. This can be hard on you.

To get relief from this kind of stress, you need support. And you need help with the problem that’s causing it.

If you feel stress like this, it’s time to talk things over with an adult you trust. This can be the first step to getting relief from your stress — and getting help with the problem.

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