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.
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 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 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.
Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as physical distancing, can make us feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety.
After a traumatic event, people may have strong and lingering reactions. Learning healthy ways to cope and getting the right care and support can help reduce stressful feelings and symptoms.
The symptoms may be physical or emotional. Common reactions to a stressful event can include:
- Feelings of fear, shock, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
- Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares, concentrating, and making decisions
- Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances
It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during traumatic events such as mass shootings, natural disasters, or pandemics. Below are ways that you can help yourself, others, and your community manage stress.
Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
Feeling emotional and nervous or having trouble sleeping and eating can all be normal reactions to stress. Here are some healthy ways you can deal with stress:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed but hearing about the traumatic event constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple of times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.
- Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.
- Take care of your body.
- Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
- Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, and substance use.
- Continue with routine preventive measures (such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, etc.) as recommended by your healthcare provider.
- Get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible; get a booster shot if you are age 18 or older.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Talk to others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.
- Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to help, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.
- Recognize when you need more help. If problems continue or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a psychologist, social worker, or professional counselor.
Check out Taking Care of Your Emotional Health for more information and resources.
Helping Others Cope
Taking care of yourself can better equip you to take care of others. Helping others cope with stress through phone calls or video chats can help you and your loved ones feel less lonely or isolated.
Helping Children and Youth Cope with Stress
Children and youth often struggle with how to cope with stress. Youth can be particularly overwhelmed when their stress is connected to a traumatic event—like a natural disaster, family loss, school shootings, or community violence. Parents, caregivers, and educators can take steps to provide stability and support that help young people feel better.
Tips for Parents and Caregivers
It is natural for children to worry when scary or stressful events happen in their lives. Talking to your children about these events can help put frightening information into a more balanced setting. Monitor what children see and hear about stressful events happening in their lives. Here are some suggestions to help children cope:
- Maintain a normal routine. Helping children wake up, go to sleep, and eat meals at regular times provide them a sense of stability.
- Talk, listen, and encourage expression. Listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings and share some of yours. After a traumatic event, it is important for children to feel they can share their feelings and that you understand their fears and worries.
- Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Any changes in behavior may be signs that your child is having trouble and may need support.
- Stressful events can challenge a child’s sense of safety and security. Reassure your child about his or her safety and well-being. Discuss ways that you, the school, and the community are taking steps to keep them safe.
- Connect with others. Talk to other parents and your child’s teachers about ways to help your child cope. It is often helpful for parents, schools, and health professionals to work together for the well-being of all children in stressful times.
Tips for Kids and Teens
After a traumatic event, it is normal to feel anxious about your safety and security. Even if you were not directly involved, you may worry about whether this type of event may someday affect you. Check out the tips below for some ideas to help deal with these fears.
- Talk to and stay connected to others. Talking with someone you trust can help you make sense out of your experience. If you are not sure where to turn, call your local crisis intervention center or a national hotline.
- Take care of yourself. Try to get plenty of sleep, eat right, exercise, and keep a normal routine.
- Take information breaks. Pictures and stories about a disaster can increase worry and other stressful feelings. Taking breaks from the news, Internet, and conversations about the disaster can help calm you down.
Tips for School Personnel
School personnel can help their students restore their sense of safety by talking with the children about their fears. Other tips for school personnel include:
- Reach out and talk. Create opportunities to have students talk, but do not force them. You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation.
- Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are students withdrawing from friends? Acting out? These changes may be early signs that a student is struggling and needs extra support from the school and family.
- Maintain normal routines. A regular classroom and school schedule can provide a sense of stability and safety. Encourage students to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but do not push them if they seem overwhelmed.
- Take care of yourself. You are better able to support your students if you are healthy, coping and taking care of yourself first. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.
Mental Health and Crisis
Resources and Social Support Services
- If you are struggling to cope, there are many ways to get help. Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
- During times of extreme stress, people may have thoughts of suicide. Suicide is preventable and help is available. More about the risk of suicide, signs to watch for, and how to respond if you notice these signs in yourself or a friend or a loved one, can be found here.
- Free and confidential crisis resources can also help you or a loved one connect with a skilled, trained counselor in your area.