What is Stress?

The first step to managing stress is to know what causes it.

Stress can affect people of all ages, no matter what stage of life they are in. As a teenager, stress can show up in many different areas, both physically and emotionally, and maintaining life balance can seem like a difficult task. Learn more about stress, its causes, symptoms, and how you can build resiliency with help from Change to Chill.

If you’re a parent, mentor or educator, Change to Chill offers free online videos and articles so you can help the teen in your life manage their stress. Explore our resources today!


Causes of Stress

Different things cause stress for different people. Some might think that an upcoming math test is a big deal, while others won’t give it a second thought. The same is true at different ages and stages of our lives. What bothers us at age 3 won’t be the same as what gets us riled up at age 12, 20 or 50.

Being aware of what causes you stress is one step in learning how to handle it well. Use this worksheet, to write or draw things that caused you stress when you were younger, things that stress you out now and what you think might be stressful when you’re older.


Watch this “Stress Test” video and learn how one’s body responds in stressful situations.

For more information on the causes of stress, check out this article about stress or this one about anxiety.


Symptoms of Stress

There is so much pressure to “do and be your best” in school, at home, online, in after-school activities and your social life…just about everywhere. Yet many of the things people do to try to be their best actually work against them and cause stress. Stress, it turns out, is a HUGE BARRIER to almost everything.

We’ve all had times when our bodies react to stress. We can feel it. It’s the sensation known as fight or flight. Our bodies’ natural way of coping with being frightened or challenged is to release chemicals into our bloodstream that provide extra short-term energy and alertness. Our instincts take over and tell us that we are facing danger and we either need to defend ourselves (fight) or get away (flight).


What Kind of Stress is it?

Stress impacts each of us in different ways. The kind of stress you experience and how it affects you depends on:

  • how bad the stress is
  • how long it lasts
  • the resources you have available to help you cope.


Learn about the different kinds of stress and the effects of stress below.

Happy Stress

Did you know even good things can stress you out? Stress can come from positive events in your life like holidays, graduations, parties, starting a new job and doing new things. Mental health providers call this kind of stress “eustress.” It comes from events that can be enjoyable and take mental energy. Because of this, it’s important to make time to relax and recharge after big, fun events.

Day-to-day Stress

Day-to-day stress is different for each of us. Day-to-day stress comes from predictable things that you face. This can include:

  • school tests and projects
  • relationships
  • getting your work done on time.


The impact of the stressor is dependent on your available resources and how you perceive the stressor. Even though day-to-day stressors may not be as severe as excessive or traumatic stress, they can add up and become overwhelming if you don’t have the resources, time or space you need to recharge.

Excessive Stress

Stress is excessive when it overwhelms your ability to cope with it mentally and physically. This can happen when you go through a difficult event, if you live through hardship or when you deal with day-to-day stress in an unhealthy way. There are many causes of excessive stress, including:

  • experiencing racism or discrimination
  • trouble with family or money
  • living in poverty
  • living with a caregiver who:
    • experiences racism
    • has gone through divorce
    • has been incarcerated
    • lives with substance abuse
    • lives with mental illness


The resources you have available to meet your needs and to live a happy life affect how you handle excessive stress. Resources can include:

  • money
  • supportive friends and family
  • access to a car or bus
  • time to relax
  • documentation as a legal citizen
  • knowing how to do things such as applying to college or buying a house.


The fewer resources available to you, the more likely you are to experience excessive stress.

Harmful decision-making: An Effect of Excessive Stress 

When you are experiencing a great deal of stress, it is harder to make decisions for a healthy future. Sometimes you make decisions that seem helpful in the moment but hurt you in the long-run. Some examples include spending versus saving money, eating junk food rather than good food, avoiding school work rather than studying, or using substances such as alcohol and other drugs.

Traumatic Stress

Traumatic stress is the kind of stress no one should ever have to go through. Traumatic stressors include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, a disaster or major accident, and more.  Your body and mind is not naturally equipped to deal with this kind of stress, but you can get the help you need to get through it.


When to Ask for Help

You should ask for help if:

  • you experience symptoms of stress that you can’t control
  • you experience excessive stress that you feel like you can’t handle anymore
  • you experienced traumatic stress
  • your basic needs aren’t being met
  • you do not feel safe at home or in other environments
  • you are concerned for the safety of someone else
  • you are experiencing anything else that feels stressful or overwhelming and you feel like you can’t handle it alone.


Who to Ask for Help

When stress becomes overwhelming to you ask for help from:

  • a trusted adult at home, at school or in your community
  • a school counselor
  • a doctor or other health care provider.


Check out our mental health resources page for more information.

The Screen-Stress Connection

Screen time gets a lot of attention, and let’s be honest: Time spent online and especially on our phones gets a pretty bad rap…especially from older folks. It’s blamed for everything from bad posture to social isolation.

As a teen today, you are the first generation to grow up with nearly constant access to electronic media and social interaction. While there’s no doubt there’s a connection between screen time and stress, there are also lots of positive ways that screens help us communicate, learn, play, and participate in the world around us. To help maximize the benefits and lessen the downsides of a screen-heavy lifestyle, try these tips:

Give yourself a break before bed

Forty three percent of today’s teens get less than seven hours of sleep. That’s not healthy. The National Sleep Foundation recommends not using screens right before bed or in bed, as it can interfere in a number of ways with your ability to fall asleep. We know a lot teens work on homework or read right up until bedtime, but challenge yourself to put your screens away as early as you can in the evening. Can you give yourself 15 minutes? 30? An hour? Try charging your devices in a room other than where you sleep to help avoid the temptation. Better yet, invest in an alarm clock to wake you up instead of your phone!
Learn what triggers your stress and limit those behaviors

Research shows a correlation between the rise in smartphone use and the rise in depression among your generation. Try to start noticing the emotions and even physical sensations you have when you’re online or communicating through a device. Learn about the stress response and start trying to stay in tune to when you feel it coming on. What triggers you? Once you start to notice trends or patterns, make some positive adjustments, such as unfollowing certain people, only checking social media at certain times of the day, or deleting the accounts and apps that stress you most.
Move around

Exercise is the best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning, according to Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey. Exercise can actually reverse the effects of stress and lift depression. Screen time tends to be sedentary, which means if you’re doing a lot of it you may not be getting a lot of physical activity. Try to find a balance; get up and get moving regularly throughout the day, and make a point to get outside if you can. You can even watch a show on your phone or listen to music as motivation!
Spend face-to-face time with people you like

social media posts can make up for time spent in face-to-face interaction. Making a point to connect with your friends and family in real life, not just online, can go a long way toward helping you Change to Chill.

You are the expert on you! What do you do to keep your screen-time balanced and healthy?


All of these things do more to get in our way than they do to help us live our best lives. Plus, significant stress that goes on for a long time can lead to more serious mental and physical health problems. So it’s important to have some strategies ready for dealing with it and a few more for preventing it when you can.

That’s where Change to Chill comes in.