The month of May can be a stressful time for youth and adults alike. There are deadlines and exams and reports due, field trips and awards ceremonies, banquets and graduations to attend. Sometimes it can all seem like too much!
Stress is a normal part of life and can actually have a positive effect on motivation and performance. There are, however, times when stress becomes too much and we begin to experience negative health effects: headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and trouble sleeping are all possibilities, according to the WebMD website. The sense of overwhelm that comes with our busy schedules and tendency to overcommit ourselves can have a paralyzing effect. Teens complain, “I have so much to do, I don’t even know where to start!” Does that sound familiar?
Effective stress management can take a lifetime to learn, but it is never too early to start. Noticing the feeling of being overwhelmed or the physical symptoms of stress can be the first step. How do you experience stress? Are you unusually irritable or upset? Do you have a fluttery feeling in your stomach? Tense neck and shoulders? A recurring or constant headache? A general sense of impending doom? The earlier we are able to notice signs of negative or toxic stress, the easier it is to intervene.
Taking action is the next step. What are your favorite stress busters? I challenge you to make a list. On paper. And post it somewhere obvious. Think back to the carefree days of childhood – what did you love to do? Color with crayons? Sing at the top of your lungs? Dance? Play Frisbee? Swing from the monkey bars? Spend time with your dog or cat? Have a tea party with a friend? Run fast and free? What activities have you noticed help you decompress or change your mood? Listening to loud music? Going for a run on the trails? Spending some time digging in the garden? Drawing or painting? Throwing darts? Write every one of these on your list.
In the moment of greatest stress and tension, with the to-do list staring back at you, all of the above can seem like frivolous time wasters. But often when we are stressed out, we are not getting much done anyway! And I would argue that our usual time wasters – getting on Facebook, net surfing, gaming – leave us feeling non-productive and uninspired and guilty as opposed to alive and recharged and ready to return to the challenge in front of us.
If your stress levels seem to be affecting your life to the point that you are having trouble functioning – unable to get moving in the morning, unable to sleep at night, loss of appetite, disinterest in friends, feelings of hopelessness, turning to drugs or alcohol or food to self-medicate – it is time to seek out a friend, a trusted adult, or a professional. Asking for help is a show of strength and maturity, not weakness. There are many resources at our disposal and a good place to start is by asking school counselors, the school nurse, your personal physician, or by checking out the JJAB website at www.losalamosjjab.org.
The JJAB, the Family Y, the Youth Activity Center, the Teen Center, Family Strengths Network, Mesa Public Library, the County Recreation Department, and Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) are all community organizations that offer fun and positive activities for youth. You can find all of these groups and their offerings on the web.
So the next time you are feeling freaked out and overwhelmed by stress and all that is expected of you, get that list of Stress Busters out, call a friend, and take some time out to take care of you!
About the LACHC
Recognizing risk factors and improving the health and well-being of youth and families is one of the priorities of the Los Alamos Community Health Council (LACHC). The LACHC is the designated health planning body for Los Alamos County. The LACHC works collaboratively with service providers, non-profit organizations, community members, and Los Alamos County staff. The LACHC has been strongly involved in local community outreach through Town Hall Meetings, the Health Fair, radio interviews and articles. More information about the LACHC and its work can be found at www.lachc.net.
The LACHC meets 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., the first Thursday of each month in the large conference room at the Betty Ehart Senior Center, adjacent to Mesa Public Library in Los Alamos.