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How to Deal With Stress
Jennifer Ramos
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What can we do about dealing with the stress in our lives? For some answers, I interviewed Daniel St. Rose, MSW, a clinical social worker at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic in New York City.

Q: What do you think is the main cause of stress?

A: Generally, environmental demands and internal conflict cause stress. For teens, I think it’s a lot about just being a teenager and dealing with parental conflict, sexuality issues, peer relationships, educational expectations, peer pressure and self-image. Normal adolescence involves issues like separating from parents and wanting more independence, and making decisions about the future. I think for inner-city teens and teens of color, they also deal with racism, poverty, and bad neighborhoods.

Q: I’ve heard that being stressed is a health risk. What exactly are the risks involved?

A: Some of the health risks involved may be physical, like headaches, stomach pains, and muscle aches. Some people suffer from insomnia, poor concentration, poor eating habits, weight loss, overeating and excessive drinking. Other health risks include heart attacks and ulcers.

Q: What do you usually recommend to teens who feel stressed?

A: Take a short break, some time away from the situation, if you can. Get help from someone right away.

Stressed teens should talk to someone they can trust and depend on, whether it’s a mentor, a friend who uses good judgment, a parent, counselor, teacher, or other responsible adult. Participate in some kind of activity—an extracurricular club, a sport, running, or other form of exercise.

But also set limits and don’t overextend yourself. Be assertive and say no if you can’t do something. Pace yourself and use time management wisely. Get some down time and stay away from drugs, alcohol, and unhealthy foods.

Adolescents need to develop good eating habits. Fast food is unhealthy, as are foods with a lot of saturated fat. You want to eat fruits and vegetables instead of eating a candy bar. It’s important for adolescents to have a balanced meal, eat breakfast—things that will help their body grow. The body needs the right minerals and vitamins. Being unhealthy is in itself stressful. If your body’s not working well, you’re gonna be more stressed out.

Self-discipline is the key. Stay away from drama! When I say drama, I think that a lot of adolescents tend to protect or have the back of a friend—if there’s a fight going on they want to help out. Adolescents tend to take more risks. They want to get involved in things, and often use poor judgment.

Q: I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress with my family and schoolwork and often feel like giving up. What kind of advice could you give me?

A: Certain family situations are very stressful. I think the best way to handle that situation is to talk to someone who you can trust, who you know will support you and be there to listen. Most of the time people need someone to talk to, and that makes them feel better.

If the stress is so bad you’re unable to take care of yourself, then you should seek professional help. Talk to someone at school, like a guidance counselor.

The most important thing to do is identify the things that cause you stress. You then need to ask yourself, “How stressed am I?” If you could rate your stress level, using a scale from 1 (least stressed) to 10 (most stressed, cannot cope), where would you be? You need to look at yourself when you’re not stressed and compare how you feel.

Usually people who are severely stressed feel anxious, nervous, and can’t think clearly. Physical symptoms might include stomachaches, headaches—that’s on the “can’t cope” scale. If your stress level is severe, I recommend that you speak to a trained therapist. If not, then refer to the recommendations that I mentioned earlier.

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(NYC-2003-01-05)

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