Animated young person sitting in an armchair clutching a pillow. There is a dark thought bubble above their head containing examples of stressors.

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Stress is a normal part of life and happens to everyone. When we think of stress, we may think about something really big, serious or overwhelming. But, a lot of times, stress is caused by little things like missing the bus, having a bad night's sleep, feeling too hot, fighting with your friend, or dealing with conflict.

In small doses, stress can actually be a good thing. It can give you the push you need and motivate you to do your best. It can also help you stay focused and alert. However, if you are unsure how to meet the demands placed on you, you can experience the negative type of stress.

Stress occurs when you react to pressure. This pressure can come from outside (school, work, extracurricular activities, friends, family, partner) or from inside yourself (wanting to do well in school or at work, wanting to fit in or wanting to be successful). Together, these pressures are called stressors.

Any one stressor may be easy for you to handle, but if a number of frustrating and irritating things happen, they can build up until you feel overwhelmed. This can cause uncomfortable feelings, which, in turn, can make stress seem harder to deal with.

Stress is different for everyone

We all face unique challenges and obstacles and we all deal with them in different ways based on our own values and experiences. For this reason, stress is very personal and affects us all differently.

Understanding how you experience stress

Sometimes, the pressure of being a teen or young adult with chronic pain can be hard to handle. Stress can affect how we feel, both physically (our bodies) and emotionally (our feelings). It is not always obvious when you are experiencing stress. Many people may say that they aren’t under much stress and they may not think that stress triggers their pain or makes their symptoms worse. You may feel the same way. However, we know that many people are just not aware of the stress that their bodies experience. This is normal and may require a little special attention to figure out how their body reacts to stress.

Common symptoms of stress

Stress looks different for everyone. Sometimes, uncomfortable feelings, such as anger, nervousness or sadness can be clues that you are feeling stressed. You may have difficulty concentrating, find that you can't stop worrying about something, or feel really helpless or hopeless. These are also signs of stress.

How to recognize stress

When we are under stress, our muscles get a big dose of extra energy. This energy prepares us to fight or run. If we have too much stress, we don't burn up the extra energy in our muscles, our bodies become tense, our hearts pound faster, our blood vessels may widen and narrow and our bodies may start to feel tired or sick. These physical changes can lead to increases in pain.

Stress does not just affect your body; it also affects your emotions. Too much stress can make you feel sad, tense, angry and overwhelmed. You may get into arguments or cry more easily when you are stressed.

Physical signs of stress

The way your body feels can give you some clues that you are feeling stressed. Physical signs of stress might include:

  • sweaty hands

  • churning or upset stomach

  • fast heartbeat

  • fast and shallow breathing

  • tight muscles in your face, neck, or back that cannot relax

  • not sleeping well

  • headaches

  • low energy

  • nail biting

  • feeling shaky

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