What is stress?
Stress is a normal and healthy part of our nervous system. However, too much stress can be difficult to manage and become problematic.
Everyone experiences stress for different reasons. This can vary for different generations.
Research has shown that stress in teenagers and young adults is higher than in older Australians. The good news is that most of us can usually manage the stress caused by issues with relationships, finances, and health.
Stress is a natural human response to the pressure you feel from challenging or dangerous situations. In healthy amounts, it motivates us to respond to the challenging thing. In unhelpful amounts, stress can lead to less useful coping strategies like avoidance.
Common symptoms and signs of too much stress include:
- feeling anxious or overwhelmed
- feeling wound-up or worried
- feeling irritable
- disturbed sleep
- appetite loss
- muscle tension
- an upset stomach
- difficulty concentrating
Stress can last for a long time or overwhelm your coping abilities. Stress can have a negative impact on every aspect of your life including your:
Unmanaged stress can contribute to mental illness.
Stress and young people
Research shows that young Australian adults are more stressed than older generations. They are also more likely to report mental health concerns than older Australians.
There are differences in the high levels of distress reported in 2020-2021 in younger and older Australians. These figures are:
- 9% of Australians aged 65 to 85 years report high levels of distress
- 28% of Australians aged 16 to 34 years report high levels of distress
There are many reasons why young people will experience stress. These include:
- academic pressure
- body image
- emotional and physical abuse
- family dynamics and violence
- personal finances
- substance abuse
- trying to keep a healthy lifestyle
How do I manage stress?
There are ways that you can reduce feelings of stress.
If you are feeling stressed, it is important to try and find the cause of your stress. First of all, find out what is stressing you. Consider what you can change and what you can’t control.
What can I do?
Do things you enjoy regularly, even if you don’t feel like doing them.
This may include:
- being with people who care about you
- listening to music
- walking in nature
You may also be able to help keep stress levels down by:
- recognising unhelpful sources of stress — including pressures you place on yourself — before they become a bigger problem
- thinking about changes you can make to improve your situation and change the way you behave
To manage feelings of stress, you can:
- practice deep breathing, meditation and other relaxation techniques
- practice positive self-talk
- write in a 'stress diary' to record when you feel stressed and why
- exercise regularly
- eat a healthy diet
- avoid smoking
- reduce alcohol and caffeine intake
- avoid overworking
It can be difficult to talk about stress with your school, college, university, or employer. However, if you are feeling stressed about work or study, they may be able to provide support.
Talk to others if you can — you may well have family and friends who are willing to help.
Keep things in perspective. Don’t underestimate yourself. However, if you cannot control something, try to direct your energy elsewhere.
Many people need professional help to make lasting changes to reduce their stress levels. This may include talking to your doctor.
Your doctor may recommend stress management classes. They can also help diagnose any mental health issues or refer you to a psychologist. By addressing the cause of your stress, they can help provide you with the best advice and treatment.
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Last reviewed: July 2022