Stress is a normal, natural response to life events and situations that everyone experiences. Stress reactions occur in the mind and body, and are tied to the nervous system and hormonal activity. This built-in stress response system is a good thing since it helps us handle challenging circumstances and promotes success under pressure; stress can be motivating, allowing us to complete challenging tasks. But difficulties can arise when we are overwhelmed by stress—we have all experienced this from time to time. It can occur as a result of a single, high-stress event or situation or from the buildup of stress over a longer period of time.
Some people are more resilient than others when faced with stress. What creates stress for one person may not cause stress for another, and the reactions or consequences of stress can also vary from person to person. Much of the variation comes from each person’s unique life experience, the number of stressors and the intensity of the stress over time, and the skills the person has to cope. A person can be more vulnerable to, and therefore more impacted by, a situation or event if there is already a buildup of stress. This is that feeling of being overwhelmed that most of us can relate to.
Some of the top life stressors for children and youth include family breakup, moving/changing schools, adjustment to adolescence, gender and/or sexual identity, family financial problems, parental health issues, and the loss of a loved one, including a pet. More routine, day-to-day stressors for school-age children include school work (class work, tests, reports), peer relationships, and activity overload. For some children, unhealthy and unsafe living situations are a factor. Everyone can learn to handle stress more effectively with coaching, support, and reinforcement. For children who are struggling, a plan of action can be necessary to guide the process.