Psychosocial Health

How to manage stress

What is stress?

Stress is a normal physical and psychological response to the demands of our life. For instance, promoting to a higher grade seems being a pleasure, but some students may feel stressed when worrying about not being able to cope with the study demands. Stress is a subjective feeling and there is no right or wrong. As different people have different reactions towards a life stressor, making comparison is unnecessary. An adequate amount of stress can be good, motivating us to perform well and enhancing efficiency. However, too much stress or ‘chronic’ stress may be detrimental to our physical and mental health. Hence, we have to learn how to manage stress at an appropriate level.

Symptoms of excessive stress

Physical aspects: muscle tension and pain, headache, back pain, fast heart rate, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal discomfort, insomnia or hypersomnia, fatigue
Cognitive aspects: poor attention and memory, self-critical, self-hatred
Emotional aspects: mood swings, anxious, irritable or angry, low mood and cry easily
Behavioral aspects: loss or increase of appetite, restlessness, prone to anger, social withdrawal, loss of interest, smoking and drinking, substance abuse, self-harm

Ways to deal with stress effectively

  1. Identify the causes of stress, take actions, and solve the problems
    For example, you may feel stressed to say ‘No’ in face of others’ excessive demands out of fear that others will hate you
    • Causes: Identify unhelpful thoughts ("in order to be liked, I have to say ‘yes’ to others even though I do not want to”) which will negatively affect our emotions and behaviours
    • Take actions: Examine your thoughts to see if they are true or helpful
      • “If I say no, will he/she actually hate me?" (Is that true?)
      • "Does it do any good to a relationship if I reluctantly say yes to him/her in exchange for friendship?" (Is that helpful?)
    • Problem-solving: Find ways to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours
  2. Have reasonable expectations and demands on yourself
    • Affirm yourself: Performance can easily be correlated with self-esteem in a competitive society we live in, making us deny ourselves at times we have not performed well. Try to appreciate ourselves by saying like, "although I didn't win, I had learned in the process"
    • Be realistic: Estimate the effort required for completing homework and tasks; then prioritize them and never pursue perfection in everything
    • Never being overloaded: Avoid making too many commitments that you cannot manage
    • Learn to say ‘No’: Decline others’ requests which are too much or unreasonable
    • Practise good judgment: Try doing your best at things you could pay your full effort while accepting the fact that some things are beyond your control
  3. Cultivate good study and work habits
    • Prioritization: Prioritize homework and tasks according to their urgency and importance, then handle the most urgent and important task first
    • Work break-down: Divide a complex task into small and manageable pieces
    • Avoid procrastination: Try not to procrastinate homework and tasks till the very last moment
  4. Adopt a positive and optimistic life attitude
    • Avoid blind spots in thinking: Maintain our curiosity and learn to see things from different perspectives. Never limit ourselves to one point of view which may make us overlook the whole picture, leading to misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations
    • Crisis creates opportunities: Turn stress into a driving force by viewing adversity as an opportunity to grow
  5. Build a support network
    • Talking to others: Talking about your feelings and difficulties can help regulate emotions and release stress
    • Help-seeking: Talk to people you trust when encounter difficulties. They may be able to give you some practical advice and assistance
  6. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
    • Cultivate positive thinking: Positive words can influence how we perceive things around us. People who are always grateful tend to feel more hopeful than stressful in life. We have to cultivate a positive mindset by reading, listening and talking positive words regularly, just like the way we train up our muscles by doing regular physical exercises
    • Practise calm and relaxation: Mindfulness is a kind of mental training. By focusing our attention on our breath and the current moment, we can fully engage in the moment-to-moment awareness without judgment or getting caught up in negative emotions. This is effective in reducing stress and anxiety
    • Get enough sleep: Sleep on a regular schedule. Children (5 - 12 years old) need 9 to 11 hours of sleep daily, and teenagers (12 - 18 years old) need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep daily
    • Do physical exercises regularly: Physical exercises stimulates the release of a hormone called endorphin in our brain which makes us feel happy and reduce stress. Children and adolescents should accumulate at least one hour of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily (e.g. swimming, rope-skipping, speed walking, etc.) (Please refer to the leaflet “Exercise and Keep Fit”)
    • Set aside time for leaving electronic devices behind: Psychological studies have found that people who often checked text messages, emails and online chats on their phones felt more stressful than those who did not. Keeping use of electronic devices in check can help maintain mental health
(Revised in July 2020)

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