Stress for girls can come in many shapes and sizes. Stress can come from outside of them in the form of: family, friends, work, school, drama, trauma, and any change. And, stress can come from within them – depending on how they interpret stressful events and the tools they have learned to better manage stress and work though their stressors. Some girls are better than other girls (or more practiced) with dealing with stressful life events. Some girls can perceive stress as mild discomfort and difficulty but can also trust that they have the tools, support, and ability to work through their stress and “survive” stress. However, some girls perceive stress as the “end of the world” and can magnify and exaggerate the reality of stress. They may feel so overwhelmed and that they may never be able to sort out what is happening. Some girls are more sensitive to stress and more affected (or held back) by it and some don’t seem to notice stress at all!
Stress can be observed through various signs and symptoms from behavioural changes such as mood swings, acting out, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and stomachaches or headaches to having trouble concentrating, or withdrawal and disinterest in activities that they usually loved.
Stress can be called anxiety, worry, fear, concern, or even uncertainty and as uncomfortable as all of these words are, I feel we need to teach young girls today how to acknowledge stress, embrace stress, and step through it. By stepping into stress and not denying, avoiding, or diminishing what is happening for them, I feel girls learn to be confident in their competence. And, this is the best way to teach empowerment – there is great power in using stress to your advantage!
Even though stress is real, girls can learn to feel equipped and capable as they deal with stressors. This means, giving themselves the power to make choices regarding their stress and using stress to feel stronger, more confident, and more in control of their own lives. Girls can learn to be in charge and embrace all the power and confidence that comes with this lesson.
Girls today have a litany of stressors from getting high grades (to get into specific universities), to fitting in with their peers and social pressures, to feeling beautiful and keeping up with the push for perfection, to performing and excelling in all their activities, to world news and looking ahead towards the future, to simply being overscheduled and very, very busy!
Positive action steps (to manage stress in healthy ways and not avoid stress):
- Be honest with yourself – How stressed are you? What, exactly, is contributing to your stress level? How are you dealing with your stress? Do you need to ask for help? Will your stress matter one day from now, one week from now, one year from now? (perspective)
- Choice – What choices can you make to either decrease your stress or limit your stress? Can you put what feels stressful on hold and think about something else? Can you shift to a new thought or even a new task? Can you decide to lower your stress level by finding a calming or soothing activity?
- Decisions – make a decision (even if it’s a small one) to change one thing in your life to better manage yourself – can you make a change to your lifestyle or can you make a change to how you are thinking about stress (are you exaggerating or magnifying what is seemingly stressful?) Can you think of something to do to take care of yourself (and limit your stress)? Do you need to schedule some downtime for yourself?
- Learn – from each stressful life event; do not waste stress – learn and grow. Do you want to try again? Would you do things differently next time? Do you need to better manage your time? Can you better prepare for stress for next time? What did you learn about yourself and what did you learn about how you deal with stress?
- Grow – reflect on what is causing your stress or has caused your stress and explore how you did? What tools did you use? Did you ask for help? Did you face your stress or did you avoid it (procrastinate)?
- Competence – what skills did you use to manage your stress? What skills do you feel you still need to learn?
Stress can have many benefits to girls including: feeling empowered, taking full responsibility for their life choices and decisions, and feeling so incredibly proud of themselves for working through stress and not giving up or letting it get the best of them. When girls feel empowered, they can also grow in self-esteem and self-worth. This can, in turn, help them reduce their own stress and anxiety! Stress, in life, is inevitable. Yet, the more empowered girls feel, the better able they are to take risks and move out of their comfort zones to move forward and step into their unique and magnificent potential!