Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

How to handle stress

May 15, 2013

Q.I am sooooo stressed. I am beyond stressed. I don’t know how I’m going to get through AP tests and finals and sports (not saying which one so I don’t identify myself). Because in spite of all this stress I have this incredible outside personality that acts like everything is OK and I’m on top of things, but I’m not. And I’m so conditioned to be perfect that I’m forcing myself to not grammar check even this question. I need a vacation!

– 17-year-old female

Mary Jo’s response:

Stress can make life challenging. The good news is the end of the school year is fast approaching … that vacation/break will happen soon. Right now, though, you need some stress relief.

Have you ever noticed the way your stomach is demanding if you’ve been too busy and haven’t taken the time to eat a healthy meal? It’s tough to think about anything but your hunger. When you finally do find time for food, you need to focus and concentrate on consuming a bite at a time. Your workload is like that. It consumes your mind and takes you to the edge of panic. So much to do! This week AP and next week finals … too much!

Take those assignments one bite at a time. In other words, try not to think of the totality of your work but rather focus on each task alone. Conquer one task before moving to the next.

Stress relief is different for each person. We all respond to tension in unique ways. Some ways to manage stress are:

• Music. Whether you play an instrument or simply enjoy listening, music can ease stress.

• Exercise: Get moving. Even a walk can help refocus and can also get you outside.

• Eat well: Take time for healthy meals. Comfort foods can also ease stress.

• Talk: Share your feelings with family or friends

• Breathe: Be mindful of your breathing. Breathe in, breathe out, and think about it.

• Take a “time out” for you: Take a yoga or exercise class. Do something that indulges you.

• Pray or meditate: Quiet time that is spiritual can ease mental anxiety.

• Get enough sleep: I know you think you’re too busy for a good night’s rest, but sleep deprivation can add to stress.

• Write: Keeping a journal or creating poems/short stories can be stress relief

• Aromatherapy: Did you know that certain smells can be relaxing? Try it.

• Seek help: If your stress feels out of control, talk with your school’s guidance counselor.

Finally, I’m proud of you for having the courage to admit that you show the world a personality that denies problems. Many people cope by pretending all is well. Admitting your stress is an important first step. I suggest sharing with others who care – your parents, family or a trusted teacher. You’re not alone.

Good luck. Learning how to handle stress is a great life skill. You’ll become more resilient every time you face a challenge and move past it. Be patient. Perfection isn’t possible. Strive to do the best you can and be kind to you.


Must. Finish. English paper. Tonight. Instead I’m on FB and sending you a text.

16-year-old male

Mary Jo’s response:

Your text made me smile. When I responded and told you I’d like to share it in my column, you said: “Sure. I doubt I’m the only teen doing this.”

I’m 100 percent certain you’re not the only person in today’s world – of any age – who is distracted by social media and texting. It’s tough to focus with so many amazing gadgets. With smartphones and tablets we can carry the Internet with us. There are pluses and minuses to such easy access. One of the minuses may be a lack of true attention to one thing. Many people multi-task by simultaneously watching TV, texting, talking to friends and listening to music. Add trying to write an English paper, and concentration is a challenge.

Some researchers are concerned about the effect of all this stimulation on growing brains. Believe it or not, your brain is still developing at 16. The term “continuous partial attention” has been coined to describe the state of mind you’re experiencing. You’re involved in so many activities that accomplishing a task becomes difficult.

Try something radical. Unplug and disconnect. Keep background music if it provides comfort, but turn off FB and social media, silence your phone (here’s a radical thought – put it in another room!). Focus on the task at hand, give it your best, and reconnect when the paper is complete.

Good luck. And if you text me again, be aware. I’m going to be a good example and put my phone to sleep!



blog comments powered by Disqus