Managing Stress

What is stress?

People usually know stress when they feel it….but have a hard time trying to explain it!

It can also be tricky because what stresses out one person might not bother somebody else.

In general, stress means facing changes, challenges and frustrations that are difficult to manage. It can be helpful to think about things that cause stress and also how you react.

What causes stress?

Life can feel overwhelming sometimes!

Lots of different things can cause stress, including health, money problems, school, work, and dealing with family and friends. Even bad weather can cause stress for some people. Different people can be stressed out by different things.

Some causes of stress are daily hassles, which take place most days (like remembering to take medications or doing homework). Other sources of stress are major life events that happen less often but have a really big impact when they do (like changing schools or having surgery).

There can also be negative and positive sources of stress. People usually think about negative sources of stress, meaning things they don’t want to happen (like failing a test or having a medical procedure). But stressors can also be positive (like going on a first date or going on vacation). This is because even positive stressors can mean changes that take effort to manage.

How do people react to stress?

People can react to stress in different ways. We know that stress can affect:

  • The body. Some people get sore muscles, headaches, an upset stomach, increased heart rate or tightness in the chest.
  • Thoughts and feelings. Some people feel sad, worried, or angry. Some people find it harder to concentrate.
  • Behaviours. Some people have sleeping problems. Some people drink too much alcohol. Some people turn to “comfort” foods that usually aren’t healthy. And some people spend too much time on their own and less time with friends.

Food for Thought...

To understand your own style of coping and your feelings, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the challenges that you face with CHD?
  • Are there ways that CHD has made you stronger?
  • How can you tell when you’re stressed?

How can people manage stress better?

First things first: act soon! As soon as you’re feeling a bit stressed out, try to do something about it. It’s often easier to manage stress when it starts instead of when it grows into something much bigger!

Sometimes a person can change the actual source of stress. For example, a person who finds morning traffic and the chance of being late for school or work to be extremely stressful might decide to leave 15 minutes earlier.

However, there are many times when it’s not possible to change a source of stress. For example, it’s pretty hard to get a teacher to cancel a test! And people can’t change the fact they were born with CHD! It might also surprise you to know that a certain amount of stress is normal and can help us become stronger.

Therefore, the goal is to manage stress better rather than get rid of it. The aim is to learn ways (strategies) to manage the way we react to stress. Below you will find several strategies that have helped other people manage stress…maybe there will be one or two that you’re ready to try!


You might already do things to help you feel less tense and more relaxed, like listen to music or nature sounds or take a warm bath. You can also work with a mental health expert or search online to learn other relaxation strategies. There are many apps on meditation!

Here are 2 strategies that you might learn about:

  1. Belly breathing. With belly breathing, the focus is on the belly moving up and down with each breath. It’s usually easiest for people to learn this lying on their back with their hands on their belly. They focus on the rise of the belly each time they breathe in (inhale) and the drop of the body each time they breathe out (exhale). With practice, this is something that can be done anywhere, anytime. Some people also find it helpful to add essential oils (like lavender or other scents) to their hands to help with the relaxation process.
  2. Guided imagery. Many people feel relaxed when they daydream! With guided imagery, the person actually decides to imagine being in a place or situation they find peaceful and calm. This might be lying on a beach, walking in the forest, or any other special place. When practicing this, the focus is on what can be seen and heard…and maybe even what you can smell and taste!


Is the glass half full or half empty? People can think about the exact same situation in different ways. It’s all about perspective!

The way that a person thinks about a situation can impact their stress level.

The goal is to learn to think about situations in different and more helpful ways. Here are 6 thinking strategies:

  1. Focus on things within your control. For example, you can’t control being born with CHD, but you can decide what exercise is fun for you.
  2. Accept the situation rather than focus on how things ‘should’ be. For example, instead of getting angry about having to wait a long time to see your doctor, you could decide to accept the situation and take a book and music to pass the time.
  3. Keep a sense of humor. Laughter can be good medicine!
  4. Focus on problem-solving instead of complaining. For example, if you don’t like your part-time job, focus on looking for a new one.
  5. Practice talking back to negative thoughts. We know this is easier said than done! Yet many people find it helps them avoid blowing things out of proportion.
  6. Ask yourself what you would say to a friend in the same situation. Sometimes it’s a good idea to take our own advice!

A mental health expert (like a psychologist or counselor) can be a helpful resource to learn more ways to talk back to your negative thinking!


Sometimes people do unhealthy things to cope with stress (like smoke or drink or eat too much). These might seem like they help in the moment, but never work in the long run. Here are things that you can do to manage stress that work both in the short and long-term:

  1. Sleep better. We think sleep is so important that we give it its own section below!
  2. Eat better. Have you checked out the section on healthy eating yet? Click here for information on Healthy Eating.
  3. Get UP. Get out of bed and off the couch! Take a shower/bath and get dressed in an outfit that makes you feel good.
  4. Take 10 deep slow breaths.
  5. Get moving. Talk to your doctor or nurse about the right amount of exercise for you – physical activity is a great way to reduce stress. Different people find that different forms of exercise help them with stress – one person might choose going for a nice walk and someone else might take a yoga class. Here's some more information on exercise.
  6. Journal. Writing down feelings about a stressful situation can relieve tension and also help with problem solving and decision making.
  7. Plan something fun. This sounds very simple but sometimes people stop doing fun things when they’re stressed. Imagine what it would be like to know that you have a nice reward or treat to look forward to at the end of a long day or week.
  8. Distract yourself. We all need a break sometimes! Is there a TV show, movie or book that can take your mind off things? Distraction can be a good thing!
  9. Connect. Plan social activities with people who care about you and whom are good to talk with.


When we’re stressed out or feeling down, we often don’t sleep very well. It also works in the opposite direction: when we don’t sleep very well, it can affect our mood and stress levels! And it turns out that teens and young adults really need their sleep! That’s why we decided to share this list of tips that have helped other people improve their sleep.

  1. Make sure that your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. An eye mask might look funny but it works!
  2. Ask your doctor about the best time to take medications so they won’t interfere with sleep.
  3. Regular exercise can help sleep. But it’s probably a good idea to do it during the day or early evening rather than right before you go to bed.
  4. Don’t eat or drink a lot right before bed.
  5. Avoid caffeine (e.g., coffee, tea, cola) in the late afternoon and evenings.
  6. Try not to take long naps, especially late in the day. Long naps often make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  7. Keep a consistent sleeping pattern. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day…even on weekends!
  8. Don’t go to bed too early. If you do, you might find that you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.
  9. Relax and slow down before you go to bed. You might try a relaxation exercise or do something else that you find relaxing (like read a book or listen to soothing music). And as hard as this might seem, it’s best to avoid electronic devices during the hour before bed!
  10. Keep your bed for sleeping. The goal is for your body to link your bed with sleep. So this should not be where you do work or play video games!

If you want to learn more, check out the website for the National Sleep Foundation