What causes stress?

Many different things can cause stress. Life and challenges can be stressful:

  • Death of a loved one;
  • Parents separating or divorce;
  • Relationship breakdown;
  • Moving house.

Transition from school to college: making new friends and keeping up with coursework and exams. Feeling unsure about decisions you have made re: courses and subjects and uncertainty about what you would like to do in the future.

  • Difficulty in striking a work/life balance.

What are the signs?

  • Anxiety or tension;
  • Inability to sleep or relax;
  • Mood swings;
  • Feeling irritable or nervous;
  • Fear of failure;
  • Inability to concentrate;
  • Headaches and feeling dizzy;
  • Muscle tension or pain;
  • Stomach problems;
  • Palpitations (panic);
  • Sweating;
  • Change in eating habits;
  • Drinking or smoking too much;
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and activities.

What can help?

Try to keep a positive attitude and challenge negative thoughts and behaviour.

  • Learn to relax;
  • Set realistic and achievable goals but don’t expect too much of yourself;
  • Plan your time by doing what you need each day but include breaks and time for something you enjoy;
  • Prioritise by writing a list of tasks, starting with the most important one and tick them once you have completed them;
  • Improve your lifestyle: find time to eat properly, get enough exercise and sleep. Avoid drinking and smoking too much;
  • You may find it helpful to speak with a counsellor to explore the causes of your stress, gain a deeper understanding and learn how to manage it.*

* Elaine Potter is Nunthorpe Academy’s Sixth Form Counsellor. You can view more information on our Counselling Support page.


There are stressful times in your life when you need to relax. Learning to relax can be a skill in itself and can take time and effort before you are able to unwind, but if you practice some techniques you will find it easier to de-stress. Each person is different; what works for one may not work for another.

The secret is to find a way that works for you. The more you practise the technique, the easier it will become to de-stress yourself. Some of the techniques can be used in the middle of an exam, for example, when you feel a moment of panic coming on.

Simple Ways to unwind

  • Long soaks in the bath with calm music and candles;
  • Massage to relieve tension;
  • Exercise;
  • Music;
  • Yoga/ Meditation;
  • Talking to others.

Deep Breathing

  • Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and count to 3;
  • Breathe out slowly through your mouth and count to 5;
  • Relax your shoulders and upper chest muscles when you breathe;
  • This will slow your heart rate down and start to reduce your blood pressure;
  • Only repeat this exercise a couple of times and you will feel the difference.

Relaxation Exercise

  • Find a comfortable place to lie or sit. You may find it helpful to have relaxing music playing;
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breathing, then slowly tense and then relax each part of your body;
  • Legs – straighten your legs and bend your feet towards your face, hold for 3 and relax;
  • Buttocks – Squeeze your buttocks together tightly, hold for 3 and relax;
  • Stomach – tense your stomach muscles as tightly as you can, hold for 3 and relax;
  • Chest – take a deep breath, hold for 3 then relax;
  • Hands – clench your fists, hold for 3 and then relax;
  • Arms – bend your elbows and tense your arms, feel the tension in your upper arm and then relax;
  • Shoulders – shrug your shoulders up, hold for 3 and relax;
  • Neck – press your head back and roll it from side to side slowly and relax;
  • Face – screw your face up and hold for 3 and relax;
  • Now that you have relaxed every part of your body, you can begin to visualise yourself in a calm and happy place, e.g. on a secluded beach on a warm day. Close your eyes and try to feel the sun on your face and the sand between your toes. Imagine the sounds and the smells. Feel all the peace and calmness around you. Lie for a while and then slowly open your eyes. Your body rhythms will have slowed down so don’t get up too quickly as you may be a little dizzy.