Tim Bradbury/Getty Images (Simone Biles); Maddie Meyer/Getty Images (Tom Brady); Harry How/Getty Images (Lebron James); Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images (J.K. Rowling); Taylor Hill/WireImage (Zendaya); GraphicaArtis/Getty Images (Thomas Jefferson)
How Stars Beat Stress

This short nonfiction text explores the science of stress and provides several tips—used by celebrities and approved by experts—for keeping stress under control.

By Mackenzie Carro

Learning Objective: to support a claim with text evidence

Other Key Skills: central ideas and details, text evidence

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You might think celebrities have the perfect lives. They travel the world, attend glitzy parties, and have hordes of adoring fans. But living in the spotlight isn’t always glamorous. In fact, it can be downright stressful.

Whether professional athletes, YouTube stars, or famous singers, today’s celebs are under constant pressure—to win games, to get millions of views, to keep up with jam-packed tour schedules. And while stress is a normal part of anyone’s life, too much can be dangerous. Chronic stress is linked to depression, weakened immune systems, even heart disease. That’s why many celebrities take stress seriously.

And it isn’t just celebrities who need help when it comes to stress. Between school, homework, extracurriculars, friends, and troubling stories in the news, many young people are also feeling overwhelmed and anxious. In a recent survey, 31 percent of teens said they felt overwhelmed because of stress.

The good news is that many top performers and athletes have found powerful ways to cope—and you can use these same strategies to beat the stress in your life before it gets the best of you. 

Harry How/Getty Images

To de-stress before a big game, LeBron James reads.    

What Is Stress?    

Stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge or threat. That reaction could be sweaty palms and a pounding heart before a big test or a flip-flopping stomach before a basketball game.

This stress response is called “fight or flight.” It’s a survival technique left over from the time when our ancestors lived in caves, back when humans regularly encountered giant hyenas, saber-toothed cats, and other deadly threats. The purpose of fight-or-flight is to prepare you to react quickly to imminent danger, either by fighting off that giant hyena or by hightailing it out of there.

Here is how it works: When you sense a threat, your brain sends a signal to your body to get ready. Stress hormones flood your body, speeding up your breathing and heart rate. Blood pumps into your muscles to get your body prepared to bolt, and your pupils dilate to sharpen your vision. Of course, you don’t have to worry about giant hyenas anymore, but your brain is still programmed to react quickly to perceived threats. If there’s a fire, for instance, your body’s stress response can help you spring into action.

But this stress response can also be triggered by situations that are not life-threatening. Embarrassing social media posts, arguments with friends, and boatloads of homework can all flick on your stress switches. When that happens, you may be left feeling distracted, tired, irritable, anxious, or overwhelmed.

Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images    

J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books) reads biographies of people who overcame big challenges.

Stress Busters    

Fortunately, there are all sorts of ways to stop stress before it takes over. Gymnast Simone Biles, for example, gave herself motivational pep talks during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Experts say this works because a simple mantra like “I can do this!” will distract you from negative thoughts that can set off your body’s stress response.

So if you’re nervous about a big test or an upcoming softball game, flip the script in your head like Simone does. Instead of fixating on what might go wrong, repeat to yourself exactly why you’ll nail it. You’ll be surprised at what a simple change of mind-set can do.

Exercise is another great stress buster. Former First Lady Michelle Obama often opts for a bike ride when she’s feeling stressed out, but any physical activity—even taking a walk—can do wonders because it triggers the production of feel-good chemicals called endorphins.

You can also help protect your body against stress by getting a good night’s sleep. To stay calm and sharp on the field, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady makes an early bedtime a top priority during his pressure-filled seasons.

Other celebs, like Kendall and Kylie Jenner, use music to unwind. Research shows that certain music can help distract us from stressful thoughts and help our brains enter relaxation mode.

So the next time you’re overwhelmed, take a deep breath and try one of these star-proven stress busters.

NOTE: This slideshow first appeared in Scholastic's Choices magazine.

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Close Reading, Critical Thinking, Skill Building

1. PREPARING TO READ

2. READING AND DISCUSSING 

3. DOING THE ACTIVITY 

4. WRITING