Stress can lead to poor decisions without coping tools

Special to The Garden Island

Walking through the supermarket, you spot the perfect opportunity to steal some cigarettes. There’s no one nearby, the exit is clear and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Stealing gives you such a high and seems to distract you from what is presently happening in your life.

Just last week, you learned that your dad is moving to Maui. This bit of news seems to push you “over the edge.” Lately everything leaves you feeling overwhelmed. It wasn’t bad enough that you were dealing with the pressure of final exams. Then, your girlfriend broke up with you as you were reeling from the news of your parents divorcing.

You feel so out of sorts that you don’t want to ask anybody for help, even though your mom, soccer coach and best friend have expressed their concern for you. Normally calm and mellow, you do not know what to do.

Is this what people mean when they say “stressed out” or “in crisis”?

Stress is defined as a state of difficulty or worry caused by an event, person, place or thing. Some level of stress from time to time is normal for everyone. But extreme and/or prolonged stress is not typical and should be managed.

In addition, a crisis is defined as a dramatic emotional or circumstantial upheaval in a person’s life — a difficult situation marked by high stress. It is during these episodes of crisis that teens make poor choices that may lead to damaging consequences.

There are two key ingredients to reducing stress in your life. One is to learn stress management coping activities and the other is to practice effective problem solving technique.

What works as a stress management activity is highly individualized. It could be writing in a journal, talking to a respected kumu or going for a run. Just like with many other things, practice makes perfect. Practicing stress management techniques on a regular basis increases their effectiveness.

To successfully problem solve, you must know your limits. It is important to know that there are things you can control, such as your own behavior; things you can only influence, such as other people’s opinion; and, finally, situations that you cannot control, such as your parents’ divorce.

A good problem-solving technique is the “Decision Tree.” Draw a tree with roots, trunk, branches and leaves. Have the roots and trunk represent a problem or question. Label a possible solution on each branch of this tree. Then, think of all the pros, cons and consequences of each solution and label these on the leaves of your “solution” branches.

For example, feeling overwhelmed about parents’ divorce is the main problem to be labeled on the trunk. One solution is to talk to your mom. Another solution is to call a help line. A third option is to steal.

List the pros, cons and consequences for each choice. Once done, it will be easy to see which solution(s) will be the most appropriate and least damaging.

The Decision Tree is a great visual aide to systematically process through a problem and its possible solutions. The more you use such tools to deal with difficult situations, the less likely you are to react impulsively or make poor choices.

• Tram Vuong Meadows is the Therapeutic Foster Home Program Therapist for Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i. She can be reached at, or Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i Inc., 2959 Umi St., Lihu’e, HI 96766.


A support group of adults in our Kaua‘i community have “stepped into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families! Please e-mail your questions and concerns facing our youth and families today to Mary Navarro, executive director of Hale ‘Opio, at


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