By: Bridgeway Academy’s Psychology Team (Lindsay Fletcher, Ph.D., NCSP, Psychologist, Julie Henzel, PsyD, Psychologist, and Nicole Benson, Ph.D., NCSP, Postdoctoral Psychology Fellow)
Did you know that happy and positive life events can increase our stress levels just as much as unhappy and negative ones? Think about a time you felt stressed planning holiday celebrations, cleaning the house before a party, or packing for a vacation. Seemingly positive events can be both stressful and exciting. The same is true for kids of all ages.
Stress is simply our body’s response to demanding changes, and there are actually two types of stress: one for positive stress (i.e., eustress) and one for negative stress (i.e., distress).Being able to tell the difference between the two types of stress not only helps us identify what we are feeling about a situation, but it also helps us to respond correctly to the stressor. For example, althoughpositive stress can be beneficial, it is important to note that it also depletes the body’s reserves just as much as negative stress does. Therefore, it is important to 1) understand the many faces of stress and 2) learn strategies to managestress for you and your child(ren)!
Although there are many different examples of stress, here are 6 common characteristics:
- Stress is something that has a real effect on minds and
- Mind Examples: anxiety, restlessness, distractibility, irritability
- Body Examples: headaches, upset stomach, sleep problems, muscle tension
- Stress can happen from any change—whether good or bad.
- “Good” change examples: starting a new job, new house, new baby, preparing for the holidays, hosting house guests, new school year/teacher/classroom/classmates
- Not-so-“good” change examples: loss of a job or housing, difficulty learning a new skill, getting along with siblings, illness/injury
- Stress can happen from both real (e.g., got in a fender bender on the way to work) and imagined events (e.g., wondering what ifsomeone rear ends me on the way to work).
- Some stress is good. This is what can push students to study hard for a test or adults to put their best foot forward on work-related tasks.
- Too much stress can be bad. No matter your age, when you are over-stressed, your body’s ability to cope with the stressor becomes depleted at a much faster rate which can inhibit your ability to successfully resolve the stressful situation.
- Example: think of a time when a tiny stressor completely threw you through a loop, but on any other day you could have handled that situation in stride.
- You CAN learn to manage your stress.
- Keep on reading…
Strategies FOR KIDS:
Here are just a few great ways to help your child(ren) cope with stress and/or maintain low levels of stress overall:
- Get good sleep. It’s harder for people of all ages to deal with stress when tired, so ensuring your child gets the recommended number of hours each night is a great place to start (parents: don’t forget to apply this tip to yourself!).
- Tip: Try to disconnect/unplug 1-hour before bedtime to get your child’s brain ready to sleep. Turn devices to “night shift” mode after school in order to reduce the sleep disrupting blue light that tricks the brain into being alert.
- Get moving. Small bursts of aerobic exercise can help calm the stress-induced fight-or-flight response (i.e., our body’s reaction to a perceived stressful/harmful situation that includes possible increased heart rate, sweating, fast/shallow breathing, and constant surveillance of surroundings).
- Ideas: Jump on a trampoline, have a dance party, play tag, go for a walk outside after dinner
- Deep breathing. Slow, deep breaths naturally calm the nervous system.
- Ideas: Trace a figure 8 while breathing in slowly on one side and breathing out slowly on the other side, blow in order to make a pinwheel spin, or consider using an app such as Breathing Bubbles or Breathe2Relax.
- Listen to music. When stress strikes, turn up the music! Research consistently demonstrates a positive change in one’s mood when listening to music. The key is finding the type of music that feels calming to you.
- Ideas: Put on a favorite song to trigger happy memories, or uplifting/faster paced music to get a dance party started!
- Give hugs. Studies have shown that a 20 second hug releases oxytocin (a hormone that plays a role in social bonding), lowers blood pressure, and decreases stress- helping your child calm down. It can also make them feel safe and supported. Not to mention, it’s a good excuse to squeeze in an extra hug or two from your reluctant tween!
- Get focused. Getting busy on activities unrelated to the source of stress is a helpful tool for people of all ages. So, whether crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or coloring is your child’s thing…encourage them to get busy!
- Listen to them. Like, really listen. While it’s helpful to reassure kids “You’re fine, it’ll be alright,” it’s equally powerful to truly listen to their worries/concerns and empathize with them. The next time the opportunity presents itself, try responding with something like, “Wow, I can see why that was so stressful for you,” before taking on the cheerleader role.
Strategies FOR ADULTS:
It’s important for parents/caregivers to take care of themselves, too! This will help you stay primed and ready to deal with stressful situations as they arise, including challenging behaviors or sudden changes in schedule/plans. Consider building in a few of the following suggestions:
- Make time for silence. Set your alarm to wake up before the rest of your family so you can sit and have your breakfast/coffee in silence.
- Stay hydrated. If you’re feeling particularly anxious about getting through your to-do list, opt for water instead of another coffee/latte. Too much caffeine can leave you feeling nervous or moody, and it can disrupt your sleep.
- Did you know? Caffeine is a stimulant that can actually increase one’s anxiety.
- Build in healthy meals and snacks. Although fall is a great time to cozy up with warm cider, hot chocolate, and pumpkin everything, too much rich food can take a toll on your body, energy level, and ability to concentrate. Try to add in salad, fruits, veggies, and water if you’ve been inundated with cookies and other rich foods lately.
- Stretch. Set aside a few minutes at some point in the day to stretch your body from head to toe.
- Exercise. It may be the last thing you feel like you have time for, but research has found that workouts can boost your mood for up to 12 hours. Moreover, regular exercise tends to decrease the amount of cortisol (a.k.a., the stress hormone) in your bloodstream, leading to a reduction in symptoms of stress. So, fitting in 30 minutes of exercise several times a week can have a large impact on your overall stress level!
- Free Ideas: Walk around your neighborhood, take a family hike through a Metro Park, make household chores aerobic (e.g., fast paced vacuuming and cleaning, and if possible, be sure to clean on different levels of your house every few minutes so you hit the stairs frequently!)
- Zone out to music. Make a playlist on your phone, computer, etc. with music you find relaxing. The type/genre will be different for everyone, so whether it’s Mozart or Beyoncé, make a playlist that works for you!
Did you know? Research from the University of Maryland shows that hearing music you love can relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. his not only calms you down but is good for your heart, too!
- Consider disconnecting from the electronic world for a little while each day.Taking a break from calls, texts, emails, Facebook updates, etc. can be a welcome brain break and may even free up the 10-15 minutes you need to stretch or listen to your calming playlist with your eyes shut.
- Be intentionally unavailable. Most phones offer a “Do Not Disturb” setting where you can program exactly how long you want to be “unavailable”. This setting allows calls/messages from favorite contacts to still come through to give you peace of mind that you can still be reached in case of emergency.
- Keep a to-do list.It’s easy to become overwhelmed when juggling 20 tasks in your thoughts. Take this time management stress off your mind and put it on paper (or your phone). Rewrite/type your list as often as needed to reflect what’s been accomplished and what needs to be prioritized next. Be sure to check off what you’ve completed, as this will help keep you motivated.
- Free App/Website Ideas:iPhone Notes/Reminders apps, Asana, Alexa, Trello
- Get a massage. Some spas offer express massages that last for 30 minutes or less (always check Groupon!)
- Say “no.”If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your daily agenda, don’t over-schedule your time and take on more than you can manage. Remember, it’s OK to slow down a bit!
- Accept help.If relatives, friends, or neighbors offer to help you with something, consider accepting their help. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t truly mean it!
Lynch, Christopher. (2012). Totally Chill: My complete guide to staying cool: Stress management workbook for kids with social, emotional, or sensory sensitivities. AAPC Publishing.
13 Stress Relief Tips for Kids: https://www.activekids.com/parenting-and-family/articles/13-stress-relief-tips-for-kids
21 Stress-Reducing Techniques: https://www.livestrong.com/slideshow/1011067-15-stressreducing-techniques/#slide=2
Positive Stress, Negative Stress: https://aderoeducation.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/positive-stress-negative-stress/
Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior:https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987