Did you know that stress is vital to survival?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health:
Stress can motivate people to prepare or perform
, like when they need to take a test or interview for a new job. Stress can even be life-saving in some situations. In response to danger, your body prepares to face a threat or flee to safety. In these situations, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—all functions aimed at survival”.
Everyone experiences stress, at least some of the time, and it
can help us better adapt to change
, and it can fuel productivity.
According to UCLA psychology professor Mark D. Seery, “People with a history of some lifetime stress adversity
reported better mental health and well-being outco
mes than not only people with a high history of adversity but also than people with no history of adversity.” (Seery et al., 2010, p. 1025)
“In moderation, whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger.”
(Seery et al., 2010, p.1025)
Why would this be
? Psychologist Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. theorizes:
- Perhaps experiencing a bit of stress gives us strength and the ability to tolerate and adapt to life’s difficulties.
- Going through a moderate stressor (like relocating or breaking a limb) may help us learn new skills (like sociability or patience) we can apply in later life.
- We may gain confidence in managing stress. ("If I can do this, I can do the next difficult thing.")
- We may be less likely to fear change. For example, we may learn that it’s ok to leave a toxic relationship or bad job and that we can survive and even thrive afterwards.
However, constant and prolonged stress can be toxic over time. It can lead to a shorter lifespan and chronic illness. Stress does not usually develop into anxiety if it is dealt with and reasonably managed.
The American Psychological Association lists
five key strategies
for managing stress:
- Take a break from the stressor. It may seem difficult to get away from a big work project, a crying baby or a growing credit card bill. But when you give yourself permission to step away from it, you let yourself have time to do something else, which can help you have a new perspective or practice techniques to feel less overwhelmed. It’s important to not avoid your stress (those bills have to be paid sometime), but even just 20-minutes to take care of yourself is helpful.
- Exercise. The research keeps growing — exercise benefits your mind just as well as your body. We keep hearing about the long-term benefits of a regular exercise routine. But even a 20-minute walk, run, swim or dance session in the midst of a stressful time can give an immediate effect that can last for several hours.
- Smile and laugh. Our brains are interconnected with our emotions and facial expressions. When people are stressed, they often hold a lot of the stress in their face. So, laughs or smiles can help relieve some of that tension and improve the situation.
- Get emotional support. Call a friend, send an email. When you share your concerns or feelings with another person, it does help relieve stress. But it’s important that the person whom you talk to is someone whom you trust and whom you feel can understand and validate you. If your family is a stressor, for example, it may not alleviate your stress if you share your work woes with one of them.
- Meditate. Meditation and mindful prayer help the mind and body to relax and focus. Mindfulness can help people see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and forgiveness. When practicing a form of mindfulness, people can release emotions that may have been causing the body physical stress. Much like exercise, research has shown that even meditating briefly can reap immediate benefits.
And at IWG, we add a 6th strategy--engage in therapy! Talking to a professional therapist and learning coping skills as well ways to communicate challenges and ways of seeking support can be life-changing!
Often parents think “Stress? What could my child possibly be stressed about?! They’re only 4…”
While young children may not be directly facing the ‘serious’ and complex stressors that adults must deal with, children are still being affected by whatever emotional environment they are in. When adults are not managing their stress appropriately, children can exhibit concerning levels of toxic stress due to long-term exposure to yelling/fighting, violence, or unhealthy communication styles.
Children will adopt the same stress management styles of their parents, so consider:
- Do you engage in regular self-care, to prevent stress from building up?
- Are you able to resolve conflicts in healthy and non-combative ways?
- When you become stressed, do you have outlets and appropriate stress relief methods?
- Can other people ‘tell’ when you are stressed? Is it overflowing from you?
Here are some examples of life events that can become stressful to young children:
- Beginning toilet training
- Starting daycare or school
- Change in family dynamic
- New baby
- Extended houseguests
- Overwhelming schedules; too busy, or under-planned, or inconsistent
Moving to a new home
Family member (or child) diagnosed with illness
World events (natural disasters, terrorism/wars, frequent talks of guns and violence)
Tips for minimizing stress for children:
- Establish a regular routine – consistency is extremely important for young children. Try to wake up around the same time, go to bed at the same time, and make the schedule as predictable as possible for your child. Add structure to their time after school by clearly breaking down playtime, chores, and a calming evening routine that includes personal hygiene, book-reading, and some special time to snuggle and reflect on the day together.
- Incorporate breaks – young children may have a LOT of energy sometimes, but eventually they crash. Behavior becomes increasingly difficult when a child is over-tired, so be sure to plan a few breaks and some activities that are more calming.
- Prepare your child for changes – explain what will happen in detail if they are going to a new place, starting school for the first time, or for any new situation that affects the home / family. Discussing the change with your child in advance will help them understand how this will affect them, what is expected from them, and it gives children an opportunity to ask questions that you may not realize they have.
For strategies on Stress Relief & Relaxation, parents
For Stress Management that you can practice with your kids, checkout this activity sheet on creating Stress / Calming Bottles,
(link for Stress Bottles PDF)