What Is Stress?
Dealing with stress is one of life’s challenges. For some, stress is a minor obstacle experienced by the body when faced with manageable demands. For children, it might be caused by having to take an important test or participate in a sporting event. Sometimes, it’s a great motivator. It may prompt one to study or train to reach a goal. Major stress episodes are common for all ages, though. Relocating to a new home or school is one normal trigger of stress that can hit a person as hard as the death of a loved-one. Changes in the workplace or classroom or in duties at home cause major stress in people too. So do traumatic events and the sudden decline in one’s health.
People often have the ability to bounce back easily when the triggers end. Some aren’t so lucky. Stressors can be recurring, making it hard for the body to return to normal. When the body undergoes stress, one’s pulse can quicken, muscles can tense, and breathing may speed. The brain both increases in activity and requires more oxygen. When it becomes normal for the body to routinely experience these changes, one’s health can be affected in several ways. When this happens, several parts of the body cease to function normally. Changes can occur in one’s sleeping habits as well as in one’s immune, digestive, and reproductive systems. If left to endure recurring stress, one could develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, or anxiety.
Symptoms of Stress
The first step in managing stress is to recognize its symptoms. Many people feel ill when they are stressed. Complaints of headaches, tiredness, and digestive trouble aren’t unusual. Chronic colds and bouts of flu are common too. Additionally, feelings of irritability, anger, and sadness are signs of stress in adults as well as children. Both can experience depression and complain of having low levels of energy. Some are known to overeat while others eat too little. Stress can even materialize as chest pain and cause one to feel restless or unable to focus. Being incapable of successfully dealing with stress can make people withdraw from their social circles too. All of these symptoms are red flags indicating stress in an individual that should not be ignored.
Stress in Children
In children, stress can produce additional symptoms. A child may respond to stress by reverting to an old habit like thumb sucking or clinging to a special blanket or toy. Bedwetting is another sign that all may not be well with a child. Sometimes, a stressed child may become unwilling to leave a parent or another caregiver. On the other hand, some children may distance themselves from family and school friends. Children cannot always put into words the thoughts and feelings that they are having and resort to general whining. Evidence of stress needs to be addressed.
How to Help
Children affected by recurring stress need to learn that coping takes discipline and practice. One of the best ways to deal with stress is to exercise regularly each day. The physical activity, even if it is only walking that one does, can do wonders for the body. Relaxing activities are helpful too. Mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, and meditation are techniques that can be used to calm the body and spirit. Hobbies such as reading or listening to music can help relax the body. Warn children that although surfing the net, playing videogames, and watching TV may feel relaxing, these activities can actually increase stress when practiced long-term. Children can learn to better manage stress when they put in writing their goals for the future. They can learn to juggle time demands through practicing prioritizing. Taking the time to teach youngsters how to decide what must be done now and what can be done later can give one relief from stress.
While it’s easy to avoid interacting with people when one is stressed, social interaction can help one stay connected to what is important in life, be it family, community, or religious organizations. These groups can help one cope with stress because they can give the child feelings of safety and security, both of which can help with one’s ability to learn. When students have someone to turn to, they can talk about the problems they are having with friends or bullying and peer pressure that they face at school. Caregivers and parents should listen to children when they express their feelings; as they do so, critical remarks and the urge to immediately respond should be suppressed. It can also be beneficial for parents and caregivers to create opportunities for the child to feel in control. With so much out of their control – divorce, financial responsibilities, puberty – choosing a family activity for the night may be just what’s needed to relax. If the ability to relax and cope with the stress is out of reach, however, seek the help of a physician, especially if chronic stress seems to be present. Not only will a physician’s involvement help in coping, but the healthcare provider can also rule out any other problems that might be the cause of the symptoms.