Dealing with Stress
While stress is a normal part of daily life and is a typical response to changes and challenges, it can become problematic for children, adolescents, or adults when it becomes too intense or lasts too long. Stress can occur for a variety of reasons including school or work demands, relationship problems, divorce, financial struggles, illness, or moves. Stress can also come from upcoming good events (like new activities, holidays or vacations, or a new job).
Parents also experience stress. In fact, “parenting stress” is a term used to describe parents who feel distressed in their role as a parent and feel they are not able to cope. This can be for a variety of reasons including a lack of resources (including finances), lack of support, dealing with behavior problems, or marital problems.
While some stress is “good” and can even be helpful, when stress is too intense, serious, long-lasting, or sudden, an individual can feel overwhelmed and have a tough time coping. In some cases, if an individual lacks the skills to cope, it can lead to anxiety, depression, irritability, withdrawal, aggression, and even physical illness.
What are the Signs of Stress?
When presented with stressful situations, physical changes in one’s mind and body instinctively occur to prepare them for danger. This “fight, flight, or freeze'' response can result in an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, clammy hands, an upset stomach, feeling dizzy, intrusive racing thoughts, or a sense of dread about the future.
How Stress Affects Children and Adolescents
Children and teens can experience stress due to changes in their bodies, social struggles, parental divorce, family conflict, being over-scheduled, and unreasonable expectations. Adults can sometimes be unaware when their children or teens are experiencing overwhelming feelings of stress. Tuning into emotional or behavioral cues is important in identifying potential problems and working with your young person to provide guidance and support to successfully work through difficult times. Signs of stress for youth can include:
- Negative changes in behavior
- Complaints about feeling sick
- Acting out at home or school
- Making negative comments about themselves or their lives
- Decline in grades
Children or adolescents may also develop depression or anxiety as a reaction to stress. More severe examples of unhealthy reactions to stress can include alcohol abuse, drug use, self-injury, and cutting.
We Can Help with Stress
Wynns Family Psychology offers several services to help deal with stress. Specific types of individual therapy are offered in which our providers can suggest specific relaxation techniques that can aid in stress reduction, such as:
- Breathing techniques and exercises
- Yoga and exercise
- Food choice and diet
- Sleep quality and amount
Our providers can also teach children and teens how to take measures to calm their bodies and return to a more relaxed state. Developing this relaxation response and strengthening other stress management skills can help children feel more in control and give them better options to utilize when responding to stress. Children and teens can take steps towards decreasing stress by:
- Learning practical coping and relaxation skills
- Setting realistic goals
- Developing assertiveness skills
- Decreasing negative self-talk
- Having fun and taking breaks from stressful situations
- Practicing healthy sleep, diet, and exercise routines
By using these and other strategies, children and teens can begin to manage stress, decrease anxiety and depression, and live a more well-balanced life. That said, these recommendations can take a great deal of motivation and consistency. And sometimes, an outside source that provides extra support, practice, and a fresh perspective can be very helpful for children and teens trying to implement these stress management techniques. Also, please note that these suggestions may not be effective for everyone, especially children or teens dealing with severe issues. If you feel your teen is dealing with more substantial problems, it's critical that you work with a professional who specializes in child and teen therapy or medication management services.