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A Life with Less Stress

April 4, 2024

By: Emily DeWalt, Prevention Specialist


Stress. It's something we all experience from time to time. You might feel stressed out before a big exam at school, or when a family member is in crisis, or during a big-life change like moving away from your hometown. You may even experience stress from the day-to-day activities that need to get done each day. Stress is an uncomfortable feeling, but it is normal to feel some stress every now and then. It is not normal, however, to be in a constant state of stress. We know that ongoing stress negatively impacts our mental and physical wellness. Fortunately, there are ways we can keep our stress levels in check to ensure that we stay healthy.



April is Stress Awareness Month. During this time, we focus our attention on the role stress plays in our lives and consider what we can do to manage it. First, it’s important to make the distinction between short and long-term stressors (aka- acute and chronic stressors). An acute stressor is the result of a short-term external event, such as having to give a speech or perform in a dance recital in front of your school. Once the external event ends, the feelings of stress go away. On the other hand, chronic stressors cause feelings of stress that may last for weeks, months or even longer. The external cause may be an ongoing experience, such as long workdays for weeks on end, or something sudden such as a death in the family. Chronic stress can be damaging to both the mind and body, and has been linked to many chronic diseases such as autoimmune disorders or mental illness.


Luckily, there is a lot of research to back up certain recommendations for how to manage stress. It’s well established that positive self-care activities like getting good nutrition, exercise and adequate sleep will help, but there are other behaviors that may also reduce your feelings of stress. The American Psychological Association has shared a number of actions that can be taken in order to cope with stress at work. A few steps you can take to help manage your stress include:


·   Tracking you stressors - record your thoughts, feelings and information about the environment

·    Establishing boundaries – do not check emails at home or answer the phone during dinner

·    Taking time to recharge - have periods of time when you are not engaging in or thinking about work

·    Talking to your supervisor - they can help by clarifying expectations, adjust your work space, or suggest employer-sponsored wellness resources

·    Getting some support - accept help from friends and family, or talk with a counselor


Even if you love what you do, any job can present situations that cause feelings of stress. The American Psychological Association has consistently found that a large majority of Americans report work as a significant source of their stress. For most of us, working is a necessary that our livelihoods depend on. It is unfortunate that the workplace often carries stressors such as excessive workloads, low salaries, lack of autonomy and social support. Until there is cultural shift in which the employee is prioritized over the “bottom line,” the best we can do is to look out for ourselves and manage our individual stress the best that we can.


Working a job is certainly a major stress for most adults, but it is important to recognize that children have stressors of their own. Just like the grown-ups, chronic stress can lead to long-term health issues for kids. These issues can come up as physical health problems, such as a weakened immune system or obesity, or as mental health problems like anxiety or depression. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen mental illness cases in particular skyrocket among youth. The most extreme source of stress, the loss of a caregiver, was experienced by 270,000 children during the peak of the pandemic. It is essential that we know not just the signs that a kid or teen is feeling stressed, but also what we can do to help alleviate that stress.



Children that are stressed out don’t always show it in the same way that an adult would. Here are some signs to look out for if you suspect that a kid or teen is feeling stress:


  • Irritability and anger: when children are in a bad mood, they don’t always have the words for it. They might be more short-tempered or argumentative than normal.

  • Changes in behavior: A child that is great listener is suddenly acting out. A once-active teen now doesn’t want to leave the house.

  • Trouble sleeping: A child or teen might complain of feeling tired all the time, sleep more than usual, or have trouble falling asleep at night.

  • Neglecting responsibilities: A sudden drop in completing homework, forgetting obligations, or procrastinating more than usual might be due to stress.

  • Eating changes: Eating too much or too little can both be reactions to stress.

  • Getting sick more often: Children who feel stress often report headaches or stomachaches, and might make frequent trips to the school nurse’s office.

As a caregiver, there are many ways you can help with stressful situations. Modeling healthy coping by sharing with your child how you’ve dealt with your own stressors can help them learn how to manage theirs. Allowing your kid to problem-solve around the issue that is making them stressed will help them gain confidence and know how to handle setbacks in the future. Teaching your child to be savvy with technology, especially regarding social media, can help reduce their exposure to questionable content and cyber bullying. Lastly, helping your child combat negative thinking by not only disagreeing with negative self-talk, but by reminding them of times that were difficult where they eventually improved. This will help them become more resilient to stress in the future.


With stress being something that everyone experiences, it has been a major focus of research in psychology. We encourage you to continue learning about stress and how to manage it to find what techniques work best for you. As always, thank you for reading and we hope that this information will help you feel less stress! 😊 


 Sources

1.      National Institute of Mental Health (2024). I’m so Stressed Out! Fact Sheet. Last viewed April 4, 2024. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/so-stressed-out-fact-sheet#:~:text=What%20is%20stress%3F,repeatedly%20over%20a%20long%20time

2.      American Psychological Association (2018). Coping with Stress at Work. Last viewed April 4, 2024. Available at: https://www.apa.org/topics/healthy-workplaces/work-stress

3.      American Psychological Association (2022). How to Help Children and Teens Manage Their Stress. Last viewed April 4, 2024. Available at: https://www.apa.org/topics/children/stress

 

Images

1.      Partners for Prevention in Allegany County (2022). April is Stress Awareness Month. Last viewed April 4, 2024. Available at: https://ppaccentral.org/2022/04/21/april-is-stress-awareness-month/

2.      Verywell Mind (2022). Employee Stressed at Work with Laptop. April is Stress Awareness Month. Last viewed April 4, 2024. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-deal-with-stress-at-work-3145273

3.      Huffington Post (2022). Boy not Eating his Dinner. Last viewed April 4, 2024. Available at: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-to-feed-kids_l_622125e7e4b03bc49a982069

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