The past several years have brought an unparalleled amount of stress into both our world and our children’s world. With the constant barrage of information teaching us more about how to remain safe in our new world, it has added constant underlying stress into our daily lives.
This is on top of our everyday stressors in a culture that is constantly pushing productivity and or pushing us to keep moving forward with limited access to mental health resources and stigma against seeking help.
What does this mean for our bodies to have continuous underlying levels of stress?
Prolonged levels of stress cause the release of the hormone, Cortisol, which can be a factor in many chronic illnesses. Times of prolonged stress can result in physical and physiological symptoms including:
- Low energy
- Upset stomach
- Tense muscles
- Difficulty sleeping
- Frequent colds
- Difficulty concentrating
In children, prolonged stress may present itself as regulation issues such as difficulty eating or sleeping, aggression, and hyperactivity. As adults and as parents, we have to understand and respect that the stress in our own lives impacts every part of our day and the environment around us.
Prolonged stress can contribute to problems with our cardiovascular systems. Chronic stress can result in ongoing increased heart rate, prolonged elevated levels of stress hormones, and increased blood pressure which can lead to other chronic diseases that we would all like to avoid!
So how can we combat these feelings? Just relax, right? We all know it’s not that easy. But, it is extremely important that we all take time to de-stress.
An Occupational Therapist’s Perspective
Occupational therapists’ specialty is activity analysis. Try it out! Take a step back and look at your day, the times of the day when you or your child is experiencing the most stress. Are there any common factors or themes? From an occupational therapy standpoint, treatment of stress includes establishing routines and habits, enjoyable activities that improve arousal level and promote relaxation. It also includes taking a look at our environment and how that may be affecting our stress level. Once we find the culprit, we need to break the cycle!
How to Break the Stress Cycle
Now that we have an idea of what is contributing to our stress we can address it! We can look at our daily routines and add in self-care or regulation strategies before or after stressful activities. It’s also a good idea to build in some of these activities on a daily basis and make them part of our daily routines so we don’t forget to take those moments for our own wellbeing and help us manage the inevitable stressors that come our way.
AKA: We can when you feel stressed, use one of your regulation strategies! When you don’t feel stressed, still do one of your regulation strategies!
Lifestyle Changes Parents Can Make to Reduce Stress
- Keep physically active- it improves your mood and is a powerful stress reducer
- Avoid excessive caffeine intake- which can worsen stress
- Use of relaxation techniques- including visualization strategies, meditation, or yoga. Try decreasing lighting at night to promote relaxation.
- Make sleep a priority! Have a night time routine to promote relaxation. Limiting the use of our phones or television before bed to allow for body to decompress and promote a restful night sleep
- Eat healthy
- Journal to help identify what’s causing you stress and what strategies help you feel better
Lifestyle Changes We Can Help Children Make to Reduce Stress
- Create opportunities for outside play
- Avoid caffeine or high sugar foods
- Utilize relaxation techniques with your child, perhaps during your nightly routine. You’ll be helping them learn the importance of self-care too!
- Implement regular bedtimes with limited screen time and other stimulating activities before bed
- Model eating healthy and encourage lifelong healthy eating habits
- Have daily check-ins to discuss stressors and model use of regulation strategies
Lifestyle Changes Families Can Make to Reduce Stress
- Manage a healthy network for social support
- Prioritize! Is there a way you can modify your schedule to capitalize on your time and energy?
- Spending time outside
- Ask for support when you need it. We can’t do it all!
Build De-Stressing into The Scheudle
One of the best ways to ensure we are all getting the TLC we need is by slotting it into our already busy schedules and considering it just as important as anything else on our to-do lists. It’s not “free” time, but ‘me time’ This time should be sacred to you and your family. It’s the only way we can all recharge!
For more tips and great ideas on how to add more play and other destressing activities into your child’s routine, check out these articles.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress effects on the body. American Psychological Association. Retrieved September 18, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body.
Chang, M. C., Ramos, K., Medina, R., Yan, J., & Zeman, M. (2021). Perceived stress, sleep quality, and sensory processing patterns among parents of children with disabilities. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75(Supplement_2). https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2021.75s2-rp254
Lane, S.. & Bundy, A. (2012). Kids Can be kids: A childhood occupations approach. Philadelphia: F. A. Davis>