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Coping with Stress During COVID:

Children feel stress too, learn the signs and what to do to help them cope with stress

Parents and children alike are experiencing high levels of stress and strain on their mental health during the pandemic. Living life in a pandemic was not something anybody planned for, and this year has brought unexpected challenges to many families. Adults often feel stress and most of us have developed coping mechanisms and ways to work through situations and circumstances that cause those feelings.

While we can try to reduce and avoid stress, the reality is that everyone, from infants to adult experience stress. It is part of our daily lives, and with the changes and uncertainly that the last year has brought there have been a record number of people experiencing mental health concerns.  According to a poll conducted in late 2020 on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA), about 8 in 10 adults say that the pandemic has been a big source of stress in their lives. Additionally, 1 of every 5 adults said their mental health was worse now than it was a year ago.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that disruptions to children’s daily lives are causing a significant amount of stress for children, taking a big toll on their mental health overall. Their research found that they have been an increased number of hospital and emergency room visits for children over the last year. The age group most affected was children ages 12 to 17, that age group rose in visits by 31% from the last year, and children ages 5 to 11 years of age rose by about 24%. The CDC believes that this is an underrepresentation of how much children’s mental health has been affected, as many mental health visits are not emergencies.


What is Stress?

A general definition of stress is the feeling of emotional or physical tension that your body responds with to demands or unexpected challenges. Stress not always negative, it can in fact be positive. Essentially, stress is any situation that causes a psychological, physical, or emotional strain or effect on the body and is in part how your body handles that challenge. Stress can be short or long term sometimes it lasts just for a moment or a day, other times it can last a week, even months. Some people feel that stress is a constant presence in their life, this is called chronic stress.

There are four different categories or types of stress that affect us and not all of them are negative, in some cases, stress can be positive and help someone through a very sudden tense situation.

  • Acute Stress – Acute stress is a short-term type of stress this can be positive, stress can be extremely negative, this is the kind of stress that we encounter most often in our daily life.
  • Chronic stress -Chronic stress suffers find that stress is something they cannot ever get away from. This often affects people in long-term bad situations such as a hostile work environment, or a negative personal relationship, as well as people who have experienced some sort of trauma earlier in their lives.
  • Episodic acute stress – This is the stress that seems to run rampant in someone’s life creating a constant sense of chaos and distress for them. These people are always in a state of extreme stress. They experience extraordinarily strong life or death responses to very normal stressors.
  • Eustress – Eustress is an exciting kind of stress because it is the kind of stress that is known to keep you energized this is the kind of stress we feel when we have Adrenalin in our systems such as when we are in an exciting physical situation like a rollercoaster or running to meet a work deadline, rushing to catch a plane to go on vacation, etc.

Our bodies and minds are deeply connected and when we feel stressed, we feel it everywhere not just physically or mentally. When we are incredibly stressed out mentally our bodies will feel it and we may experience anxiety, frustration, heartburn, headaches, and other acute symptoms.  Prolonged stress can lead to and influence those who suffer from long-term anxiety disorders and depression, as well as the risk of heart disease, diabetes, ulcers, hyperthyroidism, obesity, and other long term health conditions.

Adults face many long and short-term physical effects from stress including hair loss, sexual dysfunction, low sex drive, difficulty sleeping, diarrhea, poor appetite, teeth grinding, muscle tension. painfully tight back and neck, deep and persistent aches, and pains all over the body, increased heart rate, and more. Emotional and mental symptoms include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, forgetfulness, substance abuse, anger, and feelings of being overwhelmed.

There are many causes of stress in the course of daily life.  For adults, many of these causes include financial situations, relationships, professional work situations, parenting concerns, family issues, and the stressors and struggles of day-to-day life. Stress can also trigger the body to have a flight or fight response where adrenaline and cortisol hormones are released, causing the heart rate to speed up digestion to slow down.   The blood flow to major muscle groups slows with these changes causing the body to get a short burst of energy and strength, which we often see in life-or-death or extremely intense situations.


Children and Stress

Chronic stress affects physical health in multiple ways, and children can often find themselves overwhelmed, without understanding why. Children have a way of covering things especially when they are scared or unsure many times, they can hide this inside and that stress will manifest in other ways.

Is important to make sure you know and recognize the signs and effects of stress in children. Ignoring these signs can lead to much deeper mental and even physical issues. Stress itself is not a medical condition, meaning that one cannot be given a diagnosis of stress from their doctor because it is not a medical diagnosis, even though many profoundly serious and very real medical conditions can come along or be caused by, or be made worse by stress. Stress symptoms can manifest psychologically, physically, emotionally, and behaviorally.


Psychological and emotional signs

  • Lapse in concentration
  • Excessive worrying
  • Anxiety
  • Forgetfulness
  • Anger
  • Irritation and excessive or rapid moodiness and mood changes
  • Low self-esteem
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Fears, new or old
  • Uncontrollable emotions
  • Never being able to unwind or feel relaxed


Physical signs

  • High Blood pressure
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Frequent Illness
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Headaches
  • New or recurrent bed-wetting
  • Upset stomach or chronic stomach pain
  • Physical symptoms with no illness


Behavioral signs

  • Poor hygiene and self-care
  • Sleep disturbances and nightmares
  • Clinginess
  • Refusal to engage in family activity
  • Reversion to younger, more childlike behaviors
  • Sense of aggression
  • Stubbornness
  • Crying
  • Anger
  • Refusal to participate in regular behavior, sports, hobbies, or school activities


Why are Kids Stressed?

Children can become stressed for many reasons, and they do not always know how to vocalize why they feel this way or explain exactly what is happening to them. While we may think children are carefree the reality is, they are not. Stress can trickle down from their parents and family situations, and children face their own set of challenges and stressors every day. Injury, illness, and pain both emotional and physical all cause stress for children at every age. Some other common reasons children feel stress is from body changes, grades, pressures from friends, parent’s divorce, family money problems, trouble with siblings, being bullied, being afraid, moving, a new school, and more. Right now, children are experiencing a high level of change and uncertainty, adding to the increased feelings of stress they may be having.


Treating Stress at Any Age

There are many ways that your doctor and care providers can help you and your children cope with stress. There are forms of therapy including psychotherapy that may help. Cognitive behavior therapy is a practice of focusing on changing one’s negative thinking patterns, mindful-based stress reduction techniques can also be used. Along with that, there are some medications such as sleep aids, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and antacids that can treat some stress-induced symptoms. There are also complementary and alternative medicine choices that can be made including yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, exercise, deep breathing, and acupuncture.  These treatments may help relieve some of the impacts and symptoms of stress, however, the most effective way to deal with stress is to learn coping skills.

Self-care is especially important when managing stress and for children, this is not something that they already know how to do. As parents, we hold the double responsibility of taking care of ourselves and our children. We must take care of ourselves by incorporating regular self-care into our daily lives as well as teaching our children the same practices. Teaching our children how to handle stressors in positive and productive ways, rather than a negative or harmful way, will help shape them into levelheaded, well-functioning adults.

Parents can help their children deal with stress in healthy ways by first recognizing that their child is experiencing stress and trying to find out what is causing this stress. Providing children with a safe, comfortable, dependable place to be is a key step to helping them reduce feelings of stress. Supervising and being aware of what TV shows, videogames, apps, videos, books, and other influences children are being exposed to is a big one. There is a vast amount of information on the internet and even the youngest of children can see things that can leave them confused and scared.

One big stressor for children are the changes in their home life or living situations that happen suddenly. This can cause them to feel many things, and stress is certainly one of them. Keeping your children informed of changes in your life or anticipated changes, so they do not internalize the stress or become upset when changes happen. Informing them and including them in conversations about these things before and as they happen, can help kids avoid the detrimental feelings of stress and confusion.

Explaining and talking to children, adolescents, and teenagers about what is happening around them, in the world, about COVID, and about the other changes they may be seeing will help them understand, and not internalize those stressed-out feelings. Be sure to explain to your children what is going on in a way that is appropriate to the age that they are. Children need to understand and talk about what is going on, and it is better that they hear this from you than for them to see it on a news program or the internet where there might be graphic images or concepts that are above their level of understanding.

Make sure to spend, focused, calm, quality time with your children. Listen to children without criticizing them or trying to solve their problems immediately. Sometimes kids just need someone to listen to how they feel, saying it out loud helps them work through their emotions. As parents our goal is always to solve our children’s problems, it is simply our instinct to protect them and make everything good. However, there are times when we just need to listen and let them talk. Allowing children to have some control and some input in their own lives is helpful when guiding them to overcome stress. If your child is feeling stressed out or to blame for family problems, make sure they know that is not the case. Reassure them and make sure they know that regardless of what happens that they will always be taken care of.

Encouraging exercise and physical activity are extremely helpful when it comes to helping children overcome the symptoms and emotions of stress. It is fun for them to get up and be active and gives them something else to focus that energy on other than what is causing them stress.

The American Psychological Association points out that many times the emotional and behavioral and physical clues are children put out are their ways of asking for help to deal with stressful situations. It is particularly important to recognize that your child is experiencing these things and not punish them. Children need to know it is safe for them to express how they are feeling, all the time and not hide or internalize negative feelings.

Allow your child to slow down and get into a comfortable and relaxed routine at home. This means setting routines and times for doing things like having family dinners, regular game nights, watching movies, and reading books together. Above all simply being involved with your children will help them deal with stress. It is extremely easy to allow them to just connect to a screen, which will not help them address what is bothering them.

Children will often take their behavioral cues from their parents and follow their example with behavior so modeling good stress handling techniques for your children will help your children become better at handling stress throughout their entire lives. Talking about their stress, how it is affecting them, and what can be done about it will teach children to understand the challenges and problems that caused them stress and help them overcome future stressors and challenging situations more productively. Additionally, encouraging children to talk to you about their mental health will establish a strong bond, help them with understanding their own needs, and will help you provide support for your child’s overall mental health.

Adults and children alike should always seek support and advice from a professional when they are experiencing symptoms of stress. We here at Premier Pediatrics in Ocala are always ready to serve any of your child’s health needs, please reach out if your child is experiencing signs of stress. We are here to help you in a caring, loving environment that focuses on the whole health of your child.

Kids handle stress

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