Not all stress is bad. Sometimes it can help us to manage challenge (like focusing for an exam). But there are moments when it makes things more difficult, or seems overwhelming.
Let your child know there’s no need to worry about feeling stressed. You can also show them how to keep these emotions at a manageable level.
What causes stress?
Stressful situations prompt a fight or flight response. This is where we either challenge or run away from a perceived threat. Our bodies release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline (vital when we’re in danger).
Usually, we feel stress when we don’t think we can cope with something. For young people, this could be struggling with school work, falling out with friends, or a particularly big change in their lives.
What are the signs of stress?
Physical reactions often give us the first clue that someone is feeling stressed. This can include tiredness, headaches or an upset stomach. Your child may also behave differently.
For example, they might:
Seem anxious or depressed
Have difficulty concentrating
Doubt their abilities to cope with certain things
Blame and punish others or themselves
How can I help my child manage stress in a healthy way?
Check in with your child regularly to see how they’re doing. Notice how they respond during times of change or pressure. If you sense they feel stressed, ask them what they think is causing it.
Encourage them to:
Talk to others about their concerns
Set realistic goals and expectations
Remember to value themselves
See uncertainty as part of life, rather than something to worry about
Notice what activities they find relaxing and use these to wind down
Remember that your child’s day-to-day lifestyle can affect how they feel in the first place. Are they eating well, sleeping well, and exercising? Gently try to help them develop healthy habits. You could also try some of the ideas below.
Activity: soothing rhythm breathing
>> Useful for finding feelings of calm. Works well with any age.
Teach your child to work this exercise into their daily routine. It can help them in times of stress.
Slow down the breath. Take four or five seconds for an in-breath, hold for a moment, then four to five seconds for the out-breath.
Focus the attention on sensation of slowing – slowing down the body, slowing down the mind.
Get them to try this for between 30 seconds and one minute several times per day.
Activity: walking and noticing
>> Useful for distracting from stressful thoughts. Works well with any age.
Encourage your child to take a walk outside when they face a stressful situation. Get them to leave any technology behind and focus on their surroundings. What do they see, smell, hear and touch? How does this make them feel?
If stressful thoughts return, that’s OK. Tell them to take a moment to feel it before returning their focus to what’s around them. The process should help move their attention away from the cause of stress.
Activity: the wise mind
>> Useful for giving your child a better understanding of how they can respond to stressful situations. Works well with teenagers.
No one can feel calm all the time. But we can work on reacting to stressful events in a balanced way. Try using the following activity, which looks at how different states of mind (emotional, reasonable, and wise) influence us.
Our emotional mind uses energy levels, feelings and psychological need to guide us.
Our reasonable mind uses logic.
The third state, the wise mind, is more balanced. This is when we bring emotion and logic together to decide the best course of action.
Both emotion and logic have an important place in our lives. But when we feel stressed, our emotions can take over.
Talk to your child about the different states of mind.
Encourage them to spot when they’re in an emotional state and consider the rational side of things as well. Try working through a recent situation where they felt stressed and ask if there is another viewpoint.
Ask them to come to a conclusion about how to respond that respects their feelings while also gives a rational response.