Sunday, September 14, 2014

Stressed in September

Stressed? I can feel it radiating from the people around me. 

September seems to be the time of year where a lot of stress begins. Summer has finally come to an end, but yet we aren't close enough to the holidays to see the light at the end of the tunnel. (Those child life internship interview offers about to start rolling in.) After having a total emotional and mental breakdown (due to grad school assignments) this last weekend, I thought I would post some tips for dealing with stress. 

No matter how old you are or where you are in life, stress these days is inevitable. Stress can consume us if we aren't careful, leaving us to feel like a failure. Some of us are better than others at handling their stress, and the most important thing you can do is to validate someone else's stress. The last thing anyone wants, including a child, is to feel like you don't think their stress and problems are real just because you perceive your own to be "more stressful." 

I compiled a list of common sources of stress that came to mind applying to different age groups. Don't worry, this list is no where near exhaustive! 
  For a child:
  • Parents working (crazy hours because that's what American's do these days)
  • Moving (or a friend moving)
  • Getting into a school routine
  • Homework
  • Balancing the millions of extracurriculars 
  • Hospitalization, sickness, chronic disease
  • Unhealthy lifestyles
For a teen: 
  • SCHOOL
  • Friends and social media
  • Dating and relationships
  • Search for identity (Erikson's Identity vs. role confusion stage) 
  • College preparations
  • Fighting with parents
  • Feeling like a failure or inadequate
  • Hospitalization, sickness, chronic disease
  • Unhealthy lifestyles
    For a college student & young adult:
    • SCHOOL (undergrad, grad school, tests, papers, etc)
    • Worry about future
    • Living in a new town or moving (across the country like Sydney :))
    • Applying, Interviewing, and beginning a big girl or boy job
    • Friends and relationships (Who will I marry?) (Erikson's intimacy vs. isolation stage)
    • When do I start a family? 
    • Fear of failure and disappointment
    • Unhealthy lifestyles
      For a middle age and older adult: 
      • Parenting (And everything that comes from that :))
      • Building careers and the fear of losing a job
      • Taking care of aging parents
      • Keeping up with personal hobbies and interests outside of your children and job
      • Fear of not being a productive individual (Erikson's generativity vs. stagnation and integrity vs. despair stages)
      • Failing health, yearly health screenings, Unhealthy lifestyles
      • Selling houses, bug infestations, house renovations, appliances breaking (That was for you, mom!) 
      So how do we combat stress? 
      First we need to know how to identify sources of stress. Merriam Webster defines stress as "a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc."  Your source may be one I listed above, or it may be something totally different. Some stress can be good for us because it forces us to be productive and accomplish goals, but there is a point where stress can be very harmful and if not managed properly can lead to significant health issues. 

      Because a lot of sources of our stress these days cannot be eliminated from our lives completely, the most important thing for anyone to do is build a personal collection of stress relievers to utilize. 

      1. Breathe. 
      While it may sound elementary, taking a few deep breathes sends oxygen throughout your body telling it that it is okay to relax. For kiddos in the hospital, we love to use bubbles and pinwheels. (Adults, don't feel ashamed if you want to use these for yourself!) Count to 3 or backwards or whatever works for YOU to allow your body to relax. 

      1b. Cry. 
      I am adding this as a part b to my step 1. It's okay to cry. Not everyone is a crier though (that's why I am making it a part b). I am, but I don't think Sydney is(nope I'm not, I'm a wash all my worries away in a long hot bubble bath girl). Sometimes you just need a good cry in order to relieve that pent up tension that forms in your head. Don't be ashamed of this. Crying is an appropriate coping skill that works for me, and I am sure it works for a lot of you. The problem with crying is that it can easily transition into wallowing and a pity party. My solution? Set yourself a timer (literally or figuratively). Allow yourself to cry and pout for 5, 10, or 30 minutes, but no longer. Once your time is up, move on to the next steps. This will help you stay focused on managing your stress instead of creating more. 

      2. Eat some chocolate. 
      (Okay, or something sweet... or salty!) When I began feeling stressed out last week, I took a trip to Kroger and bought myself some Dove chocolate. I now prefer Dove, not only do I enjoy the taste, but they also have encouraging sayings on the insides of the wrappers! I do want to add this disclaimer and warning. If you are naturally a stress eater (guilty...), be careful. Over eating during times of heightened stress will only leave you feeling worse than you started because you can gain weight and feel very groggy, stuffing your body full of unhealthy things. 

      3. Move your body. 
      Go for a walk. I'm sure your dog or your child needs a walk or your house or car could use a good cleaning. As Elle Woods said, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just shoot their husbands, they just don't." Okay, so maybe you aren't going to shoot anyone, but the quote was too perfect not to use it. The problem with this step is that people tend to knock exercise down to the bottom of their priorities, forgetting quickly how much more productive exercise can make you be! DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!

      4. Make a list of priorities. 
      What is it that you absolutely HAVE to do? (i.e. turn in a project or paper by the end of the week or get the bills paid) 
      What is it that you feel like you HAVE to do? (i.e. meet with that friend who is having a rough time or cover a shift for a coworker who covered for you last time?) 
      What is it that you WANT to do? (i.e. have coffee with a friend to catch up or run errands to cross minute things off your to do list) 
      Making a list can really help you think through what needs to be done first, what can wait, and what you can ignore for now. I always enjoy writing a few easy things on my to do list (like showering) so I can get excited about crossing off something.  

      5. Go forth and conquer. 
      Remember you are not a failure. You are equipped to do that which you have been called to do. Follow these steps and improvise some of your own. I believe in you. Don't let the stress and weight of this world overcome you. Print out an inspirational quote or Bible verse and put it somewhere you will see it frequently. 

      6. Evaluate and assess. 
      Since we are child life specialists, we cannot skip this step. Don't be afraid! It's not a formal evaluation. Just simply ask yourself, "How did I do?" "Did I survive?" "Did I do my best?" "Did I accomplish my goals?" "What can I do differently next time?" "What worked and what didn't work?" (Maybe you should try potato chips instead of chocolate as a comfort food :))

      In response to our tweet last week, I wanted to highlight some of our followers favorite stress management techniques! 

      Kristyn (@kristynnicole1) likes kickboxing and Stefani (@childlifeology) said meditation! Thanks ladies! Look out for more ways to have your advice and favorites featured in a post! 

      Good Luck this September!
      What other stress management tips do you have for us? 
      Let us know what has worked for you! 

      Caroline

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