It has been reported that more than 70% of children 10yrs and under have sleeping difficulties attributed to feeling stressed. That is a lot of children who are not getting enough good quality sleep. Research also suggests that higher divorce rates, concern about the environment and less face to face social connectivity is contributing to the stress children (and adults) are experiencing.
Children are developing physically and emotionally and although some stress is part of their learning experience there is a point at which prolonged stress can become harmful to children emotionally and can lead to serious health problems.
How stress affects the mind and body
When the mind perceives itself to be in a stressful situation, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered. The body responds with fast shallow breathing, muscles tighten and the heart pumps faster as adrenaline circulates throughout the body affecting every organ. These feelings are also referred to as “fight or flight” and are more appropriate when faced with a tiger in the wild, than a bad day at school or in the office. Unfortunately, in our modern society, individuals have become so accustomed to feeling stressed, that their reaction to “less physically dangerous stressors such as a boring or busy day in the office or at school” is perceived as strongly as the fear they would feel if really faced with the tiger. The problem with this, is that the body becomes so accustomed to operating in this heightened “state”, that it settles at a new “set point” and this level of stress is then the new norm.
To reverse these effects, the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered, creating a restful and calming response as the body reacts with slow deep breaths and the slowing of the heart rate. Digestion once again becomes active and the immune system is less strained.
So how do I know if anyone in my family is stressed?
If an individual suffers from stress real or perceived, it can result in the following:
- anxiety disorders
- lack of sleep
- loss of appetite
- emotional detachment from friends and family
- memory loss
…and any number of other mind-body disorders. Stress can also result in individuals becoming addicted to substances.
Emotions are triggered by the central nervous system. Often when children are faced with a stressful situation they react by either feeling fearful, angry or experience bouts of crying.
Below is a simple five minute relaxation technique.
Here is something simple you can easily practice at home to help you and your children relax and help reduce that overwhelming feeling of being stressed. It might help if you record the script below onto your phone to play it back, so you can relax and join in as well. If you choose to do this, remember to record yourself speaking lowly.
- Find a comfortable place in which to lie down.
- Close your eyes and take a couple of moments to see how your body feels. Check your breathing – are you holding your breath or breathing normally? Can you feel any tension in any part of your body?
- Allow yourself to let go of any worries. Breathe naturally.
- Starting with your feet, focus your attention on your feet only and notice how they feel. Taking a deep breath, tense the muscles in your feet – hold it – and then release as you breathe out. Breathe naturally.
- Now focus your attention on your legs and nothing else. How do they feel? Breathe in as you squeeze your legs and release the tension in your legs as you breathe out.
- Continue in this way, tensing and relaxing the buttocks, stomach, hands, arms and shoulders, back and face. Take your time. Try not to rush through it. Once you have practiced this a few times you may not even need to listen to the script.
- As you work your way through this exercise you are learning how to focus your attention and by focusing on the different body parts you are encouraging the muscles in the body to relax. Once you get the hang of what you are doing, you may replace your verbal script with some relaxing music.
Try this relaxation technique for a few days or a week and then let me know how you get on by commenting below.
Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.