April 16 is National Stress Awareness Day and the entire month of April is Stress Awareness Month. Stress Awareness Day began in 1992 as an effort to raise awareness of the harm that stress can do. It was an initiative by the Health Resource Network (HRN) and continues today as so many of us continue to suffer from the consequences of living a life full of stresses.
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Research shows that stress negatively affects the immune system and other bodily functions including appetite regulation and sleep. While chronic stress takes a more significant toll on the body than acute stress does, neither is healthy to have long-term, and especially not for kids. Stress can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, raise blood pressure, increase the risk of anxiety and depression, contribute to infertility, and cause premature aging. While these sound terrible for adults, imagine them for your kids! While we can’t eliminate all stresses from our children’s lives, here are 12 ways to help your kids live stress-free.
1. Make sure they get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is critical to our overall health and for our kids’ health as well. Sleep helps us manage stress more effectively and better prepares our children’s brains to handle the challenges they face throughout the day.
2. Let them set their own goals. Working toward accomplishing a goal is stressful for anyone, but working toward someone else’s goal introduces a whole new level of anxiety, especially for children. We have every good intention when setting goals for our kids but often, we fail to recognize that they’re then left striving to meet our expectations and achieve our dreams instead of their own. When they’re able to decide what milestones they want to reach, the stress becomes much more manageable and entirely worth it in their minds.
3. Don’t over-schedule. Kids need down time in order to rest and recover. When their lives are overscheduled, they miss out on valuable rejuvenation time.
4. Keep them on a regular routine. Kids thrive in a structured environment in which they feel safe. Maintaining a regular routine allows them safety in predictability. Knowing what’s coming and when alleviates stress for everyone in the family.
5. Make sure they get enough play time. Laughter, joy, and play are incredible stress management tools for adults and children. Ensuring your kids get enough play time ensures their stress will be under control.
6. Keep yourself stress free. Kids pick up on the energy of their parents. They can tell when you’re anxious or overwhelmed and they feel it immensely. If you create a low-stress life for yourself, your children will benefit immensely.
7. Encourage them to be well socialized. Social support is one of the greatest weapons against stress-related illness. Socialization with peers and loved ones will lower stress hormones and create a more positive outlook for kids. Encouraging them to be well socialized will ensure they feel supported and have people to vent to when they feel outside pressure.
8. Encourage them to get plenty of exercise. Exercise increases the endorphins that help the brain reduce the effects of stress. Being physically active helps kids “let off some steam” in more ways than one!
9. Teach them coping skills. Life hands us lemons and we must deal with them accordingly. Teaching our children coping skills will empower them with the ability to deal with stress as it’s added to their plate. Whether it’s counting to ten to diffuse anger or learning to think before they speak, they’ll benefit greatly for the rest of their life from great coping skills.
10. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. As time passes, the stigma of mental health support continues to diminish and, for that, we are incredibly grateful. We hope that, in the future, our children will feel comfortable and even empowered to talk about their feelings with others in order to express themselves and return to a healthy mental state.
11. Examine your own stresses. Our children are miniature versions of ourselves in so many ways including what stresses them and how they manage it. If you take a moment to examine your own stresses and how you respond to them, you’ll better understand your children and their own stresses.
12. Give them alone/down time. Especially for introverted little ones, having alone time to recharge their batteries will help your children to destress and rebound from emotional issues. Respect that they need some space from time to time and you’ll all be healthier for it!