Parents and children today often experience tremendous day-to-day stress. For children, simply the pressures of school, peer competition, family tensions, and influences from the media can contribute to high levels of stress. For parents, simply the job of taking care of children, working, managing financial pressures, etc. can leave seemingly little time for oneself and for relaxation. Besides external stressors, important factors contributing to the stress people experience include the way that people interpret stressful situations (what they say to themselves about such events), and the way that people react emotionally and behaviorally to the challenges in their environment.
Research has shown that when the body becomes stressed, physiological changes sometimes referred to as the “fight or flight” response may be activated. These changes include an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, blood vessel constriction, tensing of muscles, and increased stress hormones released into the blood. This response was once adaptive for our ancestors by preparing them to fight or run from life-threatening situations, but is no longer adaptive in many of the day-to-day stressful situations we face today. When these physiological changes remain for long periods of time, they can contribute to illness and impaired immune system functioning. Stress can also interfere with one’s ability to learn and concentrate effectively, one’s self-confidence, and one’s sense of well-being.
It is possible to reverse or interrupt the fight-or-flight response by invoking what Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School calls the “relaxation response.” Through the use of mind-body techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, guided imagery, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation one can actually create physiological changes which decrease heart rate and blood pressure, decrease muscle tension, decrease metabolism and decrease breathing rate. Biofeedback may be used in conjunction with these techniques.
Another important component of stress management involves cognitive-behavioral techniques to recognize warning signs of stress, help change negative self-defeating and irrational thoughts which can have a negative impact on mood and health, and learn other effective ways of coping to control one’s reaction to stress. All of these techniques can be taught to children, adolescents, and adults, using developmentally appropriate methods.