Health

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AP Photo/Marta Lavandier

Stressed-Out Kids Need Quiet Time

November 10, 2009 02:30 PM
by Shannon Firth
In difficult times, parental stress can impact children’s health. Teaching and modeling the right behavior and coping strategies can reduce worry and lighten the burden of stress.

America’s Youth: Bundles of Stress

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“Kids are stressed out, and their parents all too often don’t know it,” writes Nancy Shute, a parenting columnist for U.S. News. 

According to Shute, who cited the findings of the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey, kids are more stressed than they were last year.

The most worried-about issues among children and teens are their family’s financial situation, grades, and finding a job after high school or getting into college. For each of these factors, parents underestimated their child’s concern by a margin of 12 to 24 percentage points.

“Two thirds of parents thought their own stress levels had no impact on their children, but 80 percent of the children said they learn healthy living habits from their parents,” writes Shute.

Katherine Nordal, a clinical psychologist who is executive director for professional practice at the APA, urges parents to be up front with children about their own their worries. “If the kid doesn’t know what’s going on, they’re likely to assume a worst-case scenario or make a problem bigger than it is,” she said.

She also tells parents to look for markers of stress, such as headaches, stomachaches, difficulty sleeping and eating less, and notes that children who “internalize problems” are more likely to become depressed.

Researchers have already established that stress increases one’s chances of high blood pressure, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer and possibly dementia, according to the Daily Herald.

However, the APA notes, “[T]he adverse effects of stress can be combated by making positive lifestyle and behavioral changes that can help people to lead healthier lives.” The APA Help Center offers a host of suggestions in articles organized by category.

Susan Kramer, a blogger for Bella Online and the author of “Yoga for All Kids,” finds that certain slow breathing techniques can help children cope with stress. “[W]hen breathing is made regular it calms the physical body. And further, when the body becomes calm, the mind regains more peacefulness.”

In addition, writes Kramer, pairing breathing strategies with a period of “quiet time” enhances memory and our capacity to focus. “The practices pay off when stress has taken hold and caused agitation and unrest, and the inability to get anything accomplished effectively.”

Ashley Deans, a physicist and representative for the Canadian Association for Stress-Free Schools, has been traveling around Canada trying to promote a method of meditation that he calls “the single most effective technique available for eliminating stress, promoting health and increasing creativity and intelligence.”

Deans, who is also the executive director of the Maharishi School in Fairfield, Iowa, gives credit to meditation for the students’ academic achievement—ranking in the top 1 percent of all U.S. schools.

Debbie Mandel, author of “Addicted to Stress: A Woman’s 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life,” says that children model their parents’ behavior, which can be “detrimental” because many parents’ lives are so hectic. “[W]e don’t know how to be quiet.”

Kathy Murdock, a blogger for AllBusiness.com who interviewed Mandel, urges parents, “Lead by example! Show your kids that you can have quiet time.”

Learning to Let Go of Stress

Cardiologist Marianne Legato, author of “Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget,” explained that women who are constantly reacting to a stream of demands often suffer from chronic exhaustion, which triggers stress hormones that raise blood sugars, and increases a woman’s risk of diabetes, heart disease and memory problems.

Dr. Orli Etingin, director of the Iris Cantor Women’s Health Center in New York City, suggests that everyone take 45 minutes a day for “do-nothingness.” Reading a book, listening to music, or going for a walk qualify as quiet activities as long as they are “relatively passive.” During quiet time, brain cell growth occurs and enhances mental function.

Karen Grigsby Bates, a mother and journalist, extols the virtues of quiet time in a 1999 article for Salon. On business trips she luxuriates in the silence of her hotel room: “No ‘have you seen my shoes/glasses/homework/CatDog/shirt/property tax bill?’” At home, Bates creates her own quiet time in the early morning, listening to the birds and NPR.

Mindfulness: The Key to Relaxation

Leo Babauta, author of the Zen Habits blog, says museums, art galleries, libraries and gardens are perfect havens for an overburdened mind. He also goes running at 5 a.m., when there’s less traffic, so he can appreciate the “full-to-nearly-bursting orange moon lighting the sky, [and] the hush of the nearby ocean.”

Not everyone is willing to sacrifice their sleep in order to have a few minutes of peace. These individuals must work harder to find the respite they seek, perhaps by turning a traffic jam or long train ride into a time of reflection.

The real secret to quiet time is mindfulness. A 2008 article in Psychology Today cites Jon Kabat-Zinn, the biomedical scientist and meditation expert, who says that to break free from our controlling thoughts and worries we must “stop doing and focus on just being.” Jay Dixit, who wrote the article, explains, “Mindfulness involves being with your thoughts as they are, neither grasping at them nor pushing them away. Instead of letting your life go by without living it, you awaken to experience.” Dixit asserts that being mindful leads both to mental and physical well-being.
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