You, or your child, is jacked up. It’s all just too much. The walls seem like they are closing in. Nobody understands. What to do? Well, for starters, just breathe. Taking one, two, or three meaningful, deep breaths helps you put what just happened into context, lowers your heart rate, and prompts you to give priority to your stress management.
Fourteen year old Mandy stomps in the front door after school. She tosses her jacket and book bag on the floor and sighs deeply. Her mom comes down the stairs to greet her usually perky teen, sensing distress.
“Hey Sweetheart,” mom cautiously greets her, “How was your day?”
Mandy glares at her, boring a hole through her. Then she melts into tears. Mom moves toward her daughter to wrap her arms around her.
“It’s…it’s…just…all too much,”
“What is, darling,” mom hugs her tightly.
“All of it. I don’t know. School, tests, boys, my so-called friends. I just can’t do it all. When will it stop, Mama?”
Mandy is clearly on stress overload.
There are two kinds of stress. Distress gets all the press. It’s when you feel weighed down by perceived bad stuff. The other, lesser known kin to distress is eustress. “Eu” is the Greek prefix for “good,” so eustress happens when confronted with good things in your life. Having a birthday, getting married, having children, getting student-of-the-week, kicking the winning soccer goal. All of these things are good, but stressful in the preparation, persistence, and outcome.
For children and teens, common distressful events include studying hard for a test and still getting a bad grade, being picked on at recess, being unfriended, the “cool” kids talking behind your back, being rejected in dating, feeling out of place or not good enough in general.
Thankfully, for Mandy, her mom sensed Mandy’s distress, checked in with her verbally, gave her space to respond, and then active listened her feelings without judgement, criticism, or problem-solving. All of this gave Mandy the opportunity to clear her head and figure out how to recover. Mom’s reactive stance and support helped Mandy calm down and feel less overwhelmed.
Because stress happens, all the time and to all of us, it is equally important to be proactive. This is a case of the basics. As parents, both model for, and encourage your children to, eat well, sleep well, and maintain physical conditioning. In school, elementary recess and middle/high school P.E. classes form a foundation for physical release and conditioning. Encourage your children in groups, clubs, and sports, also for stress release. Fun, engaging stuff is always stress releasing. Now, inclusion and competition bear their own distresses sometimes, but the stress release function outweighs the potential for distress in these activities.
When you encourage your child to “go outside and play,” you are promoting their positive stress release. When you say, “Let’s go outside and play,” you are both modelling stress management and enhancing relational bonding. Being proactive in your stress management can lead to teachable moments with your children. And remember, just…breathe.