Saturday, November 12, 2011

Children and Stress

It's after midnight and Naomi's mother hears her in the refrigerator searching for a snack. No wonder she is gaining weight. She can't sleep, again. Tomorrow is an important day at school. Her 4th grade class will be taking a standardized test required by law. Rumor has it, among her peers that anyone who does not score well on this test will not be promoted to 5th grade. Naomi is different. Her 1st grade teacher helped her to understand that she learns differently from most of her peers.

Not only that, poor Naomi has been the tallest kid in her class ever since she was in kindergarten. Her classmates often call her "The Family Tree", a name Naomi has grown to hate. There are two new kids in her class. They are twins and they are bullies. They have chosen Naomi as their first victim. Plus, Naomi was frightened out of her sleep by her parents' fighting three nights in a row. To top it off, Naomi's gym shoes are too tight, she can hardly run around the gym with the other girls at school, the call her slow. Because at least one of her parent's fights has been about money, she is afraid to tell them she needs new shoes.

Naomi has drifted off to sleep several times but keeps waking up with questions. Why won't mommy and daddy stop fighting? Do they know they are frightening me? How can I stay out of the new girl's way on the playground? What should I do the next time she pushes me in line? Why am I still the tallest kid in class? How can I avoid having to take gym class? Why do I new shoes again? Can mommy and daddy afford to buy a new pair? Will they be mad at me? What can I do to make myself stop growing? What if I don't pass that big test? What will happen if I can't do it?

Life can be complicated. It is perfectly normal for children to worry about complications that may occur in their families and at school. Naomi however, spends too much time worrying about complications in her life. She is overwhelmed, feeling overly anxious, and her thoughts and feelings are causing her stress. She has too many situations causing her to feel a sense of urgency and mental tension. Many things have occurred which have given her cause to place emphasis or make important. There are too many things causing pressure and demands on Naomi. She could very well be on her way to developing an anxiety problem or disorder. Naomi is not alone. Many children are stressed by complications of life.

According to the Webster's New World Dictionary of American Language, stress is distress, anxiety, and strain on the mind or body. It is force exerted upon a body that tends to strain or deform its shape. Stress is caused by a sense of urgency, mental tension, and placing emphasis of a thing or issue making urgent or important.

Stress is natural. We all experience it from time to time. Stress is a feeling that's created by the adrenal glands the hypothalamus gland, part of the nervous system, signals it. The signal is triggered automatically when we react to particular events of emphasis and importance. Stress is the body's natural way of rising to the occasion, to a challenge, and responding to a problem. This natural response is the body's way of preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, emphasis, strength, stamina, and alertness. Too much of it, though becomes anxiety. Too much of it, causes the body to spend an excessive amount of time feeling anxious, could cause difficulty sleeping, and often lead to anxiety disorders, even in children.

This is how stress works in all humans. Specific hormones are released in this natural stress response. They cause the heart rate to speed. There is an increase in the body's breathing rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. Next, blood vessels open wider in order to allow more blood flow to large muscle groups. This puts more muscles on alert. Then, the pupils dilate in order to improve vision. The liver reacts next as it releases some of its stored glucose allowing an increase the body's energy. The last physical reaction due to stresses is the production of sweat to cool the body. All of these physical changes prepare a person to react quickly and effectively to handle pressure caused by the stress of the moment. When working properly, the body's stress response makes it easy for a person to perform well under pressure. However, anxiety disorders are developed when the stress response constantly overreacts, fails to turn off when the stressful situation has passed, and regularly neglects to reset itself properly due to continuous stress.

Because it interferes with their abilities, children repeatedly fall prey to many health issues caused by anxiety disorders. Many children have feelings of fear, worry, panic, or intense stress that can sometimes make it hard to get through the day and even the night. It interferes their ability to concentrate at school. It could either increase or decrease their appetite as well as cause them an inability to enjoy life or to relax. A child suffering from an anxiety disorder may be irritable, feel tired excessively, suffer with an upset stomach, tight and trembling muscles, or even suffer with frequent urination.

Teens who suffer from anxiety disorders may be prone the temporary escape found in, withdrawal, overeating, smoking, drinking and substance abuse. Families report that some children resort to cutting themselves and even attempting suicide. Teens choose these negative behaviors because they don't understand that these are temporary and feel helpless to address the underlying problem they face. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, more than two-thirds of a child's visits to the doctor are stress related.

Unfortunately Naomi is joined by many children who are also overly stressed by family challenges, bullying, difficulty learning, or just being different. They may be sad, hostile, or even self-destructive.

There are positive methods for children to relieve stress.

· pray
· play or do something active
· listen to music
· watch TV or play a video game
· talk to a friend
· try not to think about it
· try to work things out
· talk to parents or someone who loves them
· cry

Parents can teach these methods to their children. These methods of self-discipline will help children learn to minimize stress and manage the stress that may be unavoidable.

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