“I’m so stressed” is a cry that I grew used to hearing in the legal profession as countless cases and deadlines loomed at the same time and demanding clients proved difficult to manage.
I didn’t expect to hear it from my kids.
But children as young as 8 regularly report feeling stressed and those even younger often show signs of stress but lack the ability to articulate what they’re going through. Worries about making friends can materialise in very early years, whilst older children also struggle to navigate new relationships, body image, academic studies and expectations and wider social issues such as racism, feminism and privilege that are so prevalent now. Add in increased exposure to violence and negative news – and we can start to understand that life for the average tween or teen may well feel phenomenally stressful.
Bear in mind too, that most parents don’t know that their kids are stressed. Kids under-report it and we fail to pick up on the signals. In a 2010 study, for example, the American Psychological Association found that whilst 20% of kids felt that they were under extreme stress, only 3% of adults picked up on it.
And whilst in the corporate world being stressed has been seen as a badge of honour, synonymous with success and value, the reality is that it is fundamentally harmful not just to our emotional well-being, but to our physical state as well.
Whilst a little bit of stress can be a good thing, (think that rush of adrenalin that makes you study for an exam or up your game for a presentation), in large amounts that same adrenalin becomes toxic to the body and to the brain.
In its short term impact, stress can cause conditions such as anxiety, fatigue and insomnia, headaches, stomach upsets. Longer term stress can cause a depleted immune system, digestive issues and even changes to the very structure of the brain, leading to (for example) the shrinking of the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
So we need to take stress seriously: for ourselves and for our children, particularly as they are growing and developing. We need to limit the triggers for stress and we need to teach them how to manage the stresses that they are faced with every day.
As a starting point, let’s stop the hyper-competitiveness and the over-scheduling. In the last 50 years, the pace of life has picked up so much that we have lost the ability to sit quietly. Every moment is filled – whether it’s tennis lessons and playdates or reaching for our phones and scrolling through social media – we limit both the time available to rest and relax, and the ability to learn to sit comfortably with ourselves.
If you’re worried about academic success, bear in mind that research has shown that overworking is counter-productive. After studying a subject, our brains need time and rest for that information to be consolidated and moved to the long-term memory – otherwise it’s forgotten. If you need to schedule in activities – schedule in downtime. Remove the opportunity for overwhelm and allow your kids to get bored (and then creative) instead. In doing so, you will also be giving them time to get to know themselves which is fundamental for qualities such as confidence, resilience and the ability to manage stress in later life.
And as an added bonus, hectic lifestyles mean less rushing around for us too – and let’s face it, it’s not just our kids who could do with a little less stress in their lives, is it?
And of course, our Calm and Relaxed track is fabulous for stressed out kids and parents. Just pop it on in the background whilst you’re all going about your day, and let it work its magic without any effort.
If you’re not already a member, you can try it free for 7 days by joining now