Stress for Success
We have been taught in our society that all stress is a bad thing. There is no doubt that mental stress over a long period of time is harmful to our physical and psychological well-being. Acute stress may sometimes feel exciting in small does, but too much of it wears us down. This makes it difficult for us to function on any kind of efficient level.
Stress is sometimes brought on by unexpected events. We also encounter stress when we are living in our heads too much in the past or in the future. A mindful approach of trying to live in the present moment is a good way to lessen our stress. This is something we should teach our kids at an early age and keep reminding them (and ourselves). It’s easier said than done, but this post will discuss some ways in which to do this.
It should be noted that it is impossible for us to always remain in the present moment. However, the present moment is a place we can always return to in order to clear or minds and focus. With a little bit of skill that comes from practice, we can learn how to use the stress as our ally instead of always having to battle it as our enemy. Here are some ways to practice dealing with stress and using it as a catalyst for success.
Be Aware of the Stress
A lack of self-awareness often renders us clueless to when we are stressed out. As a result, we get worn down mentally and physically. If we aren't careful untreated stress over a prolonged period of time can be debilitating to our health.
The first step in dealing with stress is knowing when we are stressed. Teach your child to listen to his or her body. Our bodies have “built-in alarms” that tell us when we are stressed. One of the most effective ways for lessening our stress is to simply be aware. Trying to mentally resist only makes its grip on us stronger. Instead of trying to fight it, bring your attention to these areas of the body that tend to respond to stress:
· rapid heartbeat
· sweaty palms
· butterflies in the stomach
· heavy breathing (tightness of breath)
· tight feeling in the throat
When we are stressed, we may feel one of these feelings or several of them. By bringing our attention to it and simply saying to ourselves, “I am feeling stressed right now,” we can learn to loosen its feeling over us. Another thing we can learn to do when we feel the adrenaline kick in when we get stressed is to say a mantra like, “Welcome to the party” to ourselves. I have heard meditation teacher Jeff Warren say this before. It sounds crazy, but it works. Using the term "BREATHE" is can be a helpful mantra as well. It reminds us to slow down and take a deep breath.
After recognizing the stress and maybe uttering a helpful mantra (like "BREATHE"), the next thing we should do is to take a couple of deep breaths. Teach your child that when she is stressed, she should take several deep breaths through the nose and then exhale slowly thought the mouth. Doing so brings our heart rates down and causes our brain to release endorphins, which calms us down. Our breath is a barometer to our internal states of mind and emotion. When our breathing is tight and constricted, it means that we are stressed or uptight mentally. When our breath is easy and free-flowing, it most likely means that we are in a good, relaxed state. We take about 22,000 breaths during a 24-hour period. Each of these 22,000 breaths is an opportunity to get focused and centered. It’s also a chance to de-stress ourselves a bit. The cool thing about conscious breathing in this manner is that it is virtually impossible to focus on our breathing and be stressed out at the same time.
One great way to use a mantra and deep breathing to deal with a stressful situation is to use the S.T.O.P. method. When we say S.T.O.P. to ourselves during a stressful situation, this acronym reminds us to:
Take a deep breath
Observe what's going on
Make S.T.O.P. a habit. It is a simple but effective way to break out of a stressful situation and get grounded. Do it over and over until it becomes your default mode for dealing with stress. It is easy for kids to do as well.
One thing that is helpful when dealing with stress is that when we feel it kick in we can tell ourselves, “This is mind getting the body ready for action.” This reminds yourself that you are feeling a bit of stress and you are going to have to perform or make a decision on how to deal with it. By making this a habit, we reframe our relationship with stress. Instead of always seeing stress as something negative or bad, we see it as a precursor to having to perform. It is much more helpful to reframe our stress in this manner instead of trying to ignore, repress, or fight the stress. As we all know, when we try to resist the stress, it only makes it stronger. Leaning into the stress and becoming aware of it gives us much more clarity on how to deal with it.
A little bit of stress can help our focus. We have all had instances when stressed where we are able to effectively hyper focus on the sole task at hand, free of distractions. It is like being in “the zone” or the state of flow. If we use self-awareness when dealing with stress, as opposed to fighting against the stress, we are more likely to tap into this type of hyper focus when we are immersed in high pressure situations.
Kids and Stress
Obviously, there are various degrees of stress that children deal with. For example, the stress caused by being homeless or abused does not compare with the stress of not doing well on a vocabulary quiz. Children dealing with extreme stress and subsequent trauma should be treated by mental health professionals. It is not always easy to tell if a child is dealing with stress. Some signs of stress may include:
· Mood swings
· Stomach issues
· Changes in behavior
· Sleep problems
· Concentration issues at school
Below are some additional recommended techniques to teach children how to manage, mitigate, and relieve everyday stress:
· Deep Breathing Techniques. Simply taking a half dozen deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth from time to time can do wonders.
· Brain Breaks When Studying. A ten minute “brain break” for every 30 minutes of studying helps.
· Lots of Physical Activity during the Day. This helps to relieve the stresses of the body and the mind. Any amount helps, but sixty minutes per day is optimal.
· A Healthy Diet. Feed them lots of fruits and vegetables. Cut down their sugar and caffeine intake.
· Plenty of Sleep. A tired kid is a frustrated kid.
· Routine. Structure and predictability helps children feel more secure and in control.
· Listen to Soothing Music. Help them select music they like that calms them down. Teach them to play it when they feel overwhelmed.
· Cut down time on their devices and get them outside. Too much screen time messes with their minds. Being outside can be healing.
· Give them a hug. Research shows that a 20 second hug releases oxytocin, lowers blood pressure, and subsequently decreases stress.
· Play with the pet. Who doesn’t feel better after playing with the precious family pup or kitty?
· Squash the “pursuit of perfection.” Teach them that none of us are perfect and everyone faces setbacks. There are no “failures” if there is a lesson learned.
· Self-care and self-compassion are not selfish pursuits. Impress upon them the need to take care of themselves and ways in which they can befriend themselves. Techniques such as the practice of positive self-talk goes a long way.
· Life is not always “unicorns and rainbows.” Do not try to raise them in a “protective bubble” where you facilitate a culture of comfort for them. Let them build their grit and resiliency by learning how to deal with the imperfect situations in their lives. You don’t want to enable them to the point of learned helplessness because they do not know how to do anything for themselves.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL & Mindfulness at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website: www.greggraber.com