Advice for Dr. Mom: School Stress – How to Help Your Child Manage Stressful Times

Being in school is stressful. Kids’ brains are constantly on alert to take on new challenges – from the simple school stuff, like learning how to read to the more complicated issues around dealing with peers and navigating the delicate social issues.

Stress is a part of everyday life for everyone and to learn how to handle it and react to stress can have a profound difference on our everyday health, especially with our immune system. We can help our children by showing them positive ways to deal with stresses by guiding them towards a healthier diet and lifestyle habits.

The Physiology of Stress

To have a clearer understanding of stress in the body, let’s discuss the physiology of stress. The big stress hormone we hear about is cortisol. We need this amazing hormone to function everyday in response to stress and anxiety.

It all begins in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus that will sense a need for cortisol. The hypothalamus will then send a message to the pituitary gland to inform the adrenal glands (located on top of each kidney) to release cortisol. The majority of cortisol is released in the early mornings – and one could even say that it is the hormone that helps us get out of bed – and then tapers off during the day.

On a very positive note, it keeps us going and moving throughout the day, helping us handle everyday stress. However, if too much cortisol is released (possibly due to increased stress and anxiety) blood sugar and cholesterol will increase and immune function will decrease. This is where too much of a good thing can led to serious illnesses.

A side note: Many parents ask me why their children are fine during the day but as soon as it is bedtime, a fever or earache will erupt. This is because cortisol is in minimal amounts at night; thus, the body is more sensitive to pain.

To understand stress and the ability of people to adapt to the pressures of daily life, injury, disease, and relationships, you need to understand the 3 stages of adapting to stress:

#1: Alarm – “fight or flight”

#2: A resistance to the stress (adaption where the body adapts as stress continues)

#3: Exhaustion

The “fight or flight” is a normal physiological reaction, however, if continually used, the body will adapt and eventually become completely exhausted. In general, stress may be due, on a physical plain, with poor nutrition, poor sleep, pollution, infections, alcohol and/or from a mental state of grief, over worked, anxiety, relationships, anger, aging.

People can make changes to their physical states by eating whole, colorful foods, and decreasing exposure to pollution and household chemicals. With the mental state, it is not so much whether the situation is pleasant or unpleasant but more so how we react to it.

Tips to Help Your Kids Handle Everyday Stress

Exercise

How? For prevention, take a 15-minute walk outside with the kids. When in a moment, have everyone stop and do 10 jumping jacks (usually everyone will begin laughing which will add more stress reduction!)

Color

How? Eat whole (non-processed) colorful nutrient packed foods at every meal. Avoid white foods: sugar, bread, and rice.

Structure

How? To keep the blood sugar levels stable, eat a structured and regular meal plan: 3 meals a day plus healthy snacks in between.

Drink

How? Drink pure filtered water. If plain water doesn’t excite the kids, infuse with colorful lemons and oranges.

Sleep

How? Before bed listen to a calming music. This will help to relax the kids and allow for a full night sleep.

Laugh

How? Get in the habit of telling jokes as laughing strengthens the immune system.

Teach

How? Teach your children to take deep belly breaths.

The key is to be aware of what is going on in your life as well as your child’s and finding more ways to bring joy, laughter and happiness in.

Visit Dr. Heather, ND and Human Body Detectives series for kids, to learn more about Dr. Heather and her mission to have families be more proactive and healthy in their lives. You can also join the conversation on Twitter @drheathernd and HBD on Facebook.

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About Dr. Heather Manley
Dr. Heather Manley (from Toronto presently living in Hawaii), who in 2001 received her medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, is a practicing physician whose primary interest is preventative healthcare for families. She is the author of Human Body Detectives, her educational series of story-telling audiobooks and accompanying activity workbooks. She also promotes wellness and naturopathic healthcare on her website drheathernd.com. She lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with her husband and two daughters, and is currently at work on the next Human Body Detectives adventure.

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