By: Shaila Anjum
Once we reach adulthood and start paying bills, looking for jobs, buying a car or a house, starting a family; it seems as though kids going through school up to grade 12 haven’t really lived through stress. We often hear or use phrases like “what stress?” or “you haven’t experienced stress yet,” when talking to individuals going through grade school.
Now of course if we think about it, we know this isn’t true. So maybe it’s time to stop overlooking their stress or comparing it to our own and give them the justification they deserve.
Grade school is a time where people are mostly concerned with the social aspect of their lives. Fitting in is the main concern and we are still learning how to emotionally regulate ourselves through broken friendships and first heartbreaks. It’s the first time we experience betrayal whether it be from people we thought were close to us or from individuals we didn’t even know held anything against us. It’s the first time many emotions go unexplained and we are left to justify and cope without anyone either understanding or being there to support us.
The truth is, grade school is probably one of the hardest milestones of our lives, yet it is so undervalued because once we move on from it and learn how to deal with problems, we feel like anything we experienced before was so miniscule. However, those were some of our very first experiences that lead to various lifelong coping mechanisms and most of us went through it alone (to a degree) while feeling like no one understood because most adults negated our suffering.
Why is this important to talk about? Because many of us either have children that are going through this now or children that will be going through this in the future. Because suicide rates among students being bullied has increased, and that tells us we need more awareness/support for our young adolescents. Learning how to treat and cope with stressors in our young lives is a stepping stone to how we will manage more mature problems in the future.
The American Psychological Association CEO Norman Anderson says “It is alarming that the teen stress experience is so similar to that of adults. It is even more concerning that they seem to underestimate the potential impact that stress has on their physical and mental health” (American Psychological Association, 2014). He suggests we can improve on this by providing “teens with better support and health education at school and home, at the community level and in their interactions with healthcare professionals” (American Psychological Association, 2014).
What is most alarming is that regardless of the impact stress can have on someone’s physical and mental health, teens tend to report they feel no effect of stress versus adults. A likely reason for this can be because in those young years it can be difficult to understand how you are being affected, as it feels like a norm of life. As you get older, see patterns and declines in your physical/mental health due to stress, you are more readily able to understand the effects while learning how to appropriately deal with them. Of course, this is not always the case even for adults. For any grade schoolers that may be reading this and feel as though the world is snowballing on them or that it is difficult to find help, here are some tips:
Dr. Alvord, a Psychologist, says a balanced life is important especially for grade-schoolers and teens (Neighmond, 2013). Workload for many young adults is difficult to manage and those ‘what if’ scenarios or pressures from the family to ‘do better’ can be detrimental to physical and mental health. So instead, families and children are encouraged to set aside time for relaxation by doing things they enjoy as a group or separately as long as it brings about stress relief.
According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 29% of teens report missing meals due to stress and 39% of those do this multiple times a week (2014). It’s a bit of a vicious cycle as missing meals contributes to high stress levels in our body because our body doesn’t have the healthy nutrients it needs to produce more ‘feel-good’ hormones. This means, even though eating can be difficult at times, trying to eat little by little throughout the day can help elevate the mood.
Fresh air is beneficial to everyone. Even if it means a 5 minute walk without earphones in our ears that cancel out our time with nature. Exercising and enjoying alone time helps reduce cortisol levels in your body which is a stress hormone. Studies have shown that high levels of cortisol interferes with our memory, it lowers our immune system and bone density, increases weight gain, increases blood pressure, cholesterol, and contributes to the causes of heart disease (Bergland, 2013) and the list goes on.
Controlling Tech Time:
A study conducted on family members and adolescents recorded tech time for a week and collected saliva twice that same week to see the effects on cortisol (stress) levels and inflammation (Afifi et al., 2018). Tech use showed significant effects on adolescents’ high cortisol and inflammation levels (Afifi et al., 2018). The use of technology is fine for a little while but consistent and excessive use of technology contributes not only to stress levels but also depression and anxiety (Hayes, 2014).
Still need help?
If you are experiencing a lot of stress or signs of depression and need someone to talk to, try kids help phone at 1-800-668-6868, available 24/7.
Sometimes it can be intimidating to call and hear a stranger's voice on the other end. If an online chat works better for you, then you can always try the live chat for desktop that kids help phone offers at https://kidshelpphone.ca/live-chat/.
If you are in a crisis situation and need immediate help, kids help phone has recently launched a new texting app called Crisis Text Line. To reach them, you can text CONNECT to 686868.
What can you do as a parent to help?
If you have a little one, start him/her off young! Get them used to a balanced lifestyle. Set aside time for physical activity and limit tech use. Young children often do not understand why they are being told to limit tech use. That is because most of us do not take the time to explain to them the harm it can cause in current and later life psychologically and physically. Treating your children like young intellects goes a long way in receiving compliance through mutual understanding. Show them articles or read articles together. Do physical activities as a family. All these little things shape your child from a young age. Of course, if you are struggling to make ends meet and doing 2-3 jobs or more, this ‘ideal’ may seem quite difficult to achieve. However, baby steps do count. Taking an hour in the week even can go a long way. Slowly as you can, increase the frequency to get results.
School is coming to an end and for many students it’s a stressful time of year due to finals. Help our students release stress and take breaks! September is a new school year and maybe you can start the new school year off by stepping into it with self-care habits established throughout the summer. Good Luck, and remember, help is all around!
Afifi, T. D., Zamanzadeh, N., Harrison, K., & Callejas, M. A. (2018). WIRED: The impact of media and technology use on stress (cortisol) and inflammation (interleukin IL-6) in fast paced families. Computers in Human Behavior,81, 265-273. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.12.010
American Psychological Association. (2014).
American psychological Association survey shows teen stress rivals that of adults. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/02/teen-stress
Bergland, C. (2013). Cortisol: Why the “stress hormone” is public enemy no. 1. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1
Hayes, S. C. (2014). The unexpected way that new technology makes us unhappy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/get-out-your-mind/201409/the-unexpected-way-new-technology-makes-us-unhappy
Neighmond, P. (2013). School stress takes a toll on health, teens and parents say. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/12/02/246599742/school-stress-takes-a-toll-on-health-teens-and-parents-say