May is Mental Health Awareness month. Since the start of the pandemic, hospitals have seen more mental health emergencies among kids. The ongoing stress, fear, and grief has weighed heavily on children and teens, and many are having a hard time coping emotionally. Unfortunately, life will always bring different types of stress to everyone. It is important for parents to watch for signs of stress and anxiety in their children, and give them the necessary skills to deal with their stress in a healthy manner.
Signs of stress and mental health challenges are not the same for every child or teen, but there are some common symptoms:
- Irritability or crying more easily
- Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep
- Stomach pain, nausea, or even vomiting
- Losing the desire to socialize
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Loss of interest in schoolwork
- Changes in appearance
- Thoughts or talking about suicide
We want to share some ideas from The AAP on how to help you and your children learn healthy ways to manage stress!
- Identify and address the problem. Decide if the problem is a real problem or just feels like one. A lot of people try to cope by ignoring problems, but this just makes them worse.
- Make lists of what you need to do, break the work into small pieces and do one piece at a time. As you finish each piece, the work becomes less overwhelming.
- Avoid stress when possible. Surround yourself with people who treat you well and help you. Choose to not be around people that may be a bad influence or get you into trouble.
- Let some things go. There are some things you can’t change. Often, people waste their energy worrying about things they can’t change and then they don’t have enough energy left to fix the things they can. You can’t change how much homework you have, so instead study and prepare to deal with it. Try not to take offense to things or take things personally.
- Take care of your body. There are several things you can do to help take care of your body and manage your stress.
- Exercise is the most important part of a plan to manage stress. When you are stressed, your body is saying, “Run!” So do it! Exercise every day to control stress and build a strong healthy body. If you think you don’t have time to exercise, that is when you need it the most. Using up the stress hormones through exercise can help you think better and be more focused.
- Active relaxation. Your body can only use the relaxed or emergency nervous system at one time, so you can turn on the relaxed system by doing the opposite of what your body does when it is stressed. Try the 4-8 breathing technique. Lie on your back and place your hands on your belly. Take a full breath while counting to 4, hold that breath until you count to 8, then slowly let it out to the count of 8. Doing this 10 times will help your mind be too focused on breathing to focus on worries. Also, when you feel nervous or stressed, it can prevent you from thinking clearly. Taking the time to breathe slowly can help you calm down.
- Eat well. Good nutrition helps keep you alert through the day and your mood steady. People who eat mostly junk food have highs and lows in their energy level which harms their ability to reduce stress! Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can keep you focused for longer.
- Sleep well. Most kids don’t get the sleep they need to grow and think clearly. When you are tired, you don’t learn as well and become impatient and irritable! Go to sleep about the same time every night. Exercise 4-6 hours before bed. Take a hot shower 1 hour before bedtime to help your body relax. Use your bed only for sleep, don’t do homework, watch tv, or try to solve problems in bed. Give yourself plenty of time to think, and then set it aside to go to bed.
- Take instant vacations. Sometimes the best way to ease stress is to take your mind to a more relaxing place. You can do this by visualizing yourself in a calm and beautiful environment. Take time for yourself. Try a warm bath, or a hobby you enjoy. Taking a walk outside or reading a book can also be a nice break from the stress in your life.
- Release emotional tension. Sometimes feelings are overwhelming, and there are too many things going on in your head to deal with them all. Pick one problem to work on and forget the rest for a moment. When you deal with one problem at a time, it can be easier to deal with.
- Talk to your friends, parents, or a responsible adult that you trust.
- Art, music, poetry, singing, dance, and rap can be powerful ways to release the tension.
- Write all your feelings in a journal.
- Many find prayer or mediation helpful.
- Give yourself permission to feel your emotions. Laughing or crying it out can sometimes release the emotional tension.
- Make the world better. You can make a difference in other people’s lives. Look for ways to serve your friends or community. This can help you feel better about yourself and handle your problems better!
If you are interested, you can help your children make their own personal stress plan by clicking here.
If you have concerns about your children and teenager’s mental health, contact your pediatrician at The Pediatric Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho or Rigby, Idaho. Our medical staff at The Pediatric Center currently consists of seven Board Certified Pediatricians and three Certified Pediatric Physician Assistants. We have been serving eastern Idaho for over 55 years, and are here for you and your family for all of your healthcare needs.
Some content provided by The American Academy of Pediatrics -healthychildren.org