Stress is Year-Round and Affects Everyone, but Learning to Understand and Manage it is Key

Event hough things may not seem too busy on the surface, you may notice children and adults are still feeling stressed. According to Dr. Linda Vara, Ph.D., a Clifton Park psychologist that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, that’s because stress is normal and universal and happens throughout the year.  

However, she explains children can get help at both school and home to manage stress and anxiety. Some schools in the region teach students how to deal with stress. Patti Vitale, who is the head of school at Brown School in Schenectady, puts emphasis on social emotional learning. The teachers and students do exercises in the classroom that encourage being mindful and present. They regularly do breathing exercises to learn how to calm themselves. Additionally, Vitale and her teamwork with students on staying organized by teaching them how to use tools to stay on top of classwork and homework. She also recommends a family calendar to manage crazy schedules.

“I also caution parents not to over load their child with activities. Many kids want to do everything, but this is often impossible. Discuss beforehand with your child what they really want to do.Parents can set limits and make sure they take their time commitment and the schedules of their other children into consideration as well,” Vitale said.  

For children who become very stressed about grades and achieving perfection, Dr. Vara believes that adults can help them to keep these areas in perspective through modeling. “It is extremely important for parents and teachers to model a work/life balance and to show kids that mistakes are normal, and rarely if ever a catastrophe.  I seem any perfectionistic kids whose parents don’t put pressure on them, per se, but whose parents are perfectionistic. You need to walk the walk.  Your child will not accept his or her own mistakes if you don’t accept your own.”   

As for parents, Dr. Vara explains that realizing that these feelings are normal is a great first step. It’s also important for parents to help their children learn how to identify when they are feeling stressed and to be able to communicate that to a trusted adult.

“Younger kids may express stress through their bodies. For example, belly aches or frequent trips to the nurse or bathroom at school. It is important to teach younger kids that stress can make their bodies hurt. The pain is real, but fixing it is different if it is caused by stress. They need to learn to take special care of their bodies, by getting enough rest, eating nutritious food, doing physical exercise, and relaxing their muscles. Younger kids, of course, need simpler language and amore playful way to learn these relaxation skills.  Both younger and older kids need to hear there is a connection between their thoughts and feelings. Basically, if your thinking is negative then you will feel and act stressed.  This, in fact, is the core of cognitive behavior therapy; learning the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behavior,” said Dr. Vara.

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