mummiefbDr. Sarita Bhargava – Pediatrician.
Qualified PALS by Indian Academy of Pediatrics.
Author of a very popular book ‘Your Precious Gem & You’.


STRESS is the way our body responds to the demands made upon it by the environment…..

stress-300x279STRESS is a factor which pressurizes a person and demands a mental or physical adaptive response.It   is the manner in which our body responds to the demands made upon it by the environment . Factors causing stress may be physical, social, emotional or economical. These may originate within the body or may come in from external sources. It can occur at home or at the work place or whilst travel or in the market .Family members, friends , colleagues and the advanced technology can be the responsible factors.The advanced technology is a major factor for causing stress in the technocrats as they have no time of their own . They are on duty all 24 hours busy answering the mobiles , taking the emails and replying them or doing the needful. This compels them to face stressful situations as they have no proper time for their family. They sacrifice  their sleeping and resting hours to give quality time to their loved ones. Stress increases inflammation and erodes a few pillars of optimal health rest and mental health. It increases blood pressure , brings in depression and decreases the immunity .The person responds by being irritable , becoming angry at small episodes.He may have decreased appetite or may have compulsive eating tendency. Taking up smoking , consuming alcohol , drinking excessive coffee are the other adaptive measures which harm the body more than stress. In turn these bring in stress to the family members . A major factor which is responsible for producing stress is by taking up all the assignments due the fear of displeasing the BOSS .A person should accept only according to his abilities and availability of time and once he develops the power of saying NO , he is able to relieve stressful conditions for himself.

Stress can be relieved by taking good nutrition , sleep , exercise , doing meditation and listening music. One should organize his day’s schedule by giving priority to the most essential tasks .To escape from the stressful situations temporarily he can plan weekend outings or go for holiday with the family.

You will be astonished to know that stress can enter  our lives from the infancy period.

Stress in infancy is caused by pain from unfortunate medical conditions , pain from sensitivity reactions to formula food and substances passed in breast milk , physical abuse and neglect .Chronic stress can result from –

  1. allowing the child to cry without giving attention and affection
  2. not giving the child his feeds when he is hungry
  3. not offering comfort to a distressed child
  4. limiting body contact during feeding and throughout the day and night
  5. low attention, stimulation and play
  6. hearing of angry and quarreling voices by the child

stress-resources-300x300Levels of stress in infancy due to maternal irresponsiveness affects memory , attention and emotion .Such infants have higher cortisol levels ,a hormone which is released due to activation of HPA by stress . The cells in the hippocampus which are responsible for learning and memory are destroyed due to chronic stress and elevated stress hormone levels are seen  in the blood . Premature puberty has been seen in children who are under stress. Stress causes decreased immune system functioning leading to increased incidence of illness in insecurely attached  children . With responsive parenting the body produces substances which help generate love for an infant and  deep bonds develop. Breast feeding induces chemical changes in mother’s brain improving her mood and her own stress reactivity . Babies are very sensitive to emotions and moods. They are seen to spit more , have a hard burping time, take less feed at one time and so wake up soon for the next feed .Affectionate touch stimulates the release of neurotransmitters like oxytocin and endogenous opioids (Kojima et.al 2012). These have a direct soothing effect on the child  and they also suppress the release of stress hormone cortisol . When the baby is upset it triggers the caregiver’s stress which strains the parent child relationship . Babies become distressed when they see unresponsive facial expressions on their caregiver’s face. By the age of 6 months the baby is able to distinguish between happy and disgusting body language  (Zeiber et . al 2013) and angry arguments amongst adults  are an added risk factor for stress.
Click to BuyStress in early life is  a risk factor for a number of psychological and physical problems from mood disorders  to obesity and cardiovascular problems . Maternal depression , parental arguments and financial worries  demonstrated  increased levels of cortisol in the saliva of  growing children and preschoolers . When a developing infant brain is exposed to continuous stress ,there is a decrease in the neuroconnections. The brain structure can be damaged and the connections can be lost . Long term risks are heart disease , immune disorders , increased risk of cancer and mental health problems . Attuned parenting strategy ensures healthy brain development in infants . Children grow up in an atmosphere of relationships says Levitt. An infant does something and expects a response from the caregiver – SERVE AND RETURN . Attuned parenting is  close , warm and nurturing looking directly into the eyes of  the child. Responding to baby’s vocalizations is fantastic for the developing brain . Stress comes from sources as family conflicts , friends and school . It may originate in the individual himself at the time when the child is able to understand what he should be doing and what he is  able to do. In preschoolers separation from the parents may cause stress . In older children the learning abilities of the child may be a source of stress. Stress enters the child’s life when the parents expect him to get high grades which he is not able to achieve . It is seen that children are overburdened with school home work , and adding an activity as play or dance the child is not able to relax after coming from school.  He is not able to cope up with the extracurricular activities and so becomes stressed . Parental discussions amongst themselves about illness of some family member , financial problems , quarreling or speaking loudly on some matters can be  factors  causing stress. Kids who have  seen  pictures of war , disasters and terrorism on the TV or those  watching the serials showing violence may be worried about them. Happenings in life as the death of a loved one or a divorce or moving to a new house , starting  school or a day care are additional causes leading to stress in children . Social problems as being teased , bullied  or being left out by peers , friends or team mates may also lead to stress.

Stress 300x200A certain amount of stress is permissible .It becomes a problem when children experience high levels of stress and do not get support from parents to help them deal with it .It may be because the children are not able to express  feelings or do not want to share them .When children come to believe that they are not loved by their parents and sibs they come to harbor in their minds” stress”.

Children may become irritable , cry , have mood swings ,become angry for no reason . Changes in sleep pattern and bed wetting may be the indications that they are facing stress. Some children may complain of headache , stomachache or may have spitting , others may find difficulty with school work . Younger children may take to thumb sucking or nail biting . Some take to lying , being rude to parents and elders . They start getting poor grades in school or may get night mares.Parents should try to find out the cause of stress and help to minimize it . Young children are unable to recognize stress and speak it out . It is the duty of the caregivers that they recognize stress in children and help them out .

COPING WITH STRESS-
  1. Reduce stressProper rest and good nutrition
  2. Spend quality time with your children .Speak to them , listen to them and ask them to speak out their feelings . Do not leave them alone at this time ,be with them and spend time on fun activities .
  3. If your child is able to point out his feelings and you come to know the probable cause you can talk to him on solving it . Suggest some ideas and let him solve it further . This will help in building confidence . If the child appears to be too tired with the extracurricular activities then reduce or time them . The child should be prepared for the forthcoming stressful situation in advance. He should be told about the visit to the doctor for vaccination shots or for check up  .
  4. Give ample time to your kids . Let them know that you will always be there to listen to them . They will feel better by your presence . You can ask the child to accompany you to the kitchen or take her for a walk if he desires so .
  5. Be patient – You should maintain your calm attitude and avoid getting stressed by his stress. Focus on helping your child , assuring him when required and making him develop into a child who will be ready to face the ups and downs of life . He should be able to express his feelings by expressing them , calm down and be ready to go ahead.
  6. Assist your child in discovering activities that help him feel better when stressed like hearing music , seeing a light program on the TV , going out for a walk . Teach your child to take slow deep breaths in moments of stress.
PARENTAL ROLE IN HANDLING EXAMINATION STRESS-

Adult and Daughter (9-10) Holding Hands --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisExamination is such a word  ,the thought of which is sufficient to cause stress in the mind of the examinee .All children right from the school age till the time of career development and even after that for competitive examinations pass through  this stressful phase . Young children are very serious about their exams because there are mainly two term examinations . After the final exams comes the phase of promotion to the next class. Considering the stressful conditions of the children during  the exams , the education authorities have brought a change in their assessment patterns. A system of conducting weekly and monthly tests has been adopted by the Boards . The final result of the child is calculated by taking the overall performance throughout the year. It is indeed a very good step from the education authorities . In these tests children are assigned limited course in contrast to the old system where the children had to learn  half and full course during the half and full term examinations.

The parents should organize the activities of the children at home . If the children are doing the regular home work and learning it becomes easier for them to overcome the stress of examinations . We hear small children saying that they are very busy because they are having their exams .They have to learn a lot and so are not allowed to play or watch the TV .Parents can help children in handling the examination stress in a perfect way if they

  1. Pursue children to follow the time table at home regularly . Study time ,play time and TV watching time are all to be fixed
  2. They should make them study actively . The parent should be available close by when the child is doing his homework so that the child’s difficulty can be solved fast . The parent should spare time to hear the answers to the questions .
  3. The children should be asked to study in a peaceful place . They should not be assigned household chores during the examination days. If the children have completed their learning they can assist the mother just for a change .
  4. Do not be annoyed with them and do not pass negative remarks regarding their studies at this peak time as these will make the child feel bad and disturb his effort for studying .
  5. Make the children learn for the coming next day test and not to waste time in other activities . Teach them some tips for memorizing the answers . Give some questions and ask them to write down the answers in a fixed period of time . This serves as a pre test for them.
  6. Ask your children to relax by playing or walking outside . TV watching can be allowed for a very short period , rather due to the distracting effect it should be avoided . They can be permitted to hear music.
  7. The children should be sent out to get fresh air hence activities like playing and walking should be encouraged.
  8. When the children sit for a long time they becomes lethargic . They become tired as the brain becomes incapable of retaining after a peak time. It wants rest in the form of relaxation . To relax children may go out . When they play outside or do some exercise endorphins are released They are feel good hormones which help them in overcoming stress.
  9. Give the children the right food . Due to stress the children opt to give up meals This is not advisable as the brain needs energy . Children should have a balanced diet at least two times a day . In addition fruits can be taken any number of times . Fatty food should be avoided as it produces lethargy due to slower digestion .
  10. Encourage the children with positivity . Teach them the habit of studying—relaxing –studying . Continuous studying is a boredom and brings letharginess.
  11. The most important thing is to make the children take appropriate sleep on the night before the examination day . Children should sleep at the scheduled time and take at least 6-8 hours of sleep . This helps in giving rest to the tired brain .The child wakes up fresh  next morning.
  12. Last moment study should be discouraged . If your exam is at 9 A.M. stop learning after 7 A.M. Do your daily chores , keep your writing material and the entrance card ready and go for the examination with a relaxed mind . I found this strategy very helpful throughout my study period that is up to completing my M.D. examination .

At times we hear that the student became blank in the examination hall . He was not able to recall anything to write . He had studied the whole night without any rest . Adolescents face this problem often specially in competitive exams. They should be counseled by teachers and counselors .

Parents should not pressurize the children to excel in their classes . This becomes a major stress producing factor . The children should be encouraged to do their best and the parents should accept the result willingly . They should not be compared with the siblings nor with the peers .