STRESS! The word just makes us cringe. We all know it. The horrible feeling of sinking slowly with no room to breathe. Or maybe for you, it’s the feeling of exploding anger, fear or another strong emotion. Stress is harmful to us. It feels awful and it is awful for our bodies.
Stress and how we deal with it varies from person to person. Each of us has different skill sets to handle different potentially stressful life situations. This includes our little ones. As parents, we are there to help guide and teach our children these skill sets. Handling different life stress is part of that. However, some of us don’t have all of the necessary skills in all areas of life either.
Stress can lead to chronic disease itself, but can worsen or flare existing chronic disease. The fact you or your child is living with chronic disease might be stress enough to cause a flare of symptoms.
How does stress affect immunity?
A recent Carnegie Mellon study found stress causes the body to lose its control over inflammation regulation. This response causes and promotes disease. Inflammation is regulated by cortisol and when it can’t work properly, inflammation gets out of control.
Inflammation is the biggest enemy of those with auto-inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. It’s what we work so hard to control and avoid. What this means is un-regulated stress increases our inflammatory response causing more problems in our body.
Tips for Helping Our Little Ones
As adults, we know about stress control. We are aware it’s necessary and what we can do about. But helping our little ones handle stress is equally important. Here are a few simple things we can do to help our little ones control stress.
Tip 1: Identify triggers that appear to cause your child stress.
Identifying stressors are important in learning how to control them. If we don’t know where or what causes the stress we can’t hit the source with all we got! Here are a few things we learned were stressors for our child and how we figured it out.
Trigger 1: Missing or skipping a nap.
Our child was easily stressed and overwhelmed by his day when he didn’t take or missed a nap. How did we know? We had multiple meltdowns, larger tantrums, more screaming and yelling, and more refusals to participate in simple tasks that were not usually an issue.
Trigger 2: Too many activities in a day or weekend.
There have been days or weeks where everyone we know planned some type of get together. When we first started out we just tried to do it all. We quickly learned it was easy for him to miss his nap (trigger 1). He was overwhelmed by the transitions, tons of people at different events, and stimulation of activity. He would exhibit the same behaviors as trigger 1. He would become run down and a flare of his condition quickly followed.
Trigger 3: Too many people at events or types of events attended.
Particular types of events were incredibly overwhelming to him. He was overstimulated and it led to acting out or plain screaming, crying and yelling. If it was too loud with no respite, flip out or continual crying. If there were too many sights, smells sounds or activity we had a similar response.
Other possible child stressors include things like certain types of foods or meals, staying out too late at night and not sleeping long enough overnight, lack of physical exercise, lack of social contact, or the opposite, too much social contact and they need a break.
Tip 2: Determine the solution to lower the child’s stress
Sometimes as adults, especially newish parents, we feel the need to “return to” or “keep up with” our old life. We don’t want to give up the fun cookouts and gatherings we went to. We don’t want to say no to all the social activity. However, for a tiny person, it’s overwhelming. We do have to balance life out for everyone. Not just ourselves.
To stop the trigger 1 for us, we just had to be sure that one way or the other our child took a real nap. We had to be sure he had a quiet, relaxing place to sleep where he could truly fall into a deep sleep for at least 1.5 hours. When he was very young he needed at least two hours of sleep. If we couldn’t provide that we had to skip or change our activity for the day. Until he was 4-5 years old we made it happen. Every single day no matter what. After he was 4 years old we began to miss a weekend nap if there was a very special event happening. But we still try to get him a nap on most days of the week at five years old.
Trigger 2 was the easiest to control, but the hardest as an adult to let go of. We had to start saying no to certain events, activities and things going on. If there were two events in a day we had to pick one to attend. We generally chose the one going on after his nap. That way we eliminated trigger 1 and dealt with trigger 2. If our child didn’t get enough rest and there was another day of events, we had to skip the second day of events. We still rarely allow multiple events in a weekend. We still see a stress trigger with too many events. Even at 5 years old.
Trigger 3 is often difficult to control but takes some thinking ahead as an adult. You will attend events that are sensory overload for your child. It can’t be helped unless you never leave your house. With that said think ahead. If you know for sure the event you are attending will be wildly busy, and loud, prepare your child for that. And have an exit or “break plan.” A break plan is one where you can find a quiet respite in the midst of the chaos. Find a spot where when you see overload coming you can take your child to escape for 15 minutes or longer.
We attend a national vintage car show event every single year. It’s HUGE. It’s on a state fairgrounds and pulls in thousands and thousands of people. This is our little adult vacation each year. We have a car in the event and we attend every day. That means three full days of an all-day event. This became extremely difficult with a child. What we have done is split up. We attend the slowest day, the busiest day and then I stay home the third and final day with our child to recover. During the event, we prepare him with a schedule of each day. We prepare him with a chance to rest at the event. We have brought tents, pack and plays and more to create comfort as much as possible. We have sent him home with grandma as well to get rest in previous years. It’s a once a year event, but it’s still overwhelming. We still try to keep the stress low even though it’s only a few days. Those few days can create such havoc for the weeks to follow. It’s not worth it. Keeping stress low is better.
The overall advice is to think ahead for your little one. Think about how some of the same triggers and stressors apply to yourself as an adult. Then put yourself in a little person’s shoes and realize how overwhelming some things can be.
Lowering stress keeps inflammation levels lower. Therefore increasing our chances of healthy living with fewer flares.
Share with us what you do to help control stress for you or your child!