How to make stress your friend

Most parents would agree that they’d do pretty much anything to prevent their child from going through pain. I vividly remember when my son had to have the heel prick test when he was a few days old – it took all my logical self will to hand my baby over to someone who I knew was going to make his little foot bleed. Of course he was fine (didn’t even flinch), and from that test we gained valuable knowledge about his health and if we needed to, could act to mitigate some difficulties he could have faced in later life.

This is a very minor example of a stressful situation. Many of our kids are going through stressful situations right now – whether they be the challenges of the playground, events outside of school, or ever present academic pressure. Our brains and bodies work together to react to perceived stress in ways that protect us – your breathing quickens, your heart races and you get ready to fight or run away. This physical reaction occurs not only in situations of real physical danger, but also in social or emotional danger too. That’s what the butterflies in your stomach are about when you have to give a presentation, or when you start to sweat before dealing with a confrontation*. We don’t like these sensations and they can be exhausting, so if we can avoid them, often by avoiding the situations that trigger it, then we do.

The problem is however, that there are some stressors we can’t avoid – or relying on short term avoidance might mean negative long term consequences. The most common short term stress avoidance strategies we see in schooling is procrastination with homework or assignments and not coming. Procrastination means instant relief and reward– you don’t have to do something uncomfortable, and you get to do something you enjoy like playing video games or chatting with friends. It’s the “Just one more…” lie we all tell ourselves. Not coming to school is also in the short term rewarding, and removes the need to deal with a social challenge or facing up to that teacher that you didn’t do so well with last week. Your stress is immediately relieved…until the next morning when you have to go to school again. The problem isn’t the work or school – it’s the difficulties with managing your stress that are leaving you open for a whole lot of negative long term consequences.

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I watched a TED talk on the weekend called “How to make stress your friend”. It’s full of gold, so I highly recommend you watch it (Just click the link – it’s only 18 minutes, good length to procrastinate with!).

Here are some of the highlights on things you can do to fix your relationship with stress:

  • Make decisions that give you meaning and purpose, rather than ones that aim to reduce discomfort.  Stress is inevitable, you might as well make it worth it.
  • Rethink your physical signs of stress as helpful – your body is preparing you to meet a challenge.
  • Spend time with others doing positive things.

Can you imagine what your life would be like if you made changes to your life to do just ONE of these things? Choose one now, and have a think about what it would take to make it happen. Discuss the changes and how it’s going with your parents, your children, your friends – and you’ll hopefully see your relationship with stress improve.

All the best!

*For a better explanation of the physical changes that occur in our bodies under stress, check out this video – https://youtu.be/xNY0AAUtH3g.