Stress and wellbeing

Written by Georgina Cadby-Fisher, Community Psychiatric Nurse

When we become stressed our brain releases a chemical called Cortisol which is our bodies natural way of protecting us. We release adrenaline as well as Cortisol and this gives us our fight/flight response to dangerous situations.

As we grow and have childhood experiences some exposure to stress and danger is healthy for us as it allows us to develop a sense of danger and hazard perception which is required for when we reach adulthood.

However, if children have been over exposed to harmful situations for prolonged or continual periods of time then the body naturally continues to over produce Cortisol and this can be harmful for the development of the brain which is crucial in the first five years of a child’s life otherwise known as the early years stage.

We learn to rationalise as we grow older and a part of the brain called the frontal lobe allows us to develop this skill, young children whose frontal lobes have not been able to develop properly due to over exposure of harm and over production of Cortisol may not be able to respond rationally to stress so children look to primary care givers to provide reassurance and emotional warmth. This reassurance allows children to develop attachments and seek out adults if they become stressed.

Stress in children can show itself in varied ways such as poor sleep, impulsive behaviour, lack of empathy, hyperactivity or anxiety.

Ways that you may be able to support a child who may be experiencing stress is by;

  • Play – expressive play allows children to talk or act out their frustrations or worries, use dressing up, arts and crafts or sand and water play. Avoid screen time as we do live in a generation where more children spend increased amounts of time on screen, this does not stimulate the emotive parts of the brain that encourage emotion or expressive play.
  • Outdoor play- playing outdoors naturally relieves stress as we release endorphins when we become physically active, endorphins are otherwise known as feel good hormones. Outdoor play leads to productivity, problem solving and as well as good physical development it can also help with sleep.
  • Get the children involved in Music lessons – music and emotions are closely linked, often playing an instrument, listening and dancing to their favourite songs builds confidence, and can promote empathy and being able to relate to others.
  • Encourage sleep – when we don’t sleep enough we become sensitive and irritable. Bedtime routine is important but also the exploration of why sleep is important for our health and wellbeing.

As the primary care giver you may recognise changes in behaviours, sleep patterns or eating habits. If you do and have concerns speak with social workers, Pastoral Support in Education, teachers and see if there could be any additional triggers or events that they may have an awareness of which could be causing additional stress. You could also visit the GP or speak with the school Nurse.

Helpful sites to visit to support you as the Adults with caring for a child who experiences stress or anxiety are:

https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/stress-coping.html

https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/worrying.html?WT.ac=p-ra

https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/for-parents/parents-guide-to-support-a-z/parents-guide-to-support-anxiety/

https://www.childline.org.uk/

Georgina Cadby-Fisher, Community Psychiatric Nurse

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