Is all stress bad?
Kids who are too anxious to go to school.
Kids who anticipate that something bad will happen to them.
Kids who feel like they never measure up.
There is no question that anxiety among children (and adults for that matter) is on the rise. When I first began school counseling over 20+ years ago it was rare to have a child referred for anxiety. By the time I left the field five years ago, I was running a regular group for students with anxiety. One startling report indicates that the average high school student today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s!
Professionals speculate on the reasons for this turn of events. Here are a few of the reasons…
- Despite technology, we are more socially disconnected than ever– families split up, move apart and participate less in social or religious organizations. In many cases, “connecting on our devices” has replaced in person meetings and socializing. Because kids don’t have a close-knit home base, they often feel a lack of support from a network of significant others. On top of all this there is the continued lack of connection with others due to the pandemic.
- Our expectations are higher than ever-Consequently there is more pressure to perform and more dissatisfaction if those expectations are not met. Kids (and adults for that matter) expect to have the latest technology, attend the best school, make the best grades, make the team on the first try, score the most points and wear the latest fashion.
- We are more informed than ever and constantly inundated with bad news-from the latest Covid statistics to the local crime scene to the demise of public figures, kids are flooded with negativity 24 hours a day via news channels and the internet. All of this leads kids to anticipate danger and feel on edge all the time.
We all experience stress in its many forms. Sonia Lupien at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress has created an acronym for what makes life stressful: NUTS
Novelty: something you have not experienced before.
Unpredictability: something you had no way of knowing would occur.
Threat to the ego: your safety or competence as a person is called into question.
Sense of control: you feel you have little or no control over the situation.
Notice how Covid-19 fits the description for all the above? Not wonder many of us are feeling nuts!
In the excellent book, The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud, Phd, and Ned Johnson, the authors write about kids today and the level of stress or anxiety that is a part of everyday life. In fact, all stress is not equal. Some stress can be useful or even helpful. The authors identify three kinds of stress:
Positive stress motivates us to grow, take risks and perform at a high level.
Tolerable stress occurs for relatively brief periods and can also build resilience if there are supportive adults and time to cope and recover. This could include situations such as divorce or a death in the family.
Toxic stress occurs when there is frequent or prolonged activation of the stress system in the absence of supportive adults for example when kids witness an assault or live in fear of their safety on a daily basis.
Has the stress surrounding Covid moved into the category of toxic stress? I think that depends on how you approach it. Stay tuned for next week’s post on strategies for coping with stress and keeping it under control.
Wyatt the Wonder Dog is back in this delightful story that teaches children why listening is important and how to become good listeners. Children will relate to Wyatt’s experience of missing out on the fun and making everyone late for Grandma’s party. They’ll learn that being a good listener takes practice, but it’s so worth it in the end!
My students love the Wyatt the Wonder Dog Series and the new book is a great addition. They learn that not only is listening important to being a good student, it is also important in being a good friend!
~Lindsay Tucker, School Counselor, Jo Byrns Elementary School,
Cedar Hill, TN