How to Manage Stress & Nurture Your Child’s Mental Health?

  • ACIO
  • November 29, 2023
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In the fast-paced and demanding world of today, stress has become a common part of our lives. Stress and anxiety have crept into every aspect of our lives.

This becomes even more severe when it comes to the students and children.

As per a study, 63.5% of Indian students reported stress due to academic pressure, whereas 66% feel pressured by their parents for better academic performance.

Another study shed light on examination-related fear and found that more than 81% of students fear exams. A separate study published by Statista showcased that around 46% of young individuals aged 16- 24 years deal with stress daily.

In 2021, the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), India, issued a report stating that:

  • More than 4 in 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad or hopeless, and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health;
  • More than 1 in 5 (22%) students seriously considered attempting suicide, and 1 in 10 (10%) attempted suicide.

The above data draws light on the increasing need for attention to the mental well-being of children. With this ongoing trend, it becomes quintessential to understand what stress is and how it is affecting our children.

By its definition stress is defined as a natural response to challenging physical, emotional, or psychological situations. Factors that cause stress are called stressors. Our bodies release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which provoke the “fight or flight” response. When dealing with stressors, while this response is usually constructively helpful in certain situations, prolonged, unaddressed and chronic stress can harm our physical and mental health.

To understand how to manage the increased stress levels among students, it is important to understand its root causes.

What is the Reason for Increased Stress Levels and Deteriorating Mental Health Among Students?

Stress among students is a widespread issue that various factors can cause. These stressors can affect students at all levels of education, from primary school to university. The tender minds can be easily affected by several factors. Some of the most common ones are as follows:

1. Academic Pressure:

The most significant source of stress for students is often academic pressure. This pressure includes the demands of exams, assignments, coursework, and maintaining good grades. Students may fear failure or struggle with the sheer volume of work.

2. High Expectations:

Expectations from parents, teachers, or peers to excel academically can create immense stress. Students may feel pressure to meet or exceed these expectations, leading to stress and anxiety.

3. Test Anxiety:

The fear of exams and standardised tests can trigger anxiety and stress. This anxiety can be particularly intense for high-stakes exams that significantly impact a student’s future, such as college entrance exams.

4. Social Pressure:

Major stressors include peer relationships, social acceptance, and fitting in. Bullying, peer pressure to engage in risky behaviours, and social isolation can all contribute to student stress.

5. Transition Periods:

Major life transitions, such as starting school, moving to a new city, or transitioning to college, can be stressful. Students may feel overwhelmed by the changes and uncertainties associated with these transitions.

6. Perfectionism:

Striving for perfection in academics or other areas of life can create unrealistic expectations, leading to constant stress as students seek to meet unattainable standards.

7. Health Concerns:

Physical and mental health issues can contribute to stress. Chronic illnesses, mental health disorders, or injuries can disrupt a student’s ability to perform academically and socially, adding to their stress.

8. Lack of Support:

Insufficient support from teachers, parents, or counsellors can exacerbate stress. Students may feel isolated and unheard, compounding their problems.

9. Technology and Social Media:

Excessive use of technology and social media can contribute to stress by exposing students to cyberbullying, unrealistic social comparisons, and information overload.

10. Peer Competition:

Rivalry among peers can create a stressful environment. Students may feel pressured to outperform their classmates, leading to unhealthy competition.

11. Procrastination:

Putting off assignments and responsibilities until the last minute can result in heightened stress levels as deadlines approach.

It’s important to note that each student’s experience of stress is unique, and the combination of stressors can vary widely. Moreover, some levels of stress can be motivating. However, when it becomes unaddressed, chronic or overwhelming, it can have detrimental effects on a student’s mental and physical health and academic performance. Recognising these stressors and providing students with the tools and support to manage them effectively is crucial for their well-being in the long run.

Tips to Manage Stress & Nurture Your Child’s Mental Health?

Managing stress and nurturing well-being among children is essential for their development and happiness. Childhood is a formative period where they learn how to cope with stress and build the foundation for lifelong well-being. Here are some tips to help children manage stress and nurture their well-being:

  • Healthy Lifestyle: Promote a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. A healthy body can better cope with stress and contribute to overall well-being.
  • Time Management: Teach children time management skills, including setting priorities, making schedules, and breaking tasks into manageable steps. This can reduce the stress of feeling overwhelmed.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Introduce mindfulness exercises and relaxation techniques suitable for children, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery.
  • Foster Social Connections: Encourage friendships and social interactions. Building positive relationships with peers can provide emotional support and reduce feelings of loneliness.
  • Promote Playtime: Play is essential for children’s development. Encourage unstructured play, which allows children to use their imagination and creativity.
  • Set Realistic Expectations: Help children set achievable goals and expectations for themselves. Emphasise effort over perfection and celebrate their accomplishments.
  • Establish Routines: Consistent daily routines can give children a sense of security and predictability, reducing anxiety and stress.
  • Teach Problem-Solving Skills: Guide children in developing problem-solving and decision-making skills. Encourage them to think critically and find solutions to their challenges.
  • Importance of Saying No & Setting Clear Boundaries: It’s okay to decline additional commitments if you’re overwhelmed. Prioritise your well-being.
  • Limit Over-Scheduling: Avoid over-scheduling with too many extracurricular activities. Balance is key to preventing burnout and stress.
  • Provide a Safe and Nurturing Environment: Ensure children feel safe and loved at home. A supportive family environment is crucial for their emotional well-being.
  • Promote Resilience: Teach children that setbacks and challenges are a part of life. Encourage them to learn from failures and bounce back stronger.
  • Celebrate All Achievements: Recognize and celebrate your child’s accomplishments, both big and small. Positive reinforcement boosts their self-esteem and well-being.

By implementing these tips, you can help children build resilience, develop effective coping mechanisms, and nurture their overall well-being. It is important to remember that each child is unique, and it’s essential to tailor your approach to their needs, preferences and causes.

What is the Role of Parents?

  1. Open Communication: Encourage open communication with your child without judgement. Create a safe space for them to express their feelings, thoughts, & concerns without fear.
  2. Active Listening: Pay attention when your child talks to you. Show empathy and understanding, and validate their feelings. Let them know you’re there to support them.
  3. Teach Emotional Awareness: Help children identify and understand their emotions. Teach them that feeling a wide range of emotions is okay and that each emotion serves a purpose.
  4. Limit Screen Time: Set boundaries on screen time to ensure children have time for physical activity, social interaction, and other non-screen activities that promote well-being.
  5. Encourage Hobbies and Interests: Support your child’s interests and hobbies. These activities can be outlets for creativity and stress relief.
  6. Be a Positive Role Model: Children often model their behaviour after adults. Demonstrate healthy stress management techniques and self-care practices.
  7. Encourage Gratitude: Help children develop a sense of gratitude by regularly discussing and reflecting on what they are thankful for.

Early Signs of Stress in Child:

Identifying early signs of mental health troubles among students is crucial for timely intervention and support. While every individual may exhibit different symptoms, here are some common early signs to look for:

1. Changes in Behaviour:

  • Social Withdrawal: If a student who was once social and outgoing suddenly becomes isolated and avoids social interactions, it may indicate a problem.
  • Decline in Academic Performance: A noticeable drop in grades or a lack of interest in schoolwork may be an early sign of struggles.

2. Emotional Changes:

  • Mood Swings: Frequent and extreme mood swings, such as euphoria to deep sadness, can signify emotional distress.
  • Irritability or Anger: Sudden outbursts of anger or irritability that are out of character may signal underlying issues.
  • Excessive Worry or Anxiety: Constant worry, fear, or anxiety about everyday situations can indicate an anxiety disorder.

3. Physical Symptoms:

  • Changes in Appetite and Sleep: Noticeable changes in eating habits (overeating or undereating) or disrupted sleep patterns (insomnia or excessive sleeping) can indicate mental health problems.
  • Unexplained Physical Complaints: Frequent headaches, stomachaches, or other physical complaints without a clear medical cause may be linked to emotional distress.

4. Loss of Interest:

  • Loss of Interest in Hobbies or Activities: If a student loses interest in activities they were passionate about and enjoyed, it may result from depression or other concerns.

5. Changes in Appearance:

  • Neglecting Personal Hygiene: A sudden decline in personal hygiene and grooming habits can indicate emotional distress.

6. Difficulty Concentrating:

  • Problems with Focus and Concentration: An inability to concentrate or remember things can be an early sign of mental health issues like anxiety or depression.

7. Isolation and Avoidance:

  • Avoidance of Responsibilities: Students may start avoiding school, work, or other responsibilities due to their mental health struggles.

8. Drastic Changes in Relationships:

  • Conflict with Peers or Family: A significant increase in disputes or a breakdown in relationships with friends or family members can indicate underlying emotional distress.

It’s important to note that these signs can vary from person to person, and some individuals may hide their struggles well. Suppose you observe any of these early signs in a student. In that case, it’s essential to approach them with empathy, offer support, and encourage them to seek help from a professional or a counsellor. Early recognition and intervention can make a significant difference in managing and improving mental health issues among students.

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