Wondering how to help your kids manage stress in their lives? We turned to Dr. John Chuback, cardiovascular surgeon and author of the new book The Straight A Handbook: The 50 Most Powerful Secrets For Ultimate Success In And Out Of The Classroom, for easy tips parents can use every day.
As a Board-Certified cardiovascular surgeon, it is fair to say I am an expert on stress. I have lived a very stressful professional lifestyle for more than twenty years. That being said, I began to experience stress long before I became a surgeon.
Like many people, I first experienced stress as a child. Stress in children is not unusual. Most young people and parents would agree that practically all kids are stressed about one thing or another or, more likely, a bunch of things all at once. Fortunately, there are ways to cope. But first, it’s important to understand where stress comes from.
What Is Stress?
Stress is certainly not a new phenomenon. The adrenal gland, which produces the stress hormone, has existed and evolved over the course of millions of years. The adrenals are a pair of tiny pyramidal shaped organs that sit atop each of our two kidneys and produce stress hormones like adrenaline (also known as epinephrine), norepinephrine and cortisol.
Most of us are probably familiar with adrenaline. This is the infamous “fight or flight” hormone.
The reason we have adrenaline is to keep us not only safe, but to keep us alive. Thousands of years ago when humans were living in the wilderness, life was really tough. There were all types of threats and predators behind every bush and lurking in every tree. When we came into contact with such natural enemies, we had very few options for achieving survival. Basically, these situations came down to two choices: mortal combat or run for your life.
Stress in Daily Life
Fortunately, in modern times, such experiences are rare. Unfortunately, those types of scenarios have been replaced with a new array of day-to-day challenges in our lives and have become common stressors in contemporary society.
Sadly, our adrenal glands, when triggered by visual, auditory, and emotional signals are not able to put into perspective the difference in the potential threat posed by a charging elephant as compared to an algebra test. To the little gland, a threat is a threat. It doesn’t have any capacity to put things in perspective – everything looks like a life-or-death problem to the adrenal organ.
So, it should now make a bit more sense when a youngster finds his or her heart pounding, palms sweating, mouth getting bone dry and hands trembling when asked to come to the front of the classroom to recite a poem or solve a math problem. Adrenaline is flooding the bloodstream just as if you woke up to a rattlesnake lying on your chest and looking you square in the eyes while sensing your rapid breaths with its darting, forked tongue.
It feels like life or death. Typically, we want to run like hell and never look back.
How to Manage Stress
Situations don’t have to be life threatening to feel as if they are. This is really important to recognize. This survival mechanism is deeply rooted in our genetic code and in our physiology, so don’t expect it to disappear any time soon. To help manage these moments, let me give you one quick but effective tool to get you started down the long but rewarding road of stress management and self-help.
Stress Relief Exercise
One of the best ways to cope with and take control of a stressful response to any situation is what is known as the “one breath meditation” technique. I am a great proponent of meditation in general. It is a wonderful practice, and I strongly suggest you explore it on your own. (Meditation is a vast subject that is far beyond the scope of this article.) That being said, a perfect place to start that journey is with one long, slow breath. In times of stress, try this exercise.
Stop what you’re doing and take one slow breath; in through your nose and out through your mouth. Count to four seconds on the inhale and four seconds on the exhale. Just slow everything down. Do that much and you will have completed a very brief but surprisingly effective meditation.
Repeat this exercise two or three times in a row and you will feel your pulse and breathing slow down, and find things coming back into focus. Trust me, this works, and it’s easy to teach to kids and help them manage stress. It’s a great tool for anyone to have in your bag of coping mechanisms when you’re in a pinch.
About the Author
John A. Chuback, M.D., is board certified in General Surgery and Cardiovascular Surgery. He received his M.D. from Rutgers University and has been in private practice in New Jersey for 18 years. He is also the author of The Straight A Handbook: The 50 Most Powerful Secrets For Ultimate Success In And Out Of The Classroom.