Experts say times of 
transition can increase stress

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Local school officials offer tips for keeping stress at bay

With summer ending and a new school year beginning, signaling another life transition for parents, children, teachers and the community, stress can creep up unannounced and rear its ugly head.

Even with happy events, such as a child starting kindergarten and or advancing to the next grade, starting a new job or a wedding, stress can take a toll with all the associated activities and fretting that go along with them. Stress can also negatively affect a person's immune system, health, sleep, attitude, mental state, productivity and relationships.

If school children are taught to use strategies like tools by school counselors to manage stressful situations, adults can do the same, by packing adult-sized strategies to take with them each day in their personal stress management tool kit.

Exeter Elementary School Counselor Sarah Buntin teaches children strategies to help them deal with stressful situations at school on a daily basis.

"They're basically the same strategies but with adults you just get a little more creative," she said.

She suggested packing the following tools in your tool kit.

"Start getting everyone up a couple weeks before school starts to slowly transition to that routine," she said. "Have a set bed time, so when the first week starts it's not a huge shock. Parents put a lot of stress on themselves that they have to have all this stuff and as long as the kids have the basic supplies, it's OK. If they can't get it this week, it can be done next week. It all gets done.

"Take advantage of back-to-school fairs that do offer supplies because it is expensive. Read and pray. Take one moment at a time. Don't get overworked, because first couple days are very hectic, so just say a little prayer, take a deep breath and be flexible.

Buntin said people should focus on the things they can be thankful for and not worry about the things they cannot fix.

"Laugh," she said. "I teach kids to find something to laugh about because it turns on those happy chemicals in your brain and you're good. Breathe, calm down, enjoy the moment and also be flexible, because that schedule that you set in stone never stays there.

"If kids haven't read all summer, it's a good time to make sure they refresh. And make sure to take them to the open house night so they can meet the teacher and that helps relieve stress for them so they know what they're doing and where they're going.

Valerie Yarmouth, LCSW, a Mercy Therapist in Cassville, who has a background in working with families, offered other tips to stash in the tool kit:

* As school begins and life gets busy, take time to be grateful and list gratitudes. This will keep you grounded and remind you there is more to life than stress.

* No person can remember everything. Creating a list and following through will reduce a great deal of stress and can help you get more accomplished. They are worth the time to create. Giving a list to your family to keep them informed of your busy schedule and needs can also help relieve stress.

* If the busy season allows time to unwind, check out the Honest Guys on youtube.com and find some soothing meditations.

Although it can benefit anyone, but was created by and for teenagers especially, Yarmouth suggests the app, Safe & Sound, for stress management to address anxiety and depression. The app, which was developed for smart phones by teens in Kennewick, Wash., won $20,000 for their school and launched in June 2015.

It includes stress management tips, breathing exercises, positive music, inspirational quotes, abuse resources, grief resources, reporting a school threat and exercise and hobby ideas. Their app was featured on National Public Radio's Morning Edition in March of this year.

Jill LeCompte, assistant superintendent for Cassville schools, added a few tools of her own.

"At the beginning of the year, you've really got to step it up to be there for your kids," she said. "For this transition, I think the more organized parents are the more they can help their kids. Just helping kids get all their supplies, getting them to a meet the teacher event so they know where to go their first day, laying out their clothes the night before and having breakfast ready -- all that can all help because the less stress kids have, the less parents will have.

"If money is tight and parents can't get supplies right away, or need to wait until the next paychecks, our teachers are very flexible on that. Another thing is just giving your kids realistic expectations. We talk to them about how great school is going to be and then they get here and it's like, wow this is work. So I think giving your kids a dose of realism, like saying, 'You're going to read, talk to some friends, have recess with other kids, learn a lot, it's going to be busy and you're probably going to be tired sometimes,' and so on, not sugar-coating it."

LeCompte said another stress-buster is knowing limits, and as a parent of three children, LeCompte speaks from experience.

"The rest of us [parents] have been through it before," she said. "Trying to have your kid in five or six activities is unrealistic and creates more stress. You've got to pace yourself. Looking back, I might have said, let's take out an activity. But I also had help. I have family that lives in town. If you don't have that kind of system, you need to know your limits."

Lastly, having a good support system can help reduce stress.

"Even if you don't have family nearby, having good friends or neighbors can help," LeCompte said. "It doesn't have to be your parents. A good support system is just crucial."

To reduce stress for teachers, LeCompte said staying informed can help.

"Communicating with their building principals so they are informed and know what's going on may help relieve some stress," she said. "Teachers are very busy and need to know what's going on. The same is true for parents if they've got questions."

The Mayo Clinic has four simple strategies to pack in your tool kit each day. Try on one of the '4 A's of Stress Relief': avoid, alter, accept or adapt.

Avoid

You can't completely escape stress, but can avoid a lot of it by planning ahead and rearranging your surroundings.

* Take control of your surroundings. Is traffic stressful? Leave early for work or take the longer, less traveled route.

* Avoid people who bother you.

* Learn to say no and establish healthy boundaries.

* Ditch part of your list. Label to-do lists with A's, B's and C's, according to importance. On hectic days, scratch the C's from your list.

Alter

One of the most helpful things a person can do during times of stress is to take inventory, then attempt to change the situation for the better.

* Respectfully ask others to change their behavior, and be willing to do the same.

* Communicate feelings and do not stuff them.

* Manage time well.

* State limits in advance.

Accept

Sometimes we have no choice but to accept things the way they are. For those times, people can:

* Talk with someone.

* Forgive. It takes energy to be angry.

* Use positive self-talk, affirmations and visualize the desired outcome

* No one is perfect, so be patient.

* Hang post-it notes with affirmations, quotes or scripture on the fridge or bathroom mirror

Adapt

Feeling overwhelmed is one of the greatest stressors. That's why adapting can also be a helpful stress-busing tool.

* Adjust your standards. Do you really need to vacuum and dust twice a week? Striving for perfectioncan lead to guilt, frustration and stress.

* Practice thought-stopping. Stop gloomy thoughts immediately.

* Reframe the issue. Try looking at a situation from a different perspective.

* Adopt a mantra like, "I can handle this," or "things always work out for me," and mentally recite it in tough situations.

* Meditate on the things that bring joy -- vacation, children, hobbies, pets.

* Look at the big picture and ask, "Will this really matter in a year or in five years?"

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