Written by Mary Ann Brunkowsky
I recently attended an online Parent/Caregiver Masterclass in Stress Management. I learned a lot and wanted to share some of the excellent strategies and resources to help us support our loved ones.
Stress is a normal response
Stress is a physiological response to an external threat, real or imagined. Stress is part of daily life and learning to manage stress is a key part of our development. The way we respond to stress is not fixed; our response can be influenced by learning strategies.
But stress can be traumatic or toxic if it occurs too often or if it occurs in high doses. Fear, stress, and anxiety are driven by the same physiological processes. What is most damaging to the human body is the occurrence of a prolonged stress response. Stress can overwhelm our ability to cope with our feelings and can cause physical and mental health problems. For example, research indicates that up to 90% of illnesses are related to stress.
It is important to remember that what creates stress is not so much the event that occurs but the way we react to the event.
Taking care of yourself is a key part of stress management. Here are some strategies that may help:
- Get enough sleep (over 5 hours);
- Prioritize tasks to avoid becoming overwhelmed;
- Set boundaries between work and non-work time;
- Take care of your physical wellbeing (i.e., exercise, drink water, etc.);
- Remind yourself every day of the things you are thankful for; and
- Create a strong support system.
Stress management for people with FASD
Stress management is also an important skill for children with FASD. A child’s ability to cope with stress has consequences on their physical and emotional health throughout their life. Stress management strategies begin at home with a caring adult. They evolve through patience, love, and connection.
Stress management helps children to:
- gain a sense of control
- learn how to relax
- develop a can-do attitude
- build capacity for self-regulation
- improve executive functioning
Healthy stress management strategies provide the foundation to support anxiety, self-regulation, and resilience. A resilient child feels and believes:
- “I can figure this out’
- “I can ask for help”
- “I can control my emotions”
- “I am going to be okay”
- “I can check my thoughts to see if they are negative or unrealistic”
- “I belong and have purpose”
Help your loved ones build stress management strategies
Never underestimate who you are in the life of a child or vulnerable adult. A consistent, caring adult can make all the difference in a child’s ability to cope with stress. To support coping strategies, ask your child questions like: What makes you feel worried? What do you feel in your body? How do you feel?
Listen to your child’s perspective in the moment. Help them to check in with their body, their feelings, and their minds.
- Body: stretch, breath, move, get physical exercise
- Feelings: check in with how you’re feeling in order to start recognizing stress
- Mind: take deep breaths to increase blood flow to the brain
Building connection is extremely important in building self-regulation skills, fostering resiliency, and overcoming feelings of anxiety. Take some time to listen to your child. Connect through relaxing activities, like board games, crafts, or hiking.
Take care of yourself
But remember, it is important to take care of yourself. If you are too tired to give much to your loved one with FASD, simply smile and say their name. This action alone can help build positive connections.
Stress management is important at all ages, from infancy through to adulthood. Listening to your loved one, setting examples for how you handle stress, and giving gentle verbal and visual guidance can help your child develop stress management skills that will last throughout their lifetime.
This class was not specific for parents and caregivers of those with FASD, so some of the information provided may not apply to you or your family. Read our most recent blog for more information about stress and FASD.