MRCC Stress Discussion: Why Kids, Adults, And Senior Citizens Experience Stress Differently
Sick and tired all the time? Stress may be the reason. A panel of experts offer advice.
Stress can be a killer. You’re tired, you don’t feel well, you can’t sleep. You must be getting sick, right? Not necessarily. According to the World Health Organization, stress is the number one problem in America and it affects people differently depending on your age.
The Mahwah Regional Chamber of Commerce held a breakfast reception this week at the Doubletree Hotel, with keynote speakers discussing Stress-Affecting All Ages. The panel discussed how stress presents itself differently in people depending on their stage of life.
The experts on the panel, moderated by John DePalma of UHY Employee Benefits Consulting Services, consisted of Danielle Heller from West Bergen Mental Healthcare, who discussed stress in children, tweens and teens, Henry Fersko-Weiss of Valley Home Care who presented causes and effects of stress in adults and offered tips on relieving those stresses, and Registered Nurse Sophia Heftler of Distinctive Care Distinguished Aging, explained stress in older adults may be caused by many kinds of fears.
Kids And Stress
But how can kids be stressed? They’re kids. They have no responsibility. Danielle Heller says that’s not the case.
“Children and teens experience high levels of stress. They are always trying to keep up in school, they are trying to develop and sustain friendships and be able to live up to the expectations their parents have of them. We must remember children are watching us all the time and observe how we handle stress.”
Heller explained, “Kids worry about the same things parents worry about. They worry about their grades and household finances and their futures."
A study done by the American Psychological Association in 2009 reported that “one third of the one thousand two hundred six children in the survey, reported feeling more stress than they felt a year ago. Half are worried about school, 30% are worried about family finances and 29% worry about what comes after high school.”
Another great stress factor according to Heller is the lack of down time. An even more alarming fact to Heller was, according to the survey, parents are not noticing their children under stress. The report showed that stress was literally making children sick and parents were unaware of the cause.
The APA report showed stress in children can manifest itself in many ways such as "headaches, lack of sleep, overeating and under eating."
Heller points out that “very often children’s stress is often reflected in their behavior. These behaviors can range from lashing out, to dropping grades to experimenting with drugs and alcohol.”
Heller suggests “parents shouldn’t act so quickly to respond with punishment because that will only increase the stress in the child. Children need their parents to take the time to sit with them and ask ‘what’s interfering with you being able to perform as you used to?’ Pay attention to those big changes and negative behaviors. Find a time to talk to your child about their feelings of stress. When those moments arise it’s so, so important for the parent to take that moment and really listen. Don’t talk. Listen and you will be able to hear a tremendous amount of what is stressing them in their lives.”
Other tips for decreasing your child’s stress include limiting the amount of after school activities. Don’t overbook your child. Lack of sleep adds to stress. Set appropriate bed times even for teens. Set a routine.
Adults and Stress
Stress factors in adults are found in every aspect of our lives. Henry Fersko-Weiss says, “We don’t even realize the stress we are under. The last two and a half years have been very stressful economically and politically.”
He quoted a 2007 American Psychological Association survey that found, “77 percent of people surveyed had physical problems related to their stress.”
He explained the physical ailments can present themselves as “fatigue, headache, upset stomach, change in sex drive change in appetite and grinding teeth.”
Fersko-Weiss agrees that stress can manifest itself into physical symptoms. He explains that when we experience stress, a hormone in our body is released called cortisol.
“Cortisol is what we call the stress hormone and has multiple impacts across the body, such as suppressing the immune system causing us to get sick.” He noted, according to the 2007 survey, "75 percent of illness or sickness in this country is related to stress."
Causes of stress can be anything from work issues, finance, family responsibility to health concerns, health of parents and housing costs.
Fersko-Weiss posed the question, “How do you take care of yourself to prevent stress?” His answer, “Try to get a good night’s sleep, exercise, eat properly, try to take care of yourself. Explore yourself and find out where your stress comes from.”
Another tip he suggests for dealing with the stress in your life is to “look inward and recognize your stress factors. Take breaks from the demanding things in your life and use relaxation techniques, such as meditation.”
Older Adults and Stress
Not all older adults have the presence of mind to take that time to relax and meditate due to a wide variety of fears.
According to Distinctive Care registered nurse Sophia Heftler, “one of the things that people don’t realize in the older adult population due to the normal physiological changes related to aging, is that folks who are older have less ability to deal with stress and use coping mechanisms. “
Heftler explains that loss is a great stress factor in older adults and the increase in stress is due to loss at a much higher level than other age groups.
“They fear the loss of control over their own lives and environments. They are dealing with the loss of physical strength and coordination. There’s a loss of purpose and productivity as people are retiring. The fear of the loss of independence is huge. They are dealing with issues of memory loss, health problems, and financial concerns. Relocation and downsizing causes stress.”
Heftler adds “another cause of stress in older adults is concern, not only for their grandchildren, but their children in these difficult economic times.”
Heftler points out that aggression may be a way older adults with dementia could express themselves. She also notes that "older men have different signs of depression, sometimes in the form of aggression and meanness."
One suggestion from Heftler for alleviating stress levels in older adults, besides the recommend healthy eating and exercise, is pet therapy. “We see major changes in people who participate in pet therapy. Having an animal to care for, gives them a sense of purpose in life and decreases stress levels a great deal.”
The panel of experts all agreed the best ways to alleviate stress in all ages are to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep and take time to relax.