Employee & Community Health

Stress: Your ultimate frenemy

4/22/2019 by Nikki Rose, LICSW, MSW and Cait Earle, LICSW, MSW

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Stress is our body's response to things going on around us, including good and bad changes. This reaction can be both physical and emotional. What stresses us is very individualized; what triggers stress in you may not bother someone else. Everyone experiences stress as we learn to navigate life. As we go along, we learn what we can add to our plate, when we have too much to manage and how to set boundaries with ourselves and others. Balance is an important part of stress management. 

Good vs. bad stress

Stress is a natural part of life, and not all stress is bad. Stress can motivate us to achieve our goals, help us stay focused and give us the energy to get stuff done. For example, if we didn't feel stress, we wouldn't worry about being late to work or school or finishing a school project on time. 

Positive stress includes changes in our life that fill us with excitement, such as the first day of school, learning a new hobby, going on vacation, having a child and moving. 

Bad stress, also known as "distress', is what weighs on us, brings our mood down, drains our energy and seeps into many areas of our life. This stress may feel burdensome, ongoing and relentless. Examples of negative stress include abrupt or unforeseen life changes such as losing a job, failing a class, breaking up/divorcing or the death of a loved one. 

Stress comes from what happens around us or to us, as well as our thoughts and feelings. Brain research has revealed that negative thoughts will trigger stress, and our brains are drawn to negativity. That's why fears/phobias, overthinking, perfectionism and unrealistic or irrational expectations can stress us out. 

Signs of stress

Physical signs of stress range from headaches or stomachaches to chest pain or fatigue or difficulty sleeping. Sleep issues can include trouble falling and staying asleep, oversleeping, waking up and being unable to fall back to sleep. 

Stress in children may show itself in different ways than adults. Sleep issues may relate to anxiety, while being irritable may be a sign of depression or stress. 

Emotionally, stress exhibits itself as: 

  • Irritability
  • Lack of enjoyment or motivation
  • Crying easily and more often than usual or when angry
  • Trouble concentrating and focusing
  • Worrying or feeling anxious

Kids and stress

Kids experience stress, too. But t may be harder for them to handle it because they don't have the life lessons and skills learned by adults. Educating kids on how to manage stress is vital for developing positive mental health. 

Helping your child cope with stress can be difficult, and it's tempting to take on their challenges and help them feel better faster. However, learning to manage stress in a healthy way is an important lesson, and one they'll need throughout their lives. 

A few tips to help your kids manage stress include: 

  • Modeling healthy ways to manage stress; they learn from watching you. 
  • Voicing your feelings about work, family, etc. ("I felt frustrated today when my boss sprung a new assignment on me") and demonstrating a healthy way to manage it. ("I think I'll go for a run to get it out of my system.")
  • Asking your kids for specifics about their day to avoid the "How was your day?" "Fine." cycle. Use open-ended prompts like, "Tell me about something difficult that happened today."
  • Being careful about accidentally invalidating your child's distress. It can be tempting to respond to your child's concern by problem-solving or pointing out why it's "not so bad." Instead, listen empathically and allow them to have negative emotions. 

Raising kids can be the most rewarding and challenging thing we do. Being a parent is a second job on top of our daily routines and commitments and can be overwhelming. As a parent or caregiver, you need to take care of yourself, to be the "best you" for your loved ones, so don't forget about your own stress management. 

  • Make time for yourself. Take a break by exercising, going for a walk, reading, socializing with friends or practicing mindfulness. 
  • Use your support system. 
  • Reach out for professional help. You don't have to do this alone!

Now that you know more about your frenemy, watch for a follow-up story on tips for coping with stress. 

Nicole (Nikki) Rose is a clinical pediatric social worker in Employee and Community Health (ECH) at the Baldwin Building and Mayo Family Clinic Northwest. She has been in ECH's Division of Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) for the past two years. She previously worked in Pediatric Endocrinology and the Mayo Addictions Program. 

Caitlin (Cait) Earle is a clinical pediatric social worker. Before joining ECH, she worked in Mayo Clinic's Pediatric Transitions for four years and now sees IBH patients in the Baldwin Building.