by Glen Depke, Traditional Naturopath
Last week I started a discussion on the “danger” of back to school with my main focus on college students and nutrition. This week I want to focus on a back to school issue for all ages.
That issue is stress!
I am nearing 51 years old and I have to say that I do not recall much if any stress when I was in grammar school and really not much stress until I reached the college prep years of high school as a junior and senior. School is very different now as I am sure that most of you already notice and our children are taking this on the chin with high chronic levels of stress. In last week’s article I mentioned college students staying up to the wee hours of the morning to cram for testing and to finish home work, but this is not only a college issue, this starts very early.
Now a days I hear of children in grammar school going home with hours of home work to complete, while many also committed to sports team practice and games with the end result of these preteens having to stay up until 11:00PM or Midnight almost nightly just to meet their basic daily sports and scholastic needs. All this along with the intense pressure to succeed. It seems that it is no longer enough to do you best, it seems that this shift is that you have to be the best. Between the pressure from teachers based on standardized testing and pressure from coaches and often parents to be the best in school and sports, the stress is daunting to our children and honestly, most children do not have the tools to deal with this level of stress. Heck, most adults would not be able to deal with the stress put on our children these days, and this is just in grammar school.
It get’s even worse in high school. I see countless teens in my practice the are living (or at least trying to live) with blown out adrenal function, multiple food sensitivity issues, deeper gut/brain connective issues and immune dysregulation. These challenges used to be reserved for those in their late 30’s or into their 40’s but now it is our children, yes teenage children, that are pushed into these chronic stress triggers health issues.
High school, as I have seen with current teenage clients, is what college used to be years ago. Long hours of school work, novels to read, often with our teens not getting to bed until 1:00 or 2:00AM. And this is just to get their basic needs accomplished. If you have a teen shooting above that, this is even more stress and more missed sleep along with deeper health issues.
Now I am not getting into this for the political aspect of our scholastic system. I do feel that there is far too much pressure on children based on standardized testing and the drive to be the best that often comes from either parents, teaches or both but that is going to take a cultural shift. Today I want to focus on what you can do to help your children to deal with the stress of back to school, regardless of this be an issue in grammar school, high school or college.
Number one is tied into priorities. Often the hours of school work coincides with a commitment to sport and also a group or club from school. If your child, regardless of age, is up until late night hours or early AM hours to take care of their homework and studies, I would recommend looking at what could be cut back. If there is a two hour daily commitment to sports and 90 minutes to a club or group, it would make sense to eliminate at least one of these. There have seen many children and young adults simply over committed and this is the biggest issue. While your child may not initially be happy about having to give something up, they will most likely either thank you later or thank you will improved health and less stress.
Another area that can improve is with sleep schedules. Often when the school work does not get done, your child will stay up too late into the evening or into early morning hours. This sleep pattern will disrupt normal Circadian rhythms, sleep patterns and even adrenal gland repair. Understand that the adrenal glands are the primary response to stress, so these need to be in the highest function possible. The optimal time of rest and repair of the adrenal glands is actually from 10:00PM to Midnight, so for you children that are not getting to sleep until past these hours with consistency, they are missing this prime time and unfortunately will be paying the price. If there is still 90 minutes of school work to be done, it is better to gut up early to accomplish this, rather than staying up late. 10:00PM to 5:30AM is a much better sleep schedule than Midnight to 7:30AM. Your child will most likely notice that comprehension and speed at which they can get their work done will also improve with this change in schedule.
Supporting adrenals and brain function will also be helpful. An easy support for adrenal function is vitamin B5, which is in the Prime Adrenal Support. Remember that the adrenal glands will be the primary response to stress for your children. At the core of hormone production in the adrenals is vitamin B5 and taking one capsule of the Prime Adrenal Support will provide this necessary nutrient that will not only support adrenal function but also liver function and the production of neurotransmitters for increase brain function. I also mentioned last week that the use of omega 3 fatty acids would be very supportive for brain health along with CoQ10 for improved energy. The DHA and EPA are essential for optimal brain function with the DHA component seen as an actual brain food. The CoQ10 is the co-enzyme necessary to drive the mitochondria which is the little engine that drives every cell in your body. Another benefit for you teens or young adults in high school or college is the use of Chi Happiness. The combination of Chinese herbs can assist your body’s connection between neurotransmitters. This can go a long way in reducing the affects of the high stress of back to school.
Another major shift is in teaching your children healthy ways of dealing with stress. Let’s be honest, most of us have not been taught how to deal with stress well ourselves, so how can we expect ourselves to teach our children something we are not even prepared for personally. One of the easiest tools we can teach our children, regardless of age, is deep belly breathing practices. Recognize that stress is a sympathetic nervous system response and when we take a good deep belly breath, this is a parasympathetic nervous system response. With this said, we cannot take deep belly breath and be under mental/emotional stress at the same time, they do not survive together.
To use deep belly breathing start by taking 3-5 of these breaths once per hour during our waking day to create a relaxing habit but also teach your children to use this during stressful situations. Take take a deep belly breath, breathe in through the nose for approximately a count of 7 while extending the stomach, hold that breath for approximately a count of 4 and forcefully blow this breath out through your mouth while contracting the stomach muscles.
Another great tool is simply changing perception. Most of what we do in life is a choice but we perceive this as a “have to” rather than a “choice.” Creating this shift is often very freeing for most. As example, somebody may feel as if they have to be the best at something, yet the reality is that they simply chose to be the best. Just changing the word tied into this shifts the perception and most often creates a freeing sensation to the mind. This leads to the end result of less stress and feeling in control rather than out of control. In the end, more peace and tranquility.
Don’t forget movement. Another key area that is often forgotten when your children have their nose in their books is the need for movement. Going out for a simply 10 minute walk with and exaggerated arm swing is very stimulating to the autonomic nervous system and this little break may be all that is needed to shift the nervous system and brain function into high gear while optimizing learning and comprehensive. I often do this if I am writing or researching for long periods of time, with the end result of greater comprehension and actually less time needed to accomplish the task at hand.
So in the end, use these simple yet effective tips and tools for your children, regardless of age and level of education they are attending. Anything that can be done to relieve some of their stress will have a major impact on their life’s right now and their future health.
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