Unexpected changes,such as job loss or financial uncertainty,can turn life upside down. Dealing with the stress and adjusting to a "new normal" can be slow and painful, but is possible, says Andrea Bjornestad, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist.
"Stress affects our health and relationships. Even if we don't talk about it, those around us – our family, friends and co-workers – still pick up on our body language," said Bjornestad.
Avian influenza has increased the stress that many South Dakota families are facing. SDSU Extension is cooperating with ISU Extension and Outreach and University of Minnesota Extension to provide resources for families struggling with the human challenges brought on by avian influenza. Extension staff from the three land-grant universities are providing families with research-based information and resources. To learn more, follow #AvianFluImpact on social media and visit iGrow.
Manage Change, Reduce Stress
Bjornestad offers these tips for managing change and reducing stress:
- Identify one thing you can do to address part of the issue. For example, if you already have or are expecting to have less income, what expenses can you reduce now?
- Talk about the change with your family, because it impacts everyone. Together you may be able to identify ways to reduce expenses.
- Exercise can help you manage the stress you feel as well as help your long-term health. Create an exercise plan with activities that you enjoy and set small goals. Exercise with a family member or friend.
- Do something you enjoy each day. It could be as simple as taking 10 minutes a day to read, find a quiet space to close your eyes and rest, or listen to music.
- Eat and drink healthy. What you put in your body affects how you feel physically and mentally.
- Be around people you enjoy and care about.
- Let your values drive decisions you make.
Remember the Children
"Children experience and process stress differently than adults. Children's cognitive and emotional skills are still developing, and they have limited experiences to draw upon," Bjornestad said. Chronic stress in children affects their development, how they feel about themselves and the world around them, their health and how they interact with others.
"When parents are stressed, children may become stressed. When adults are patient, calm and understanding with children, stress that children may experience can be minimized," Bjornestad said.
Even minor changes in a child's environment can cause stress, because children are continuously trying to find order and patterns as they go through the day.
"It is important for children to have consistent adults in their life who they can trust and rely on, and to have daily routines such as meal times and bed times," Bjornestad said.
Regular, healthy food choices and opportunities for fun, physical activity help children manage big and little stressors in their lives.
"Activities that promote big movements in children such as dancing, hiking, bike riding, playing soccer, shooting hoops, swinging or climbing on playground equipment are simple, low-cost activities that help children reduce and manage stress," Bjornestad said. "When low levels of physical activity are needed, such as before bedtime, reading a book, drawing or listening to music can help a child relax."
Finally, quality time with your child is important. Even if finances are tight, you can be creative with the time that you spend together. Examples might include going on an adventure outdoors, reading books, playing board games, sharing meals, going on a walk, etc. Meaningful time together may help to decrease the stress experienced by both you and your child.