Specialist advice on reducing the symptoms of stress and anxiety for children

Returning to the classroom is an exciting time. But for many children, it can cause stress and anxiety, about being separated from their families after months of togetherness. 

The beginning of a new school year typically generates a combination of excitement and nervousness, but returning this year amid the coronavirus pandemic will be unlike any other.

If you have a young child who is in primary or secondary school and they’re experiencing anxiety about going back to school, specialists at Delamere have shared five coping strategies to guide you and your children when dealing with everyday stress.

  1. Relaxing with mindful meditation 

For many children, relaxation means putting their feet up and enjoying some television at the end of a stressful day. But according to research, despite feeling calm in the moment, this doesn’t relax or rejuvenate you, it worsens your feeling of stress and leads to feelings of laziness. Techniques used to relax the mind and body are the best coping strategy for stress, such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing and visualization. 

When dealing with stress, your child needs to activate their body’s natural relaxation response, which helps to slow their heart rate, lower blood pressure and balance their mind and body. 

Meditation has many health benefits and is a highly effective way to relieve stress, soften anxiety and improve mental wellbeing. Taking time to relax the mind with meditation gives your child the space to separate energy, attention and emotions. Distinguishing the difference between valid emotions and those which are not, is a big part of mindful meditation, recognising this will help their experience with stress and anxiety. 

  1. Distract negative thoughts with physical activity 

Physical activity can help reduce stress levels and can have a massive influence on physical and mental wellbeing. Exercising regularly, even if that’s just 10 minutes a day can help children suffering from stress and anxiety cope with their symptoms.

When exercising, breathing deeper triggers the body’s relaxation response. But there are certain exercises that can be more helpful than others when it comes to relieving stress. 

Just like any other cardiovascular activity, walking outside for 20-30 minutes several times per week can improve sleep, increase energy and increase stress-busting endorphins. According to research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, when walking in green spaces our brain is taken to a calmer state with little to no signs of anxiety. 

Other forms of physical activity that can help cope with stress are gardening, cycling, running, football and netball. 

  1. Expressive writing to express hidden feelings

Writing can help to boost positive emotions and reduce stress and anxiety, according to research from the British Journal of Health Psychology. Spending a total of 20 minutes per day writing about positive experiences can improve physical and psychological health. 

The aim is to find the positive in traumatic experiences, to reduce PPSD symptoms, tension and built-up anger. Start by asking your child to think of an experience that makes them feel unhappy or uncomfortable and begin writing about the positives they can take from the experience. 

  1. Social support for stress relief 

Reaching out to family and friends for help and support is crucial in coping with stress. Socialization increases a hormone within our bodies that can decrease levels of anxiety and make us feel more confident in our ability to deal with stress. 

Limited social support has been linked to increased levels of depression, loneliness and has been proven to alter brain function, increase depression and anxiety. Social interactions with family and friends play a crucial role in how children function on a daily basis, encourage your child to spend time each day talking and interacting to relieve stress. 

  1. Improving nutrition can help to improve your wellbeing

Another approach reportedly effective in helping individuals cope with the symptoms of stress is adopting a healthy lifestyle, through nutrition and diet. Certain foods are proven to help combat stress levels and improve emotional response. 

It’s tempting to create a a heavily stacked burger or grease-covered fries for tea, but instead opt for green leafy vegetables which produce dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical that keeps you calm. 

Other alternatives include oatmeal filled with carbohydrates, yoghurt which helps to reduce brain activity, salmon containing anti-inflammatory properties to counteract stress, blueberries that boost a natural cell to help immunity and dark chocolate which improve circulation. 

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