Understanding Stress, Depression and Anxiety

Understanding Stress, Depression and Anxiety

This has been written for us by Dr Tina Rae, an HCPC registered Educational and Child Psychologist, Author and Educational Consultant. 

Defining stress is quite a difficult and complex process, given that it means different things to different people, in a similar vein as happiness, failure or success. Even though stress is a normal part of everyday life, too much stress makes young people become anxious, tired, exhausted and unable to function appropriately, both inside and outside school.  

Anxiety is a normal response to a perceived threat. It includes physical, emotional and mental responses, such as an increase in adrenalin, feelings of worry and confusion, and thoughts about danger and catastrophic outcomes. Normal levels of anxiety can assist people to be more focused and motivated, and to solve problems more efficiently. However, chronic or high levels of anxiety can reduce a person's capacity to respond appropriately or effectively to stressful situations, or even normal routine activities.

Depression is when a child or young person’s mood is very low, with no obvious cause. Between the ages of eight and puberty, around 2 - 4% of them are diagnosed with depression.  After puberty it is around 4 - 8%, and it is more common in girls than boys.

What we can do?

Support them to challenge underlying beliefs and thoughts

Negative and irrational beliefs and thoughts such as; 'If I don't look perfect, no one will like me', or 'I can't cope with difficult or scary situations', are significant factors in generating anxiety. Model and communicate effective ways to question and challenge their anxiety provoking thoughts and their beliefs.

Support them to accept uncertainty

Uncertainty is one thing that people worry about a lot, due to the potential for negative outcomes.  As it is impossible to completely eliminate uncertainty, you can assist children and young people to be more accepting of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Be a role model

If you can manage your own anxiety, children and young people will see that it can be managed and could incorporate your strategies into their own lives.

Be patient

Sometimes the behaviours of anxious children and young people may seem unreasonable to others. It is important to remember that if they cry or avoid situations, they are, in fact, responding instinctively to a perceived threat.  Changing avoidant behaviours takes time and persistence.

Balance reassurance with new ideas

When a child or young person comes to you with something they are worried about, listen and try to understand what is happening.

Show children and young people some simple relaxation techniques

Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation can be helpful ways of learning how to better manage physical symptoms of anxiety.

Encourage plenty of physical exercise and appropriate sleep

When people are well-rested and relaxed, they are in a better mental state to handle fears or worries.

Moderate the consumption of caffeine and high sugar products

Caffeine products including cola and energy drinks increase levels of anxiety, as they cause energy levels to spike and then crash.

Make time for things that the child enjoys and finds relaxing

These could be simple things like playing or listening to music, reading books or going for walks.

Help them to face the things or situations they fear

Learning to face their fears and reduce avoidance of feared objects and situations, is one of the most challenging parts of overcoming anxiety.  Facing fears usually works best if it is undertaken gradually, one step at a time.

Encourage help-seeking when needed

Make sure that children and young people are aware that there are people who can help them, if they find that they can't handle a problem on their own.

Ask for a referral from their GP

You may have to do this if you suspect a child or young person is suffering from an anxiety disorder.

For information on this subject by Dr Tina Rae and similar resources, click here.
For Nurture Group's website, click here.