Back to school stress?
Back to school brings with it excitement, new opportunities, challenges, and . . . . stress.
Here are some ideas on how to minimize the anxiety that naturally comes with the beginning of a new school year.
- Understand that most stress and anxiety occur when there is “fear of the unknown”
Many times, when people don’t know what to expect, they tend to fear what is coming. That turns on stress. This is especially significant in kids, who don’t have a lot of life experience to pull from to boost their confidence in new situations.
2. Let your kids express their feelings
You don’t necessarily need to agree with what they are feeling. You may even think they are being a bit dramatic, but they don’t need to know that.
What they need to know is that you have their back. So just listen. If they feel understood, they will feel better.
3. Give them some downtime
Families today tend to be over-scheduled and that can create over-stimulated, tired, stressed-out kids. Give your kids constructive tools to reduce their stress.
Tools for Success
Our 11-year-old son loves the Power Nap. Even though he doesn’t understand the physiology of anxiety, he knows when he is stressed and afraid. The Power Nap interrupts that physiology, relaxes him, and helps him feel back in balance where he is better able to handle what’s going on in his life.
He just feels better.
We want your kids to feel better and have a great start to the school year, so here is a gift for you — a free Power Nap guided relaxation audio download.
Try it with your kids, and you will feel better too!
Dr. Olpin in the Media
Learn more about coping with back to school stress by watching Dr. Olpin’s interview on Good Things Utah,
Click on the picture for the link.
- Relaxed breathing involves deep, slow breaths
- I walk you through a simple guided breathing exercise
- Restful breathing can help you fall asleep quicker and decrease the stress response in a short amount of time
Have you ever asked yourself, “How’s my breathing?”
It seems like an odd question, but breathing is the foundational component of most relaxation exercises.
Take a minute to sit in a chair with your back straight.
Now put one hand on your chest, and the other one on your stomach.
Which hand moves in and out when you breathe?
Ideally, you would want the hand on your stomach to be the one moving the most when you breathe.
Fight or flight, or stressful breathing, tends to be quicker and shallower and involves muscles in the chest and shoulders that aren’t primarily designed for breathing. Normal, relaxed breathing uses the diaphragm almost exclusively and the air you breathe travels to the deepest parts of your lungs.
When we focus on deep, slow breathing, the result is that we interrupt the stress response and return to a more natural, healthier state of being.
If you watch a very young baby sleeping, you will notice that she breathes so that her stomach moves in and out. The chest doesn’t move at all. Animals breathe this natural way when they are at rest as well. On the other hand, people with chronic stress tend to breathe either exclusively with their chest or with their stomach and chest simultaneously.
Try This Simple Exercise
Begin by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. Don’t try to change anything yet, just tune into your rhythmic breathing pattern. Keep your attention on your breath. If you notice yourself thinking of other things, gently bring our thoughts back to your breathing. You may want to place your hands on your stomach.
After a few minutes of attentive breathing, begin to change your breathing pattern by allowing your breath to go down as deep as possible into the lowest reaches of your lungs. When you do this your stomach will naturally move outward.
Don’t concern yourself with how quickly or slowly you inhale and exhale. Just focus on the depth of your inhalations and the ease of your exhalations. Notice your hands, if they are resting on your stomach, moving out as you inhale and moving back in as you exhale.
To help you maintain your focus on this deep, slow breathing, use this counting method: Start counting backward from twenty (or whatever number you choose). When you inhale, say the number “twenty.” When you exhale, say the word “relax.” Inhale again and say the number “nineteen.” On the next exhalation, say, “relax.” Continue down this way until you reach zero.
If you notice your mind start to wander (it very likely will), gently bring your thoughts back to the relaxing rhythm of your breathing and your counting. Your breathing will naturally become slower and deeper as you do this.
You may increase the effect by holding the breath between the inhalation and exhalation. When you inhale, say the word “twenty.” Hold the breath for three or four seconds. Then begin to exhale slowly. Once all of the air is expelled, pause briefly before your next inhalation.
Benefits of Restful Breathing
People who have trouble falling asleep find this technique very useful in helping them nod off more quickly and remain asleep through the night. Others find that with regular practice, their overall breathing rates go down as their bodies return to their natural relaxed states.
Many of my students have found decreases in their own breathing rate from up to thirty breaths per minute down to five or six per minute as they practice this type of breathing during the semester.
To interrupt the stress response, where your body is tense and tight, and move to a more relaxed and healthier state. This is the purpose of my online course – RELEASE. It is full of breathing exercises, guided relaxations and other techniques to help reduce your stress.
Many people prefer a relaxation download because it has music that drowns out distractions and helps your brain move from the beta brainwave activity to the alpha and other lower levels of brainwaves where optimal relaxation and restorative rest can occur in a short period of time.
It also has directions to help you focus on your breathing which keeps your mind in the here and now, rather than wandering off thinking about future events.
Again, check it out here in my online course RELEASE.
Recently, I received an email from a participant of a recent workshop. Her question to me is first, followed by my answer:
Hi Dr. Olpin,
I really enjoyed the presentation you gave a few weeks ago. I had a couple of questions that I was not comfortable asking in a group setting and I thought I would see if you could answer them for me.
For the past 20 years or so I have suffered from acute panic attacks.Some are triggered by stress and situations, but sometimes they can wake me out of a sound sleep for no apparent reason. Sometimes they will make me physically ill and leave me exhausted for days.
Over the last year or so they have gotten worse and more frequent. I have also have more constant generalized anxiety. It has really affected my life and limited the things I am able to do. My question is, do you think panic disorder can be controlled the same way as you were telling us in your presentation on stress or is it an entirely different problem?
I feel like I can use the guidelines you gave us to talk myself down sometimes when I am feeling anxious before things get out of hand. But if I start right into an acute panic attack it is like falling dominoes….no way to stop it. My husband feels like I should have some control over it . . That I should be able to tell myself I am safe, I am not in danger right now and be able to stop it. What is your opinion on this? I feel like panic disorder is an entirely different spectrum compared to everyday stress and that chemical and genetic factors and past traumatic experiences play a huge role. I feel like I have very little control in stopping the severe attacks. Any information or advice would be greatly appreciated.
And here’s my response to her
It sounds like you’re really struggling with the effects of high stress. It must make you feel so out of control when this happens to you, seemingly unprovoked.
Your question is a good one and a very important one. Depending on how it is answered will determine what you should do to try to fix it. And how you try to fix it can either be a pleasant path or a not-so-pleasant one.
I’ll give you the not-so-pleasant answer (the one I wouldn’t give you, but the doctors might). They will tell you that your “problem” might possibly have something to do with your stress, but they will try to “fix” the problem (disregarding the deeper cause), usually through the use of drugs designed to play with brain chemistry and chemicals. Unfortunately, these drugs will do a pretty good job of “masking” the problem so you don’t experience it quite so often or quite so intensely.
That might seem like a good option, given how little you like the panic attacks or high stress. The difficulty that always comes with drugs are the side effects. You’re going to have them. You don’t always know what they’ll be–could be weight gain, changes in appetite, hormonal changes, depression, sleeping problems, unclear thinking or a host of other unwanted problems. They will tell you these side effects are normal and to be expected, but your initial “problem” will be reduced. Then, what often happens is you’ll end up taking more drugs for the side effects of the original drugs (with additional side effects). It frequently turns into a never winning battle. In my mind, you’ve not solved anything. And it’s very possible by going that route, you’re worse off.
Here’s my answer: Your panic attacks, and your feelings of generalized anxiety, are “symptoms” of a stress response that is all-too-frequently activated without the need for it to be activated (you aren’t in danger). But, as we explored in the meeting, it doesn’t really matter if a threat is real or imagined, your body treats both in the same way–the stress response gets turned on. And a chronically activated stress response results in imbalances throughout the entire body. When these imbalances continue, you get “symptoms” of stress. Your symptoms happen to be panic attacks and anxiety (there may be other symptoms as well). Others get headaches, gut aches, muscle pain, etc.
In our meeting, I kind of focused almost only on the prevention of stress–thinking about things differently, recognizing the absence of danger, etc. But in your case, you also need ways to turn OFF the stress response. And it sounds to me like you need to consider this aspect of stress management as being as important to you as eating well, getting enough sleep, or being physically active. You need tools (not drugs) that will make it so you automatically and quickly turn off the stress, mentally, physically, and emotionally. As I mentioned in the meeting, we need to approach stress from both locations: prevention and reduction. In your case, we need to emphasize the reduction part more.
What we need to do is establish a new “normal”. Here’s a little bit from one of my workbooks:
Create a New Normal
The body is always in one of two states: fight-or-flight or rest-and-repair. It isn’t in both states simultaneously. This fight-or-flight state is one of tremendous physiological imbalance throughout the entire body. Every system, every tissue, every cell in the body, during fight-or-flight, is functioning to help the body survive physical danger by operating at unordinary levels of readiness and activation.
In the short run, this imbalance helps us to be fast and powerful, but in the long run, this imbalance leads to any number of negative outcomes. The fight-or-flight response is NOT the state we should be in except very rare occasions. Why not? Because we are so infrequently in real physical danger. But as I’ve mentioned previously, your body doesn’t know the difference between a real threat and a made-up one. It treats them both the same; by activating the fight-or-flight response.
Now, imagine that you’re riding your bike and you encounter an unseen rock. Suddenly, you’re flying through the air and you crash-land on some loose gravel. In addition to the immediate pain, you notice that your hands and arms, your shoulders, and maybe even your face have been injured. You’re bleeding heavily in several places. No bones are broken, but you’re in pretty bad shape.
You immediately go home and clean up your wounds. You successfully stop the bleeding. You apply ice or some “healing” salves, but you recognize that you’re left with cuts and scrapes all over your body.
Now consider that your “symptoms” of stress are like the wounds you sustain when you crash on your bike. The headaches, the muscle pain, and the emotional problems are damage you’ve done because of this ongoing imbalanced state of fight-or-flight. Essentially, you are continually crashing and burning, or trying to repair from the stress.
When dealing with an activated stress response, you may try to “stop the bleeding” by taking medications in all their varieties, but the symptoms don’t seem to go away. Medications may temporarily numb the pain, but the problems persist.
Keeping in mind the metaphor of crashing on your bike, what can you do to heal the problems created by the ongoing stress response?
The correct answer is NOTHING. You consciously can’t do anything to make the wounds go away because you don’t have the know-how to repair the damage. Even if you’d like to think that you can, you really can’t. It simply isn’t within your power. Wound healing is not within the domain of the conscious mind.
Fortunately, your body does know how to heal itself. It knows how to recruit the right cells, chemicals, and healing energies to those spots that are broken and fix them in precise and perfect ways. Your body already has an internal pharmacy that contains all of the healing drugs, knowledge and processes to take the wound from horrible to completely healed. You don’t have to do anything but wait and watch.
This is how healing should always happen, whenever we’re broken. So why doesn’t it?
I mentioned earlier that the body is in one of two modes: fight-or-flight or rest-and-repair.
In fight-or-flight mode, the body is too busy working to survive the dangerous environments. It can’t simultaneously mend all the messes. The inner-pharmacy doors remain closed in fight-or-flight mode. That’s why the problems don’t go away.
In contrast to the fight-or-flight response, we have what’s known as the rest-and-repair state. In this state the body is doing what it needs to do to repair what’s gone wrong. We aren’t busy expending extra energy surviving, so our body goes to work healing, repairing, and regenerating. Essentially, our body turns on all of its healing energies to fix whatever problems have arisen. The inner pharmacy doors are open wide and the body knows how to use the healing chemicals, in the right dosages, with the right timing, without any side-effects.
In this rest and repair state, your “symptoms” of stress go away, not because you are trying to make them go away, but because the real cause of the symptoms—the imbalance brought on by chronic fight-or-flight—goes back into balance. Once balance is restored, the body knows how to remedy the problems.
This rest-and-repair mode needs to become our “new normal” as a way of being if we want to feel better and see our symptoms go away. Feeling relaxed, peaceful, calm, and symptom-free should be how we operate every day.
But in order to get there, we have to consciously take ourselves OUT of the stress response. We have to consciously turn it off! Fortunately, that is within our power. It is what this workbook is all about!
I’d be more than happy to help you with this, if you’d like. No pressure at all. I’m working with several people right now who are having some of the same difficulties you are. And if you’d like, I can do with you what I’m doing with them.
I have a lot of resources, but I usually begin with my workbooks or my online course RELEASE, which I spent the last 3 years building and writing. They read very easily, but they give you the best I know for stress prevention and stress reduction. Once you’re done with it all, I am pretty confident that you’ll feel a whole lot better. At least that’s been my own experience personally and the experience of thousands of people with whom I’ve worked.
So let me know where you would like to start. I usually recommend people start here.
I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with this answer to your question. If I were in your shoes, I’d be looking everywhere I could to find some relief (without resorting to drugs). So I thought I would share with you what I would tell me if I came to me with this concern.
I look forward to hearing from you.
The longer it has been since someone has washed their hands, the less effective a hand sanitizer will be
The best way to remove germs from your hands
If you choose to use hand sanitzer, use one with at least 60% alcohol
Hand sanitizers were originally designed to help those in hospitals and health care settings who work in relatively clean places and frequently wash their hands.
Sanitizers do not work well on dirty hands.
In fact, the longer it has been since someone has washed their hands, the less effective a hand sanitizer is likely to be.
Sanitizer vs Washing Hands
Although they are generally very effective at killing bacteria, and preventing the spread of bacterial and viral- based diseases like the flu, they do not remove dirt or feces from the hands. So using a sanitizer instead of washing your hands after going to the bathroom, well that’s just gross.
This is especially important to consider in places like day cares and schools, where dirt and remnants of feces can be common among the little inhabitants that play there. Day care workers should teach youngsters to correctly wash their hands, especially after using the bathroom, as this is a skill that needs to become a lifelong habit. Then sanitizers can also be used during the day as a helpful aid in keeping other germs from spreading.
The same principle rings true in the kitchen as alcohol, used in most sanitizers does not work as well against the norovirus also called E.coli. So washing hands correctly before preparing and eating food is another must.
Most respectable health professionals will tell you that hand washing with ordinary soap and water is the most effective way to remove germs from your hands. But in order to be effective, it must be done correctly.
Lathering up, not just spreading the soap around, for a full 20 seconds is best. That is about how long it takes most people to sing the ABC song, (although singing that in a public restroom might cause you to speed it up a bit). Be sure to get between the fingers and as far as you can under the nails. Make it a family law to wash hands first thing whenever anyone comes home from anywhere.
Ironically, antibacterial soaps are probably the worst thing you can use to kill germs. Again, the range of effectiveness of these products varies greatly and many do not kill all of the bacteria on the hands. This may lead to bad bacteria building up and developing a resistance.
So do not rely on the soap to kill all the germs, instead concentrate on getting them to release from your skin and flow down the drain. After all, we don’t have to kill everything to prevent ourselves from becoming sick. We just need to keep the little critters off of our hands and out of our bodies.
Now that everyone is washing their hands again, it can be helpful to use a sanitizer in places where germs spread easily like offices, stores, cars and buses, etc. Hand sanitizers have shown to be effective in reducing gastrointestinal illness in homes, curbing absentee rates in elementary schools, and in reducing illness in university dormitories.
What Kind of Hand Sanitizer to Use
The CDC and the FDA recommend that alcohol based sanitizers are at least 60 to 95 percent ethanol (also called ethyl alcohol) or isopropanol to be the greatest at germicidal efficacy, (killing germs). Alcohol is so good at killing germs that it is not very likely they will build up a resistance to it. If you can’t tolerate alcohol, there are some non-alcohol sanitizers out there, but you will have to do some research to check their effectiveness.
Some products with less than 60% alcohol may claim to kill 99.9% of germs, but those studies are usually done on surfaces like countertops in a lab, not on real people’s hands. Studies reported by the FDA have found that some of these products are not as effective in real-life situations those containing at least 60% alcohol. Unfortunately, these are likely to be found in cheaper markets, making lower income individuals at higher risk getting less effective sanitizers.
With all of this in mind, you still need completely cover the hands with the sanitizer and rub for at least 15 seconds for the alcohol to do its job completely, killing both good and bad bacteria. But don’t worry, most of the time, there is enough good bacteria on the lower levels of the skin or upper arm that survive, re-colonize, spread, and continue helping the human species in the ways that we need them to.
For more information, you can check out the CDC’s website at www.CDC.gov or the following links.