I have a 6th grader who recently started middle school and she is feeling WAY too much stress. When stress makes MY life and health fall to shit, I somehow seem to accept it without a fight. But when my eleven-year-old has worked herself into a daily panic and can't get to sleep at night it is SO NOT OKAY. NOT NOT NOT NOT OKAY.
Let me clarify - my daughter's stress is not related to schoolwork being overly challenging (it isn't) or a problematic social situation (she hangs out with a sweet group of kids). Her stress is mostly caused by having to learn the ropes at a new school and by having a busy after-school schedule. Her life was also complicated by having her mom (me) leave town the second week of school due to a death in the family. My little girl has been slowly unraveling and I haven't been able to stop it. Until now.
Earlier this week, my daughter and I spent some time analyzing and organizing her life. We discussed strategies for dealing with stressful situations. We discussed how her body was reacting to stress and how we could improve her situation.
This weekend we are catching up on sleep. Sleep (or lack of, I should say) lowers anyone's ability to cope, and my daughter has been no exception. She missed some bedtimes while I was out of town which started a cycle of sleep deprivation... which led to feelings of being perpetually overwhelmed... which led to small problems feeling like huge problems... and ultimately triggering anxiety.
That's my official analysis - or at least my justification for waking up and then going back to sleep for most of my Saturday and forcing my daughter to do the same. Eleven-year-olds are still quite cuddly, by the way... you just have to work around the big elbows and knees.
I also gathered information from fellow parents of like-minded kids. It helped. I loved watching my friend Peggy teach my daughter yoga breathing one night and explain to her how to relax her muscles bit by bit. I got a teacher involved. Helped a lot. This teacher offered kind words of support and encouragement. My daughter walked out to the car that day actually smiling.
Eventually, though, my search led, not surprisingly, to books. Don't all good, worthwhile searches lead to books? LOVE BOOKS.
The book my daughter immediately connected with was a little gem called DEALING WITH THE STUFF THAT MAKES LIFE TOUGH, The 10 Things That Stress Girls Out and How to Cope with Them by Jill Zimmerman Rutledge, M.S.W., LCSW.
Any book that recommends making brownies, lighting scented candles, and giving yourself a homemade facial is okay by me. Don't worry, there's more practical advice and good information in the book as well. "Ingenious Tip#1: The Shoe-Box Solution" on page 43 is highly recommended. But who can argue with brownies?
We settled for a little chamomile tea with honey and a scented candle on my daughter's dresser one evening, and it certainly helped the mood.
Things are improving. My daughter, I believe, has rounded the corner. Life is feeling much more balanced for everyone in the household. And I am left with a couple thoughts from this journey.
1. I did this originally for my daughter, but I have learned so much for myself. These tools can carry over to anyone. It just took my daughter's situation to make me realize what a major role stress plays in all our lives.
2. I am blown away by all people who care about preteen and teenaged kids. I was warmed to see friends and teachers eagerly step forward to help. One mom overheard me talking to another mom about my daughter's anxiety and immediately asked, "What can I do to help?"
And the books. The books are so thoughtfully written. There's a wealth of talented people out there concerned about the kids in our society. Amazing. Comforting.
Which reminds me, another book, 33 THINGS EVERY GIRL SHOULD KNOW, Stories, Songs, Poems, and Smart Talk by 33 Extraordinary Women edited by Tonya Bolden has been a good book to read aloud with my daughter.
Add a few scented candles, tea, and homemade brownies, and I think we've got ourselves a nice evening ahead of us...