Tag Archives: how stress is bad for mom and baby

Stressed Out Kids: Who’s to Blame?

For this 100th blog post, I’ve decided to write about a topic that is killing us.


I can’t think of a more important issue for the health of our children and our families than stress. Think your kid isn’t stressed? Think again. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 91 percent of children in the United States report feeling stressed—even though many of their parents reported those same kids were not anxious. It really shouldn’t be that surprising to us parents—as stress permeates every facet, age-group and demographic of our over-stretched, frenetic American lifestyle. Of course it has to affect our children too.

As I’ve reported for multiple magazines and news outlets, stress is a killer. Well, not stress exactly—but how we deal with it. When there are chronic excess levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our bloodstream, we put ourselves at risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and multiple autoimmune disorders. Pregnant women, especially, need to watch stress levels as cortisol crosses the blood-stream barrier and is linked to potential attention deficit disorder and memory impairment later in life—as well as being a precursor to pre-term birth. (See my FitPregnancy magazine article Beat the Four Biggest Pregnancy Stressors ).

We are just starting to uncover the truth about how stressed our children really are and what this means for their futures and their health. The APA’s latest Stress in America survey  shows that while a majority of parents didn’t think their children were feeling stress, 91 percent of children interviewed reported they were. And what do you think caused children, ages 8 – 17, the most anxiety? Watching their parents. This information from the survey really struck a cord:

“Nearly three-quarters (69 percent) of parents say that their stress has only a slight or no impact on their children, yet 91 percent of children report they know their parent is stressed because they observe a multitude of behaviors, such as yelling, arguing and complaining.”

Think about it, our young children watch us, worry, and later mimic us. In the meantime, their stress-filled bodies often become over-weight. Another article I’m writing this month for a health care magazine shows that Type-2 diabetes rates among children are rising at a staggering pace—even in fitness-oriented cities such as Los Angeles. The typical reasoning is our changing American lifestyle that hampers children from riding their bikes freely or walking to school. One diabetic physician in Los Angeles told me that children are staying home alone and playing video games more and more—then eating fast food for dinner. But that’s for another story…

Stress has other potential side-effects for our kids. For instance, one recent study linked extreme stress (such as children living with a chronically ill parent or sibling, or those who have experienced or witnessed violence crimes) with poor school performance, exacerbated health issues and a likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. And a University of Wisconsin-Madison study concluded that intense and lasting stress actually alters children’s brain functioning: reducing short-term memory and cognitive abilities.

Helping Our Children Starts at Home

Clearly, it’s critical that we help our children lower their stress levels. But how can we expect our kids to manage their stress well—if we, as parents, aren’t doing a good job ourselves? It’s a bit hypercritical and impractical as the bad reactions and habits we have actually triggers their anxiety!

We are our children’s teachers. They watch our every move. If we are snapping at them and rushing in all directions at a scattered pace to get to work, school and a myriad of activities—how can we expect them to roll with the punches? How can we expect them to be relaxed, if we aren’t? Yesterday I overheard a mom at the grocery store yell at her whining toddler: “STOP it or I’ll pop you in the mouth!”

Clearly, that didn’t work—or make her more relaxed. But who hasn’t felt that way? (Obviously, I’ve had my moments too! See this post.) Who hasn’t been triggered by over-load from work and life demands that suddenly leave you breathless and reacting instantly instead of calmly and patiently?

I know I can be guilty of this. If I don’t slow down or limit the number of obligations I have on my plate, I’m less mindful.

Think of what other habits you may be forming that aren’t the best for you or your kiddos. Do you often complain about work demands or money? Do you find yourself racing around, not listening, and then ordering pizza, putting a kids show on the tube and pouring yourself a glass of vino to veg out? Do you and the hubby argue in front of the kids?

They’re watching, or listening, even if you think they aren’t. I’m not trying to lay on the guilt…like we all need one more thing to feel bad about! But, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I expect my children to make healthier choices—I have to as well. It starts at home. It starts with me.

I recently wrote an article about kids and stress for Pulse, a Los Angeles-based healthcare magazine for Torrance Memorial Medical Center. (Soon to be published.) I reported about an elementary school principal in Palos Verdes, Calif. who hired a stress-reduction and mindfulness expert to come into her school last year to teach young children techniques to lower their stress levels. The health expert, who has a Master’s Degree in clinical holistic health education, showed the children relaxation techniques, including how to “find a safe place” through guided imagery and meditation.

This program was introduced before the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, and surprisingly, even in the wealthy enclave of Palos Verdes—many children reported feeling stressed and anxious on a weekly basis. Most anxiety was reported as stemming from wanting to fit in or pressure to excel (yes, even in elementary school!) and worrying about their parents. So you see, even if you think your children aren’t feeling the strain that other kids are, you’re likely wrong.

Wouldn’t it be great if more schools in America introduced yoga, meditation and other mindfulness workshops to their children? In a time with multiple school budget cuts, it’s not likely. And, to be more on topic, unless parents attend these workshops with their children—I wonder if stress levels would lower very much within the family dynamic?

I know in this family, it’s time for mom to make a concerted and consistent effort to lower anxiety levels for my boys.  And that starts, well, with me.

Severe Stress is Toxic During Pregnancy

A little stress is to be expected when pregnant. But severe stress is extremely dangerous for mom and baby. Not only are high levels of stress and anxiety bad for you—but cortisol, the hormone released and triggered during these times—crosses the blood:brain barrier and the placenta.

High levels of cortisol is now linked to preterm labor, and researchers from the Royal College of London have also discovered that too much of the stress hormone creates life-long harmful effects for your baby. (There are many studies to read, but they are quite difficult with medical lingo…This article by The Guardian is quite good, as is this by Science Daily, explaining how dangerous preterm birth can be. ) Research shows that cortisol in the womb puts the unborn baby at risk for behavioral problems, anxiety, aggression and learning disabilities down the line. And, as mentioned, too much cortisol can trigger preterm labor—which, if too early in pregnancy—can have dire consequences for your unborn child.

When reading studies linking stress with multiple health risks for infants, it seemed clear that women needed some practical information. Just knowing that stress can hurt your baby, can actually cause you even more stress, don’t you think? So with that in mind, I loved identifying the top stressors during pregnancy, with expert advice on how to deal with them. The Fit Pregnancy cover article: “Beat The 4 Biggest Pregnancy Stressors,” is on news stands this month and I can’t recommend a better issue for your Labor Day reading. (And I’m not just saying that because one of my articles is in the August/September issue! I promise I don’t get paid per magazine purchased!!)

It’s not surprising, in this economy, that money and work are the biggest stressors facing pregnant women. If you are expecting right now, or trying to conceive, I don’t have to tell you that the economic climate is poor. Finances are likely your biggest concern. I also don’t need to explain why you might be anxious about telling your boss you are pregnant. Even if it isn’t talked about much— pregnancy discrimination does exist. It may be subtle—such as being passed over for a promotion while you are pregnant. And…it may be NOT-so-subtle, such as a boss suggesting that you likely won’t be able to carry out all your duties after you return from maternity leave. During economic downturns, corporate climates often cool in terms of additional company benefits and perks. (I used to write about careers and work-life balance for The Industry Standard, Forbes Best of the Web and The New York Times as a freelancer.) I recall my heart beating rapidly as I interviewed a pregnant employee of a start-up who had been fired and had to sue for  discrimination. These cases are rare, but it’s clear that mommy discrimination does exist in some corporate cultures. (Here’s a link to a Moms @ Work column I wrote for Fit Pregnancy with interview advice and expert suggestions to avoid mommy discrimination. And “Pregnancy Discrimination Persists” by Maria Vega is great as it outlines your rights as a pregnant worker. )

As one might imagine, stress with money and employment must adversely affect your relationships. So, number 3 is relationship stress—and boy, I wish I had this expert advice when I was expecting both of my boys!

Finally, the fourth stressor is health. Anyone with a pre-existing medical condition, such as cancer, knows what it is like to live with stress. But some of us panic at every pain or flu-like symptom and the panic—itself— can cause cortisol levels to surge. This surge is what you want to avoid. I loved speaking with the exerts who outlined specific ways to lower your stress.

These expert tips are life-savers and I really wish I had them when pregnant with both of my boys. Stress in American culture is just something we have to combat. My time in Italy this summer, as well as my trips to France over the years, make me wonder if the lower rates of  ADD and ADHD among their children has something to do with their more-relaxed culture. This is obviously for another article, but there has be a link between the stress in our American fast-paced lives and unforgiving corporate cultures, and these behavioral conditions we find in so many of our children in America (one in 20). Lets try to reduce those rates. I hope this article helps you and lessens your stress and allows you to bring a bit more joy into your life as you build the life inside you. Write in and let me know if this article helped, or share additional tips to lessen anxiety for other moms-to-be! Finally, additional perks with this issue include a breast-feeding guide, surprising super foods for baby and exercise tips!