Tag Archives: mindfulness based stress reduction

Stressed Out Kids: Who’s to Blame?

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

Literally.

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.

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Avoiding Narcissists: Top NV Post

I launched Navigating Vita a little more than a year ago and, like with any anniversary, I’ve been looking back on this time in my life. In my effort to learn what resonates with my readers, I’ve also taken note of which posts are read more than others. If the most popular blog posts are any indicator—finding love and having a good laugh top your list. (And they top mine, too!) So it is with little surprise that one of my first written posts: How NOT to Date a Narcissist remains the all-time favorite: the most searched, read and commented on NV blog post.

Bloggers, by nature, delve into the world of self reflection. And we all can be a bit self absorbed at times, right? But someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)  has a condition that Webster defines as “having an inability to show empathy.” The Mayo Clinic site defines those with NPD as believing “that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings.” Their sense of entitlement can manifest into a myriad of behaviors that can be abusive both emotionally and/or physically.

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a destructive narcissist and are back out in the dating world—than I don’t need to tell you that your *top* priority is to avoid falling for another one at all costs. The charming and chameleon qualities of narcissists easily fool people for months—sometimes longer. Wouldn’t it be easier to to end the relationship before you get sucked in and spit out? With that in mind, I sought help from an expert who could point out telltale signs many narcissists exhibit, even in the beginning phase of dating. Debra Cucci, MFT has become somewhat of an expert on this topic as she consults families and runs a workshop in Los Angeles to help women make better choices when dating. Her advice is eye-opening! Finally, there is a concrete list of characteristics that many charming narcissists share—warning signs to take note of during the first few dates. As we all know, Narcissists aren’t gender specific! This article will help anyone avoid falling for this destructive personality who could likely wreck havoc in your life and those of your children.

And after that heavy subject, I’m happy to report that my 2nd most popular post is light as air: 25 Reasons to LOVE Being a Single Mom. I LOVE this silly tongue-in-cheek article that is a compilation of input from *many* single moms out there. Sometimes life is just too hard. The weight of all that is dragging you down can just be exhausting and talking about it doesn’t always make things feel better, does it? In my effort to find how to fill my glass half-full, I started this list and reached out to more than 25 other single moms to see what they’re thankful for. Making this list not only filled my glass half-way—it over-flowed! Laughter truly is the best medicine. Here’s a post guaranteed to cheer you up, put a new spin on your situation—or at least give you a much-needed laugh!

Chiming in at # 3: is Relationship Guru Dr. Pat Allen Sets Me Straight! Also another early blog post. I reached out to Pat Allen, Ph.D., world-renown relationship therapist; best selling author (Getting to I Do) and the resident sex expert on TV’s  Millionaire Matchmaker. Since I was gingerly venturing out into the dating world, after a heartbreak, I thought, who better to help me (and other separated and divorced women) but the top expert herself! She provides simple advice to find Mister Right—and if you’re anything like me, you may just be surprised by how many wrong steps were taken in your search!

For those interested in NV’s top 10 stories, I’ve enclosed a quick run down below. What surprised me the most, when looking at this list, is that the majority of top posts include interviews with experts. I’m gratified that my network as a journalist has helped me reach out and garner interviews with those amazingly talented experts who can really help us in our efforts to find Mr. Right; show our kids love and compassion;  become better parents; examine infidelity; breathe through our anger; show compassion to others who are struggling; and find laughter in the every day. Thanks for reading and being on this journey with me.

Navigating Vita’s Top Ten Posts of All Time:

1. How NOT To Date a Narcissist

2. 25 Reasons to LOVE Being a Single Mom

3. Relationship Guru Dr. Pat Allen Sets Me Straight!

4. Connect With Your Children While They Sleep

5. Top 5 Mistakes Divorcing Parents Make

6. Is Cheating The Only “Rational Choice” for Married Men?

7.Newt Gingrich in Tuscany!

8. The Power of NOT Holding It All (together)

9. An Italian Mom’s Fight To Save Her Daughter

10. Domestic Violence During Divorce: Not a Rarity

Loving Counts

My prophetic little four-year-old said to me tonight: “Loving counts mommy.”

We had been hanging pictures up. I turned and looked at him. I actually blinked as I took in the simple notion, then replied: “Yes, it certainly does.”

What an incredible little man.

Sometimes it’s as simple as that. What counts in your life? Think about it.

What do you love most?

Your family? Your God? Your Work?

Does it show?

For me, love is essential. It is essential in every aspect of my life. My boys are everything to me. But I wonder if they always feel that from me. Saying that I love them is one thing. Showing them is quite another.

For a child, I wonder what defines love? It certainly has to be about more than saying ‘I Love You’ or buying cool toys. Kids always seem to cut right to the chase. They know who they can depend upon. They know who is kind. They respond to those who play with them, acknowledge them, listen to them, encourage them, take care of them, accept them.

I know that my two boys are the most appreciative when I’m present with them. They know when it’s time to turn off the computer or cell phone and just be with them.

Being present, however, is much harder than it sounds. The other day I had an insane tax deadline. I was up until 2 a.m. working, slept for three hours, and was back at it. At 7 a.m., as I was finishing my expense spreadsheet, my little guy comes into my room and starts to climb into bed. He ruffles my sheets and starts to crumple some papers and receipts. I yelled upstairs to my older son to take him up and put on Sesame Street. As he padded out of my room, I instantly felt remorse. If I had finished this project earlier, I wouldn’t have sent him away and just enjoyed some cuddle time.

Clearly, ‘loving’ requires a bit of organization and balance so that work doesn’t intrude on important quality time at home.

‘Being present’, according to mindfulness experts, also requires that you let go of anxieties and fears that distract you and pull you out of the moment. If you have deadlines looming, projects that need to be carried out, are going through a divorce or are facing health or personal challenges—it’s incredibly hard to clear worries from your mind and just listen to or play with your children, isn’t it? (For a great article about mindfulness, check out What Really Helps Make Mindfulness Work by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.)

I’m still finding my way and started meditating on a regular basis just this past year. I’ve done yoga for years and find that it helps me clear my mind. The physical exertion and mental focus on intentions and goals allows me to let go of issues and anxieties that may whirl in my mind. I find that afterwards my mental slate is clear and I’m much more focused and calm that evening with the boys. I’m still a work in progress, clearly.

While I’m still honing mindfulness techniques, I have learned that it’s incredibly hard NOT to live in the moment when spending time with a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease. I flew to North Carolina last week to visit my mother who is struggling in what seems to be the final phase of the disease. She didn’t know who I was. She can barely talk or walk. I think she just thought of me as a friendly face. I had to force myself to always smile, relax, and think about what she needed or what would reassure her when visiting. I knew after each visit that she wouldn’t remember I had been there the next day. But I reminded myself that in the moments that I held her hand, or showed her pictures, or just talked with her about various things, that it mattered. It counted. Those moments were hard for me, but they brought her a bit of happiness—even if fleeting. And she deserves that.

On the last day I spent with her—on the day that I likely said my goodbye—my mom was ‘playing’ bingo with other residents. The woman who ran the game would call out the letter and number combinations. My mother, who doesn’t recognize her numbers or letters anymore, would put a marker on any letter/number combination. She apparently still recognized that four in a row allowed her to win—so she just kept putting four in a row. B-6 might be called, but she’d put her acorn on C-12, right beside another marker. I knew not to correct her.

“Wow, mom, you won again!” I’d say with a laugh.

She’d just smile. One time she looked at me inquisitively and said slowly, “I. Like. You.”

That was a big accomplishment as she typically speaks with just one word.

I replied “Well, I Love you.”

She looked at me like I was a bit crazy, giving me a one-over glance.

Later in the day, I went through her sweaters and found one that still fit. As I was putting it on her, she quickly smiled. It was as if she had been shaken and her eyes got wide with acknowledgment. She leaned into me and said, “Love.” I put my forehead to hers and a moment later she said “You.”

As I settled into my seat on my first plane during my trek back to California, I thought that it may be a long time before I got the chance to see mom again. It’s hard to fly back with the two boys due to expense. I know if I was closer I could do more, visit more. It was such a gift to hear her say those words. And in that moment, I know she meant it. In that flash of recognition, she knew who I was. It might have only lasted a second for her—but for me, it counted.

Even when brief and fleeting, loving counts most of all.