By Kaitlyn Trotter
When I was in high school, an administrator came into the classroom and asked to speak with me outside. I panicked, wondering what I had done to deserve this kind of unwanted attention. I walked outside, bracing myself for what was to come. The administrator smiled and guided me to the parking lot where she took me to my car, my car that was still running. Apparently, having been in a rush that morning and under a great amount of stress in the past few months, I had failed to turn off my car. The staff member laughed while I hastily took the keys out of the ignition, immensely embarrassed and wondering how I could have overlooked such a basic component of operating a vehicle.
A recent study conducted by researchers at Yale University suggests that prolonged stress can actually shrink the brain. Certainly, after the error with my car, I felt that my brain had decreased in size. More than shrinking the brain though, it is well-documented that stress can wreak havoc on the body. Various studies show that stress can lead to everything from headaches and fatigue to anxiety, anger, depression, drug abuse, and social withdrawal.
At Hillsides, the majority of our residents display symptoms of stress. Many of the children we treat have been under immense pressure since inception. Thus, the role that stress plays in our children’s mental and physical health cannot be overstated.
However, all is not hopeless. Research says that diet and exercise have a huge effect on brain health. Thus, by exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet many of the adverse effects of stress can be reduced and even reversed. This is precisely the reason the staff at Hillsides strives to emphasize these components with children and youth through numerous daily recreational activities and an emphasis on healthy eating. And why it is so important for all of us to reduce stress as much as possible.
At Hillsides, we’ve adopted a new way of handling clients that focuses not only on the mental health of our clients, but on taking care of ourselves. The better the staff cares for themselves, the more we’ll be able to give to our clients. With this in mind, here are a few other simple stress busters that are beneficial to everyone:
Pause and Breathe. Take a moment to stop whatever you are doing and take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing is a proven stress reliever that can instantaneously center you. To get the full benefit, make sure to allow your abdomen to expand fully when taking a breath.
Clear the clutter. Researchers at UCLA have discovered that just looking at clutter can release stress hormones. By taking a few minutes to clear out your inbox or file papers on your desk or workspace, you will be better able to face the challenges of the day.
Unplug. Periodically take a break from all electronics, including your phone, for half a day or a day. People who report heavy use of mobile phones and computers run a greater risk of stress and sleep disturbances, according to one Swedish study. Other research has found that detaching electronically from work at the end of the day is restorative and necessary for good mental and physical health.
If possible, try to incorporate a few stress-reducing activities into your day. Otherwise, the next time a car is idling, keys in the ignition but no one in the car, that driver might be you!
Kaitlyn Trotter currently works as a group rehab specialist, conducting recreational activities with our clients, developing clubs, and helping clients focus their energy on healthy physical outlets.