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Understanding Stress – Professionals

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Version for professionals

Did you know that…:

  1. Stress is necessary in life and has allowed our species to survive!
  2. Stressors are always present in everyone’s lives.
  3. Stress is a body’s normal reaction to stressors in the environment or to how we interpret them.
  4. Stress is useful. Good stress management increases concentration and memory.
  5. Only chronic stress can have negative health effects.
  6. It is clear that the younger children are, the more vulnerable they are to adults’ badly managed stress because they don’t have the ability to control the situations nor the strategies to reduce the novelty and unpredictability.

Stress is simply a hormonal reaction. It is the trigger factor and the way of managing this stress that can be positive or negative.

Stress is contagious. If adults properly manage their own stress, they reduce the possible impacts on their children, no matter their ages.

Understanding STRESS better

Absolute Stress

Absolute stress is that which occurs as a reaction to an exceptional trigger related to a question of survival. Examples? A car accident, an assault, encountering a wild animal, or a fire alarm.

Relative Stress

Relative stress comes from our interpretation of a situation. It differs from one person to another. For examples, a schedule change, an oral, a test, a substitute teacher, a change of group, a death, or parents’ separation.

For a situation to be stressful, it must be associated with one or more characteristic factors. These are:

NOVELTYSomething new happens that you have never experienced before.
UNPREDICTABILITYSomething completely unexpected happens or there is no way of knowing in advance what is going to happen.
THREAT TO THE EGOYour skills and self-esteem are put to the test. You doubt yourself or your abilities.
SENSE OF CONTROLYou feel that you have little or no control of the situation.
To help you remember: N.U.T.S.

Symptoms and signs

Depending on the individual and their age, the symptoms can vary and they manifest themselves in different ways.

  • Sudden change in behaviour.
  • Stomach aches, headaches, nausea, change in appetite.
  • Feeling of sadness (crying, withdrawal).
  • Hot flashes, blushing
  • Irritability, impatience, difficulty managing emotions.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Reduced concentration, attention or memorization.
  • Crises (crying, impulsivity, etc.).
  • Avoiding stressful situations and refusing to participate.

Why is stress management important?

  • When we are not equipped to manage stress, chronic stress can set in.
  • The accumulation of several stressors can increase the level of stress and the complexity of managing it.
  • Many studies have shown that, when parents act to reduce the novelty and unpredictability experienced by their children, they can increase their children’s feeling of control and, by extension, reduce their stress.

I’m taking action!

  1. Encourage physical activities.
  2. Teach better management of time and priorities.
  3. Set up quiet areas and zen corners.
  4. Set up places with a variety of activities.
  5. Set up places where it is possible to move around, and that encourage free play and spontaneity.
  6. Announce changes and routines (for the youngest or most vulnerable clients).
  7. Reduce visual stimulation (by, for example, removing posters and focusing on one theme at a time
    or each week).

YOU SHOULD know that…

When stress hormones reach the brains of children and teenagers, they affect regions that are still developing.

Studies note that adults (US!) are among the most important actors in managing children’s stress. An adult can do things to reduce novelty and unpredictability (for example, by visiting new places). An adult can also increase a child’s sense of control by, for example,
offering choices.

In case of anxiety, the interpretation of danger, its likelihood and its consequences are often exaggerated and impair a person’s functioning. When anxiety becomes a source of distress or suffering, don’t hesitate to direct the person
to appropriate services.

Tips and tricks:

  1. Laugh or sing.
  2. Teach deep breathing.
  3. Take the group’s “temperature.”
  4. Recognize and talk about the emotions experienced.

What is MY ROLE?

Absolute stress is that which occurs as a reaction to an exceptional trigger related to a question of survival. Examples? A car accident, an assault, encountering a wild animal, or a fire alarm.

As an adult, I do what is necessary to reduce the excesses of novelty and instability for children and youth. I can increase their feelings of control and, as a result, decrease their stress.

As a significant adult, you act mainly on the relative stress of your clients. There are some tips and tricks that you can put in place to:

  1. Reduce the symptoms of stress.
  2. Suggest effective stress management strategies.
  3. Avoid the accumulation of stressors.

Take the time to ask myself the right questions:

  • What are some of the ways I help young people cope with change?
  • How can I tell a more vulnerable youth that there will be
  • a change at the next meeting or in the programming of an activity?
  • Do the young people know the organization’s rules?
  • How can I avoid something unforeseen happening during my meeting with a youth?
  • What are some of the ways I communicate the schedule of activities, routine, etc.?
  • In what ways can I foster a sense of competence in young people facing a test, challenge, etc.? <br> How do I get young people to take on personal challenges so that they feel proud?
  • How do I intervene to support a young person with low self-esteem? <br> How do I explain to young people the importance of effort even though they will face difficulties?
  • What are the ways that I share power between the young person and myself?
  • Do I allow the young person to make choices?
  • Can the young person I am supporting make
  • their own choices to resolve problems or conflicts?

N.B.: All the information in this sheet comes from the research of Sonia Lupien, Ph.D., and was taken from the website of the Center for Studies on Human Stress.


Taken from Crevale, La Trousse Saine gestion du stress (The Healthy Stress Management Kit). Adapted by the CISSS des Laurentides Public Health Department.

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