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Managing Stress

Stress is a normal human reaction that can come from physical, mental, or emotional sources. Indeed, positive forms of stress can help motivate a person to meet a goal. Negative forms of stress occur when stress goes on for a long time, eventually taking a toll on a person's health and well-being.

When you or your child experience stress, the body can respond in many ways. For example, the heart may feel like it is beating faster or muscles may tense.

This section on Managing Stress covers:

What Are the Typical Signs of Stress?

People experience stress in a variety of ways.

Here are some examples:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stomach ache
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced activity
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Withdrawal and not wanting to socialize

What Are Ways to Handle Stress?

Not only do both the body and mind react to stress, they react to each other. You can manage stress through physical or mental activities or a combination of both. No one way is the best, so try some activities and see what works best for you and your child.

Here are a few strategies to consider:

  • Physical activity: Exercise will help to release tension and keep you fit.
  • Deep breathing: Inhale through your nose and push your stomach out as you take in air. Hold your breath for a few seconds and then let your breath out through your mouth. Imagine that you are blowing out tension. Breathe in and out this way until you feel more relaxed.
  • Muscle relaxation: Start with the top of your body and work each major muscle group down your body. Tighten, hold, and then release each group of muscles as you work toward your toes.
  • Relaxation activities: Activities such as meditation, massage, or listening to music can help you relax and reduce stress.
  • Yoga: The guided breathing, strengthening, and stretching through yoga poses can help strengthen muscles, and help you relax and reduce stress.
  • Animals: Being with a pet can help you relax. Merely stroking a cat or taking a dog for a walk can be a great stress reducer.

Other Stress Management Strategies You Can Try

  • Express your emotions. Let your friends and family share in your thoughts and emotions.
  • Try to keep the rest of your life as normal as possible. This is particularly true during a crisis.
  • Keep yourself involved with friends and groups. Enjoy an active social life.
  • Look after yourself. Eat a healthy diet, get the sleep you need, stay physically active, and relax.
  • Be proactive. Talk about what is causing you stress; express your needs clearly to family, friends, and your health care team.
  • Laugh. Laughter can help keep stress in perspective.

Helping Your Child Overcome Stress

Children experience many changes throughout childhood, such as a new school or a new neighborhood. As children grow, their bodies change, too. Puberty can be a particularly stressful time for many children. They may need help managing these and other stressors.

The signs of stress in children are very similar to those in adults. A child may complain about stomach aches or may not want to go to school.

Here are some examples of things you can do to help your child:

  • Build resiliency: Throughout life, young children experience greater resiliency if they have become attached to at least one significant adult. Being able to trust at least one significant adult provides the confidence necessary to make it through stressful events. A secure attachment is particularly critical when a child is ill. Children will seek out the person who makes them feel safe and secure. Stress occurs when that person is not available either physically or emotionally. To help your child overcome stressful times, demonstrate that you can make him or her feel safe and secure.
  • Listen to your child: Ask your child to tell you what's wrong. Listen attentively with caring, patience, and openness so that you can fully understand what is causing your child stress. Allow your child to express his or her feelings and concerns so that you can address them and make your child feel more secure. Provide an environment of open communication so that your child can talk about what is bothering him or her.
  • Encourage fun activities: Encourage your child to participate in enjoyable activities, especially during times of increased stress. Activities such as games, sports, music, and art can help your child take his or her mind off what is stressful.
  • Provide a consistent schedule: Children generally do best when they can predict a routine schedule. Consistency in daily events such as meals, homework, and bedtime can help a child feel more secure and better able to overcome stress.
  • Build self-esteem: Help your child build self-esteem by giving him or her opportunities to make decisions and have responsibilities from an early age. Help your child build interests and skills in areas that he or she can succeed. A strong sense of self-esteem will help your child overcome stressful times.

When to Get Help

You or your child may experience signs and symptoms that signal it is time to seek professional help. If you or your child continues to feel chronic tension, confusion, emptiness, loss of control, or exhaustion and are experiencing physical symptoms, it's time to speak to a health care professional.

Other symptoms that signal the need for professional help include:

  • Experiencing bad dreams and poor sleep
  • Experiencing severe mood swings
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Not having anyone to share emotions with
  • Feeling numb, empty, and unable to get up and face a new day

If you or your child feel overly stressed, there are a number of people to reach out to for additional help. First, be sure to talk to family members about how you or your child is feeling. You can also speak with your health care team at the Hemophilia Treatment Center (HTC). The team can advise you more specifically on how to effectively manage specific stressors.

Know that assistance is always available.

Be sure to take action if you or your child needs professional help to overcome stress. If you are feeling overly stressed, contact your health care team.

For more information, contact HANDI, the National Hemophilia Foundation's Information Resource Center.