Living in Today’s Stressful World

3-Part Blog Series on Stress

Part 1: Stress and Child Care Workers and Programs

We are all living through a very stressful time in our country, and the world at large. There are a variety of mental health, situational, and economic issues that are leading to increased levels of stress on child care workers and programs, the children in childcare, and the families of these children.

Mental health issues have always played a part in our overall health. But in today’s world of uncertainty, isolation, and division, mental health has become a key component in how we view and overcome obstacles.

The article, Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes from defines ‘stress’ as our body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat that is viewed as dangerous or complicated, either real or imagined. We often respond to these demands with a ‘fight or flight’ action, depending on personal values and attributes.

Stress is the body’s way of protecting itself. This can be very positive when it keeps us energetic, focused, and alert. ‘Good’ stress is what provides that additional adrenalin during emergencies situations. ‘Good’ stress also provides the energy and focus to accomplish tasks during the course of regular day.

But, when stress reaches a certain point it stops being helpful and can be detrimental to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life. If you often feel frazzled or that your life is out of control, it is time to implement strategies to bring everything back into balance. ‘Bad’ stress can wreak havoc on all parts of your life.

As an early childhood educator and care provider, bad stress can really impact how successful your interactions are with the children and families. Chronic stress can exacerbate these health problems, which in turn impacts your ability to positively work with children:

Signs of Stress Overload
Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying

Emotional symptoms:

  • Depression or general unhappiness
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Moodiness, irritability, or anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Other mental or emotional health problems

Physical symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heart rate
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds or flu

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)  

10 Strategies to Fight Stress for Child Care Providers

1. Increase your activity level – find time to take a walk, start an exercise program, engage in gardening or other outdoor activities.

2. Connect with others – find other early childhood educators and care givers to share ideas, stresses, and successes.

3. Get enough rest!! Child care takes a lot of energy and physical strength. Make sure to find times during the day to ‘put your feet up’, and work towards 8 hours of sleep each night.

4. Eat a balanced diet – having good nutrition provides the necessary fuel for the body to work at it’s best. Eating a balanced diet also helps to keep a healthy body weight, which impacts energy levels.

5. Become more organized – being organized and having a plan makes the day flow more smoothly, which is a great alleviator of stress for both providers and children. The up-front time to organize is well worth it when it relieves daily stress.

6. Spend a few minutes relaxing – even just a few minutes of a relaxing activity can clear the mind and refresh the body. Listening to calming music, doing yoga stretches, deep breathing, sitting outside listening to nature, or enjoying a bubble bath are some suggestions that work very well.

7. Identify 3 positives every day – negativity can be a leading contributor to stress, and always looking at the negative is a downward spiral. Thinking and identifying positive thoughts and accomplishments creates a positive spiral, which increases positive hormones in the brain and can relieve stress. Use a journal to jot down these incredibly good things!

8. Get rid of identified stressors – if possible, remove the things that cause excess stress. Easy to say, sometimes hard to do but once done, the relief can be immense. Have a really problematic child or family? Set goals to address the stress issues and confront the family. If non-compliant, then let them go.

9. Evaluate your program space – sometimes just the physical arrangement of the environment contributes to loads of stress. Spend some time observing how the children interact with the room environment, and make any necessary changes for a less stressful situation.

10. Do something nice for someone else – taking the focus off of ourselves, and our problems for a short time can be a positive break. Just seeing the happiness and joy our giving to another can bring can also change our own negative thoughts.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Stress and Our Child Care Children; and Part 3: Stress and Our Child Care Families