How are you doing? Really, how are YOU doing? In asking other people how they are doing, I have generally heard the answer, “good,” and then a pause, followed by a “well….” and we jump into a list of things that including “excesses” and “deficits,” otherwise known as “mores” and “less thans.” More tantrums, crying, frustration, screen time, online burnout…more overall stress. And then the deficits. Lower motivation, less time and space to exercise, outdoor time (so cold lately), missing connection with friends and family, less energy to meet life’s demands.
Most people I have talked to are having a tough time. But how do you know if you are coping or not? What is coping? What does it look like for you?
So, the first question, are you coping or not and how do you know? I’ve heard a good phrase recently; A problem is not a problem until it becomes a problem. Can you get out of bed? Can you make it to the shower? Are you getting to work? Can you meet your daily life’s demands? The American Psychological Association defines coping as the use of strategies (thinking/cognitive or behavioral) to manage the demands of the situation, when such demands exceed our own personal resources; or how we reduce the impact of stress. So, what we do to make things more manageable when we feel, well, “zoomed out.”
How do you cope? I can tell you how I cope. The most important thing for me (and the hardest, of course) is setting boundaries, saying ‘no,’ and not doing too much.’ As much as I’d like to connect with everyone on Zoom, I often get ‘zoomed-out.’ As hard as it is to say no to these (sometimes) it is nice to just sit and be. But then I know the importance of connection and how that can fuel me and my overall motivation to get things done in life. Again, balance is hard, but I’m trying (as I know you are too!). There are other ways to cope. This can include a conscious approach to problem-solving, a thought process when meeting a stressful situation, or how you try to modify your reaction to a situation.
I wish I could tell you the best way to cope, or how to cope with Covid, but please know you’re not alone out there. Think about it, how do you cope? Are you coping? And if not, please reach out to your Connecting Dots team. We’re here to help you figure out the best way for you and your family to cope through Covid. And I say “through” because we ARE going to get to the other side of this. xo
For more information on coping: https://dictionary.apa.org/coping
Effects of Stress On The Brain: How stress can affect the human brain in different stressful situations
By: Maryam Abro
To understand the common feeling of “stress” on the human brain, we need to understand the definition.
Carter (2007) defines stress as:
“A person-environment, biopsychosocial interaction, wherein environmental events (known as “stressors”) are appraised first as either positive or unwanted and negative. If the appraisal is that the stressor is unwanted and negative, some action to cope and adapt is needed. If coping and adaptation fail, one is to experience stress reactions.”
Stress is a result of uncertain, adverse, random, and overwhelming events. Stress is greater if there are already problems and struggles in one’s life. Stress reactions arise regardless if stressors are “objective” or “subjective” and long-term exposure can result in negative psychological consequences, ranging from mild to severe.
It is believed by Carlson, (1997), that people who are experiencing severe stress react in one or more of the three fundamental reactions that are presented by one or more “physiological, emotional, cognitive, or behavioral modalities. The core reactions are:
- Intrusion or reexperiencing
- Arousal or hyperactivity
- Avoidance, or maybe even physical numbing”
Unfortunately, stress is a word used frequently in modern-day society, often used to describe the experiences that cause anxiety and frustration because they make individuals feel insecure and leave them with the feeling that they wouldn’t be able to successfully cope with situations that they may be facing.
Nowadays, there are many different stressors, especially during the Covid-19 global pandemic. Some of the stressors that may occur due to Covid are new rules causing changes and making new normal for individuals, social distancing, problems at an individual’s job or home, financial worries, etc. It is certain that these stressors would be, or have been deeply amplified due to our current circumstances with Covid-19 as well. Sometimes, these stressors can have serious implications, for example, effects of social distancing and isolation on mental health, loss of livelihood because of shutting down businesses, deaths caused by drugs and alcohol during the pandemic, increase in domestic violence, etc. Also, they may trigger the human “flight or fight response”. Besides creating daily annoyances in life, these stressors can lead to chronic stress, or maybe even PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which is an aftereffect of a tragic experience.
The life experiences described above are the most common stressors that trigger human beings and cause their behavior to change in a certain way. For instance, being “stressed out” may create anxiety and depression, insomnia, and excessive substance abuse like drinking, or smoking. Some individuals may even resort to using medications such as “anxiolytics”, benzodiazepines, and sleeping pills to get rid of stressful thoughts. The prolonged use of such self-medication can result in various negative health outcomes.
The human brain itself is responsible to select the experiences that cause stress and it also categorizes the behavioral and physiological reactions to the stressful events, which can promote or deteriorate health. Acute and Chronic Stress has been shown to cause changes in the brain and affect many systems in the body like “neuroendocrine, autonomic, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune”.
As discussed earlier, it is well believed that stress causes changes in the brain. Now, the question at hand is: what Kind of change does stress cause in the human brain? To find out what kind of changes take place in the human brain, we need to explore the effects of stress in different parts of the brain.
Extreme Acute and chronic stress may cause effects on the amygdala’s stress response through three core regulatory systems: “the serotonergic system”, “the catecholaminergic system” and the “HPA axis”.
The advancement of brain imaging techniques has enabled researchers to examine the neural circuit activity changed by acute stress in humans. MRI studies have revealed that the subjects who listened to stressful events related to their life had increased response of blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) in the medial PFC (anterior cingulate cortex), particularly in the right hemisphere indicating the anterior cingulate cortex’s part in processing mental suffering. Studies conducted on humans also reported how drastic stress affects the dlPFC operations, participants who had been exposed to stressful videos, displayed poor performance of N-back working memory, and reduced BOLD activity over dlPFC. Results also revealed that severe stress ended the normal deactivation of the default mode network. The subjects who had greater levels of catecholamine had more stress causing damage to working memory performance and reduction in dlPFC activity. There is a correlation between stress-induced catecholamine release and poor working memory performance. Exposure to unmanageable stress and higher catecholamine levels together impair the higher cognitive functions of PFC.
The hippocampus performs some of the higher tasks in the brain, such as encoding, storing, and retrieving information. Once it receives the messages from the axons, this information is processed through different synaptic mechanisms. The hippocampus sorts out the information and differentiates between important and less important information. Exposure to acute stress makes the hippocampus open to attack. Minor and short-duration stress normally increases hippocampal operation by increasing “synaptic plasticity”.
Stress impacts learning and memory tasks in humans and animals by changing the structure of hippocampal neurons . These alterations occur in different stages, starting from the changes in the synaptic memory to the changes in the dendritic branches . Most drastic effects of long-lasting stress on the hippocampus is a decrease in the pyramidal cell dendrites branches. The amount and form of “synapse-bearing spines” are active and are controlled by “factors including neurotransmitters, growth factors and hormones that, in turn, are governed by environmental signals, including stress”.
The information discussed above highlights some of the crucial structures of the brain and their response to stressful events. Many other areas need to be examined in this connection, such as loss of synaptic connections, dendrites, spine and “the generality of the stress response to other high-ordering association cortices, and how genetic insults interact with stress signaling pathways to hasten disease”. Stress and its effects on the brain is a vast area of research. The crucial point for future research is to unravel how different mechanisms few of those mentioned above (CRH, neuropeptides, neurotransmitters) respond to stress hormones such as adrenal and stress-associated neurotransmitters. It could be a challenging task to study the joint role played by these mechanisms to alter the hippocampus in response to stress. Further research would be required to uncover some of the effective treatments and helpful approaches to handle the drastic effects of both acute and short-term stress.
By: Lisa Montgomery
Physical Activity is very beneficial for both children and adults. Regardless of whether a child has a disability or not the benefits of physical activity are very important.
In Canada, many sport facilities and Sport Groups follow the Long Term Athlete Development Model. This model starts with Awareness and First Involvement to Learn to Train on the child side. From Learn to Train it goes through to Train to Win or Active For Life. It is very important that children are exposed to movement fundamentals so they themselves can have a desire to learn more and progress through the stages. For more information on the Long Term Athlete Development Model please go to: https://sportforlife.ca/long-term-development/
Benefits of Physical Activity For Children Include:
- develop cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, and bone density
- maintain a healthy body weight
- reduce the risk of chronic disease and health problems
- lessen the likelihood of tobacco, alcohol, and drug use
- feel better every day, through improved mental health and well-being
The recommendation is 60 minutes physical activity per day. This is something that can be broken down into smaller increments. I often hear parents saying…I just don’t know what to do. Some excellent websites include:
- Youtube has many great resources such as Cosmic Yoga, Paw Patrol exercise and many others. By googling physical activity or songs with “activity” you will come up with many ideas.
- Pinterest also has many games that be incorporated into activity. For example, snakes and ladders but with yoga moves, or action words, or other physical activity movements
- You can use a deck of cards and make queens one thing, hearts another, etc… it really is up to your imagination as to what you can do
- One example can modify – https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/240379698849607295/
- Going for a walk through the house or outside and playing I spy, or making a scavenger hunt can make a walk long way.
- Going on a bear hunt…. https://youtu.be/5_ShP3fiEhU
- Use the above song but change the words to whichever activity/feeling you’d like to use
By Tammy Cheng
Toilet training involves many steps (discussing, undressing, going, wiping, dressing, flushing, hand washing) and it is a big skill to learn for a child. The secret to success is timing and patience.
Is it time?
Toileting training success depends on physical, developmental and behavioural milestones, not age. Many children show signs of being ready for toilet training between ages 24 and 36 months. However, others might not be ready until they’re 4 years old. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if your child is ready:
- Can your child stay dry for up to two hours?
- Does your child seem uncomfortable with soiled or wet diapers?
- Can your child communicate when he or she needs to go?
- Can your child understand and follow basic directions?
- Can your child walk to and sit on a toilet for a few minutes?
- Does your child have regular and predictable bowel movements?
- Can your child pull down his or her pants and pull them up again?
- Does your child seem interested in using the toilet or ask to wear grown-up underwear?
If you answered mostly no, you might want to wait. If you answered mostly yes, your child might be ready.
Ready, set, go!
When it’s time to begin potty training, follow these steps:
- Get the equipment ready.Place a potty chair in the bathroom or, initially, wherever your child is spending most of his or her time. Make sure your child’s feet rest on the floor or a stool. Read story books with your child to teach them about potty. Use simple, positive language to talk about the toilet. Start with encouraging your child to sit on the potty in his/her clothes.
- Schedule potty time.Include toileting training into the daily routine. Have your child sit on the potty or toilet without a diaper for a few minutes first thing in the morning, before bedtime, right after naps, as well as every 2 hours throughout the day. Allow your child to get up if he or she wants. Offer praise for trying and remind your child that he or she can try again later. To maintain consistency, bring the potty chair with you when you’re away from home with your child (i.e. camping, road trip).
- Be ready any time!Keep your child in loose, easy-to-remove clothing. When you notice signs that your child might need to use the toilet (i.e. “pee dance”, squatting or holding the genital area), respond quickly. Stop what you child is doing, take him/her to the bathroom, help him/her undress, and sit on potty. Try not to push for immediate results. After a few minutes, help the child with the rest of the routine and give praise for the effort or any successes they had. Help your child become familiar with these signals, and praise your child for telling you when he or she has to go. Consider using a small reward immediately when your child actually voids in potty. It is more effective when your child is intrinsically motivated.
- Ditch the diapers.After a couple of weeks of successful potty times and remaining dry during the day, your child is ready for underwear! Celebrate the transition. Consider using a sticker or star chart for positive reinforcement.
Nap and night-time training typically take longer to achieve. It depends heavily on body functions, and it usually comes naturally as the child gets used to controlling the bladder throughout the day. Most children can stay dry at night between ages 5 and 7. In the meantime, use disposable training pants and waterproof mattress protector when your child sleeps.
- If your child resists using the potty chair or toilet or isn’t getting the hang of it within a few weeks, take a break. Chances are he or she isn’t ready yet. Try again in a few months.
- Accident happens. Never punish or shame your child for accidents. Stay calm, clean and change your child immediately. Be positive and reassuring that they will be successful.
- Never force your child to sit on the toilet against their will or for long periods of time if they do not want to. This could set up a power struggle and negative feeling towards toileting training.
- Plan toilet training for when you or a caregiver can devote the time and energy to be consistent on a daily basis for a few months.
- For boys, it’s often best to master urination sitting down, and then move to standing up after bowel training is complete.
- Toilet training may best be accomplished by starting at home first, and then at child care.
When to seek help
If you have questions about potty training or your child is having difficulties, talk to your child’s doctor or Occupational Therapist. He or she can give you guidance and check to see if there’s an underlying problem!
By Simran Saroya
Outdoor is essential in a child’s life just as fruits and vegetables are. Natural elements incorporated into a child’s play is very important, it allows them to start understanding this world and how it works as well as build knowledge. Allowing the child to play outdoors will strengthen muscle strength and coordination, allow for deeper exploration and help them gain self-confidence.
Sometimes we think that a playground MUST be present for a child to have fun. In reality, a child can have fun in any environment with almost anything. From swinging on the swing and gaining a new perspective to digging in the dirt and analyzing the world around them. By adding additional equipment for your child to use outdoors you are adding to their learning through play but it is not necessarily needed.
Through this exciting process it was always nice to have someone accompany them. Having a buddy while discovering new things always make things more exciting. Being present and engaged with the child is a fun way to help your child learn new skills and information. An adult being present to answer their curious questions will allow the child to deeper understand the concept and build/ strengthen your relationship. There are six crucial benefits to keep in mind when your child wants to play outside.
- Building Social Skills
- Being Creative
- Exploring New Environments
A child playing alongside peers or adults is co-learning and co-imagining which actually helps with building social skills and benefits their learning. Acorns may just look like acorns to us adults but to a child it could be food play or a treasure, you never know what their little minds will come up with. Roleplay is the most common way a child mimics the adults around them. This behavior is having them use their imaginative and creative side to come up with these scenarios. Using their imagination allows them to be creative and explore further and deeper into their play. Playing outside also has long term health benefits such as reduction of stress, regulation of the body and vitamin D consumption.
Now, you may be stuck with the question “How do I get my child to play outside?”.
In the world of technology today it is getting harder and harder to get their minds less engaged in screens and more engaged in the natural environments. Some ideas I can suggest include the following: to have a picnic, draw with chalk, turn on the sprinklers, go find some treasure or even ride bicycles together or with a friend. The chilly winter shouldn’t’ stop you either! In the winter the child can build snowmen, snow angels and paint the snow. Summer or winter, the child will find something to do outdoors regardless of the situation. Being prepared for the weather is the adult’s job, let the children do the rest.
Remember: Play does not have to be structured, let the child take the lead sometimes!