1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
50% of mental health problems are fully established by age 14.
10% of children aged 5-16 have a clinically diagnosable mental problem.
Not all mental illnesses are preventable but there are things we can do to look after our mental health like building resilience.
Resilience is the ability to cope with life's challenges and to adapt to adversity and helps us to maintain our wellbeing in difficult circumstances.
It is normal and healthy to want to protect our child from stressful situations. However, like any of us, children feel stress, anxiety and fear and need to experience these emotions to learn the tools to deal with them.
Among other things, children that are lacking resilience may,
- withdraw or avoid new experiences,
- become more defiant,
- become highly emotional,
- seem unwilling or unable to problem solve.
During a stressful moment our amygdala (the lower part of our brain which is responsible for our emotional responses - including anxiety and fear) sends a message up to our control centre – the hypothalamus. This part of the brain controls all of our involuntary functions – breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure etc. Under stress it will send signals to our adrenal glands to pump our bloodstream full of our stress hormones, namely adrenaline and later in the process cortisol.
Adrenalin is the one that we feel the effects of first. It makes our heart beat faster, pushing blood to our muscles, heart and other vital organs. Breathing becomes more rapid and small airways become large ones. More oxygen is allowed in to the body with each breath. Extra oxygen is sent to the brain increasing our alertness and sharpening the senses. We then get a big influx of energy as reserves of blood sugar are released into the bloodstream. All of these reactions occur so rapidly, in fact, that it all takes place before the visual areas of our brain have made sense of the situation.
Cortisol is released a bit later if our brain thinks this stressful situation is going to remain. Cortisol makes sure that all of the above functions keep working at their high levels, thus keeping us on high alert. It also reduces the functions of our body that would be useless in a fight or flight situation like the digestive system, reproductive system and growth processes.
Partly genetics, but mainly previous life experiences, inform how we deal with this flood of hormones and helps this stressful situation become a manageable one. However, research shows us that sustained levels of these stress hormones can cause changes on the brain that can lead to numerous health problems such as; anxiety, depression, heart disease and memory impairment.
EFFECTS ON BEHAVIOUR
This is all ok, though, as the stressful situation usually passes and the connections in our brain allow our hormones to go back to normal.
Imagine though, being a young child without the life experiences we’ve had and therefore the connections in the brain to rationalise what has presented itself. When your child blows a fuse over nothing it’s not a case of them purposely acting irrationally or trying to annoy you, rather they are building up new experiences and literally moulding their brains to be able to deal with this 'problem' better in the future.
Even after all of our experiences, we don’t always respond to stress as well as we could so it is important to remember that it is pretty unreasonable to expect a child to!
It is with resilience that our children are able to regulate their emotions, limit the overexposure to stress hormones and become strong, independent people!
We have compiled a comprehensive list of strategies you can use to enhance your child's resilience. Click below to check them out.