The Rise of Unhappy Children
Unhappiness is the third major risk to our children in their school-age years. More and more children are in therapy or even taking medication to address their feelings of discontent. And the range of conditions they suffer from is broad – from moodiness to serious depression and suicidal tendencies. If your child is extremely depressed or suffers from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, you need to consult your pediatrician and/or therapist.
However, short of those serious disease conditions of the mind, there are a lot of unhappy children out there. There are kids who don’t like their bodies. There are kids who are depressed because they’re always chosen last for team sports. There are kids who feel different, and to a child that means feeling bad.
Too Much Teasing
One of the leading causes of unhappiness in school-age children is overfatness and underfitness. Overfat kids are teased by their friends. Underfit kids have less fun at recess. Whatever makes your child feel left out or different makes him feel sad. Even children who start out lean can end up overfat if unhappiness leads them there. Sadness in children can be caused by a variety of factors, but the predominant one in my view is stress.
American Kids are Becoming Stressed
Stress is the way we react physically, mentally, and emotionally to various conditions, changes, and demands in our lives. Scientists tell us that just the right amount of stress is good for the body. Managed stress, like managed weight, is healthy. Good stress makes life interesting, prevents boredom, and challenges us to grow and change. Bad stress, however, can make you sick – and fat. The stress response is like a drug. The right dose in the right situation helps, but an overdose can be harmful.
When good stress keeps you interested, challenged, and productive in response to situations that threaten your well-being, we call it a biochemical turn-on. We call stress bad when it is chronic, unresolved, and unproductive, and when it shuts down the brain’s natural neurostimulants. We call this kind of stress a biochemical turn-off.
The Result of Stress
Stress increases chance of illness. You can worry yourself sick! Excessive and unmanaged stress can weaken the immune system. Studies have shown a direct link between the nervous system and the immune system, so what affects one affects the other.
Stress promotes fat storage. During periods of high stress, a child may ignore internal satiety signals and keep right on eating. This is dubbed the “stew and chew” response – eating to relieve stress. The stress hormone, cortisol, stimulates insulin, which promotes fat storage, especially around the waist, dubbed “stress fat.” Stress can trigger carbohydrate cravings, remembered by the classic connections: stressed spelled backward is desserts.
Stress impairs sound sleep. High levels of stress hormones can impair sleep. As a result, the young student can’t learn as well the next day. Irritability often leads to conflict, and more stress.
Stress can lead to depression. Stress interferes with the normal function of “happy hormones” and can lead to depression.