Saturday, January 09, 2010

Saturday Focus on Simplicity ~ Why Stress Is Bad

I have been reading a wonderful book entitled Simplicity Parenting; it is a book with a Waldorf view that addresses the complexity and choice in our children's lives and how we can simplify things and make our lives together smoother and happier.

One of my favorite ideas from the book is that all children (and indeed all adults) are quirky. We are not automatons and we really don't all want to be the same; quirks are one of the things that make us different. But the author of Simplicity Parenting introduced the idea that quirky + stress = syndrome. Wow ~ I love it! The author conducted a study that took children who had been evaluated and labeled as having ADHD and they educated the parents and teachers on how to simplify, and after time they retested and most of the kids did not meet the criteria for ADHD any longer. To me that is very powerful.

To bring a very female slant to this, I think of PMS, or pre-menstrual syndrome. Menstruating women have a pre-menstrual phase of their cycle, during the luteal phase post-ovulation. Progesterone production ramps up and then drops off if an egg has not been fertilized. Many of us feel the effect of the progesterone drop and find ourselves feeling physical and emotional tension.

Bear with me here. All women menstruating women experience the physical changes of the luteal phase, but not all women report PMS symptoms. Indeed, in some cultures the idea of PMS is non-existent. While I have seen some conjecture that increase in PMS in our North American culture is do to hormones in our food I think in fact that we might look to the stress in our culture. Not that being menstruating female is a quirk, but it is something that makes us different from men, babies, children, pregnant women, and menopausal and post-menopausal women.

Technically I am not a menstruating female as I do not bleed, but neither am I a menopausal or post-menopausal female. I have cycles just as other menstruating women do, and I have the potential for the second half of the luteal phase to manifest as PMS. It often does, too, because of the stress in my life. I would conjecture that luteal phase + stress = PMS. My body feels different, my hormones are different (have you ever noticed how great and unshakeable you feel when you are ovulating?), and I just don't have as much resilience. Most of the time I manage just fine, but throw in some stress and I become a very easily irritated woman.

If you can't relate to PMS perhaps you can relate to how it is to have to function in pain. As adults we attempt to tune out pain signals and continue with the tasks of our daily lives but we aren't always that good at it. My mom got so good at reading this that when my dad was really grumpy she would ask him where it hurt, because chances were good that he had a toothache or pulled muscle.

Apply this same thinking to our children. Some children don't transition well; they love the dependability of routine and comfort of familiar surroundings and objects. This child may be labelled as shy when put in a new situation. A child who doesn't like loud noises is going to struggle with the stress of a loud situation.

It isn't only situations that are stressful; environments can be stressful as well. Do you feel a sense of calm and peace when your home is tidy and clean? I know that I do and conversely the visual chaos of cluttered environments translates into mental chaos for me. Do you feel impatient when you have to wait in a long line at a noisy grocery store?

I can't address every syndrome that a child might be diagnosed with, but I can talk about my own experiences with sensory overload. When I am cold I find it hard to function; I have to be aware and keep myself warm. Likewise I find it nearly impossible to think with a lot of background noise; I don't do mental work to the sound of music or TV in the background. Papa loves to listen to NPR while working in the kitchen and it nearly drives me crazy (he knows this and will either shoo me out of the kitchen so he can work and listen or he will let me know that it is fine if I turn off the radio).

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a newer diagnosis that children are given these days; I would never claim that SPD isn't real; I live with sensory challenges and I understand how frustrating it might be for parents with highly sensitive children to navigate an overstimulating world. I know that some children become so sensorially defensive that they require professional intervention. But I do think the term is overused and that many people don't know that sensory overload is something they can work on. Being sensitive to sensory stimuli is my quirk, and because I am 40 years old it was always considered a quirk and not a disease or disorder. Indeed, I don't see it as a disorder; I am different, yes, but everyone is different. Some are faster or have quicker reflexes. Some hear music in their heads and put it on paper. I ~ I am aware. I see more light, hear more sounds, feel more temperature and texture. I smell more scents and I taste more flavors. All of my senses are heightened.

Lack of sleep causes stress and for me that makes me very sensitive to noises.

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