Posts Tagged ‘ Stress ’

Moms, Stress, and Depression

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Moms who have young kids have lots of sources of stress – including unavoidable rites of passage of parenthood (sleep deprivation), everyday hassles (just can’t fit in that shower), and new responsibilities on top of old ones (how exactly do you take care of everything you need to do when you have to take care of a 6-month-old?). There are countless other streams of stress – including big “macro” society conditions like the economic recession – that impinge on everyday life  and influence parenting. Now, you may be thinking – and this is a reaction I frequently encounter – that if stress is inevitable, why bother discussing it? 

Well, there are four reasons.

First, stress takes its toll on moms. One of the strongest predictors of depression is high levels of stress. Given that women in general are at high risk for depression – some studies suggest nearly 1 in 3 women will experience clinical depression – the additional stresses of being a mom can have serious consequences. And keep in mind that one of the reasons that depression can become such a problem is that is a recurrent condition – it tends to come back after it subsides.

Second, children of depressed parents are at very high risk for early-onset depression as well as other behavioral problems. The process can start as early as infancy, accelerate in toddlerhood, and result in increased depressive symptoms in childhood, culminating with onset of clinical depression in the teen years. Chronic stress has other negative effects on childhood development that can lead to increased risk for health problems later in life. And there is some evidence that severe stress during pregnancy can have adverse effects on fetal development and contribute to things like low birth weight.

While stress and depression are insidious and impairing, there is, without question, hope. The third reason to reflect on all this is that depression is treatable. There is no one treatment, so it’s important to give yourself enough time to find the right mix of psychotherapy and/or pharmacology (antidepressants). The reality is that you can get a handle on depression and also lessen the risk of future depressive episodes with effective treatment.

Which leads to a fourth reason to talk about stress and depression – when moms get treated successfully, their kids improve as well. There have been large-scale studies showing that these positive effects can be long lasting, and include reductions in both child symptoms and actual diagnoses of depression and other disorders in the offspring. Other more fine-grained studies have shown how child symptoms of depression “mirror” parental levels – and when parental symptoms lessen with treatment, so do their kids’ symptoms. Note that no intervention needs to be done directly with the kids to gain a benefit – the effect comes simply from successfully treating the parent.

So, moms who are under lots of stress and feel like they are depressed should become aware of the symptoms of depression - and seek out well-qualified treatment. Doing this not only helps moms, but directly improves the lives of their kids.

Depressed Woman via Shutterstock.com

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Has The Economic Recession Led To Harsher Parenting?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

A new report from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFS) suggests it has – at least for some moms.

This paper deserves consideration because it uses an informative base – a longitudinal study of nearly 5,000 families who have a child born between 1998 and 2000. By following these families from 2000 through the present, the researchers were able to examine how the economic recession led to overall changes in parenting – particularly harsh parenting. Here “harsh parenting” incorporates a range of behaviors like excessive yelling, hostility, and corporal punishment (which includes spanking and hitting).

The basic finding was that levels of harsh parenting by moms (dads were not included in this report) increased in relation to the decline in “macroeconomic conditions” – meaning the large scale economic factors that operated at a community level (and not just an individual level) were the trigger. The idea here is that pervasive economic stress causes parental stress, which in turn becomes family-wide stress. Prior elegant studies documented this during the Iowa Farm Crisis in the 1980s – such work included detailed observational studies that tested (and confirmed) such a family stress model that derives from economic decline. Essentially, when a parent is feeling the effects of uncontrollable stress, their patience with their kids goes down. Things that may not have typically bothered them now seem annoying or noxious. Harsh parenting is often associated with feeling frustration and lack of control. So here the point is that economic stress can end up having this kind of negative impact on moms, and ultimately their kids.

One of the interesting findings in the new paper from the FFS is that not every mom reacted with harsher parenting practices – rather it was moms who had a specific genetic predisposition to stress. What can we learn from this? Simply this – moms know themselves well. They don’t need a DNA test to know if they get stressed easily or tend to roll with things (even big things). So those moms who are highly reactive to stressors may especially want to consider that our economic climate might be influencing their parenting to a degree (even if there isn’t an immediate economic stressor per se). Talking to a primary care provider about stress management and perhaps screening for depression would be options to consider. Such intervention could offer a way to ward off the long chain of events by which economic recession impacts a child’s daily life. And, of course, let’s hope that insurance coverage permits such intervention – or else it becomes yet another trigger of economic stress rather than a way to ward off the effects of recession.

Foreclosure via Shutterstock.com

 

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Parent Stress And Childhood Obesity: One Obvious Link

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

There are times when you read about a new scientific paper that was just published and think (or say) something like: 

“Duh. Who doesn’t know this? I can’t believe that money was spent on that!”

Well, this may be one of those studies. But the thing about science is that we don’t get to just think something is one way or the other – we have to prove it. And when the data support what we think – whether or not it’s obvious – it’s a platform for action. So here we go.

A recent study in Pediatrics reported a strong statistical association between levels of parental stress and childhood obesity – more stress was associated with a higher risk of obesity. Part of the reason for this was fast-food consumption – higher levels of parental stress were associated with greater consumption of fast food and higher rates of childhood obesity. And keep in mind the researchers controlled for a whole bunch of other factors.

Now, we all know that when we are stressed, we might be more prone to eat what we shouldn’t. Some of this is psychological – we might crave something that isn’t exactly healthy. We might also be pressed for time – and hence want something fast. The point of this study is that if there is lots of stress – on a daily basis – this can become a habit. And this habit contributes to the obesity epidemic.

Okay, you might be thinking we all know this. Maybe – but this study provided data to support the idea. It could have been that stress is just something that happens to everyone, and those moments of junky eating when highly stressed isn’t what contributes to obesity. But it does. And here’s the other thing about human behavior – even though we know things, that doesn’t mean we are good about acting on that knowledge.

So here’s a good take-home message. Stress happens to everyone – and some people have a lot of stress in their lives. It’s important to try to keep healthy foods within reach. Having good snacks in the car can help stave off the fast-food stress response. Consciously making a healthy choice in a fast-food restaurant – for yourself and your kids – can help too. The obesity epidemic is a real thing, and these kinds of behaviors contribute to it. They become habits, and habits are not easy to break. But becoming mindful of the need to change these habits – especially when supported by scientific studies – is a good step in the right direction.

Fast Food via Shutterstock.com

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