We know the impact stress can have on our body in the long term and we’re just beginning to understand what chronic stress or trauma can do to the health of a child over their lifetime. Emotional Freedom Technique, breath work, chanting, heart rate variability, visualizations and meditations are wonderful tools for managing stress that even the youngest patients of mine can use. While all these techniques are important to fully reducing one’s stress, there are other ways that can be an easier place to start for families. Dance parties, snuggles and singing on the top of your lungs are 3 incredibly powerful ways to reduce stress that children love.
Let’s examine why you need dance parties, snuggles and singing in your life today:
- Dance Parties– Dance parties are an easy and fun way to mange stress as a family. We often crank up the music when I notice one or more of us in a funk that we’re having a hard time getting out of. Both the movement and the music help to reduce stress. Exercise has been repeatedly shown to reduce symptoms of stress. (1) Music has also shown benefit for those suffering from stress. (2,3) When you put them both together you have a simple, effective way to help your children learn to manage stress. (4,5,6)
“The Biodanza program is an effective stress management strategy for students. The results of this study showed Biodanza to have a positive effect on perceived stress and depression in young adults. This demonstrates how artistic, collaborative, and psychophysical interventions are an effective means of preventing and managing these problems in university students.”
- Snuggles– Snuggles are also a super easy way to reduce stress as a family. Snuggling or close loving contact stimulates the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is often called the bonding hormone that helps mothers bond to newborns and has shown benefit with pain, blood pressure, improved sleep and stress reduction. (7) One study looked at women undergoing MRIs. The women were told to expect a slight pain with the start of the MRI procedure which lit up the area of the brain associated with anxiety. Those women who held hands with someone they loved the anxiety state quickly subsided. (8)
“We demonstrated that, when alone, participants with higher trait anxiety exhibited attenuated neural activity in several brain areas in response to a physically threatening stimulus, which we suggest is related to attentional disengagement. Upon receipt of social support via holding another person’s hand, this effect largely disappeared or was reversed—brain activity in highly trait anxious people was indistinguishable from or slightly greater than that in less trait anxious people.”
- Singing at the Top of Your Lungs– Singing out loud to your favorite songs is another simple and fun stress reduction technique to use as a family. Singing has been shown to help reduce the symptoms of stress by reducing stress hormones like cortisol. (9) Singing loudly stimulates the vagus nerve which is responsible for many important functions like digestion, stress/anxiety, respiration, vocalization and heart rate. (10) The vagus nerve is the primary parasympathetic nerve in our body and toning this nerve by singing is a great way to reduce stress and stress symptoms. Finding songs as a family that everyone enjoys singing is a wonderful way to relieve stress. Stressful commutes turn into a chance to de-stress throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be singing out loud, it can be humming or chanting if that suits your family better.
Signs of stress
The next time you notice the signs of stress impacting your family- sing your favorite songs together, snuggle up close or crank up the music and boogie! These are fun and easy ways to incorporate foundational stress management tools in your children lives.
(1) Salmon, P (2001), ‘Effects of Physical Exercise on Anxiety, Depression and Sensitivity to Stress – A Unifying Theory.’, In Clinical Psychology Review, Vol.21, 1, pp.33-61. ISSN: 0272-7358
(2) Nicholson JM1, Berthelsen D, Abad V, Williams K, Bradley J. Impact of music therapy to promote positive parenting and child development. J Health Psychol. 2008 Mar;13(2):226-38. doi: 10.1177/1359105307086705.
(3) Wetherick D1. Music in the family: music making and music therapy with young children and their families. J Fam Health Care. 2009;19(2):56-8.
(4) Duberg A1, Hagberg L, Sunvisson H, Möller M. Influencing self-rated health among adolescent girls with dance intervention: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA Pediatr. 2013 Jan;167(1):27-31. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.421.
(5) Pinniger R1, Brown RF, Thorsteinsson EB, McKinley P. Argentine tango dance compared to mindfulness meditation and a waiting-list control: a randomised trial for treating depression. Complement Ther Med. 2012 Dec;20(6):377-84. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2012.07.003. Epub 2012 Aug 3.
(6) López-Rodríguez MM, et al. Effects of Biodanza on Stress, Depression, and Sleep Quality in University Students. J Altern Complement Med. 2017.
(7) Welch MG, et al. Calming Cycle Theory and the Co-Regulation of Oxytocin. Psychodyn Psychiatry. 2017.
(8) Erin L. Maresh, Lane Beckes, and James A. Coan. The social regulation of threat-related attentional disengagement in highly anxious individuals. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013; 7: 515.
(9) Daisy Fancourt, Aaron Williamon, Livia A Carvalho, Andrew Steptoe, Rosie Dow, and Ian Lewis. Singing modulates mood, stress, cortisol, cytokine and neuropeptide activity in cancer patients and carers. Ecancermedicalscience. 2016; 10: 631.
(10) Robert H. Howland, M.D. Vagus Nerve Stimulation. Curr Behav Neurosci Rep. 2014 Jun; 1(2): 64–73. doi: 10.1007/s40473-014-0010-5
Catherine Clinton ND, is a board-licensed naturopathic doctor and graduate of NCNM in Portland, OR. She currently practices at her private clinic in Eugene, OR. Catherine lectures on integrative medicine and gut health and has authored several publications in these areas. During medical school, Catherine was diagnosed with a GI autoimmune disease, which stimulated an special interest in gastrointestinal and immune health. Her own journey to health has helped to inspire her patients as well as her writing. With the birth of her own children, Catherine’s passion extended to the GI and immune health of all children. Catherine’s blog can be found at www.wellfuture.com/blog, or you can follow her at Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/dr.catherineclintonnd/) and Twitter (@DrCatherineND).