It has been said the kids can bring the greatest joy to our lives, and although this seems to be true, it seems they also bring a great amount of stress too. After having to actually record what it is about my day that stresses me out or has the potential of stressing me out, my 3-year-old daughter, Kayleigh, was at the top of that list just about daily. The other top contender being my two dogs. Surprisingly not many things from work made the list, but that is also due to the fact that it is what we would call the “off season” for us in my office.
Kayleigh has recently made the transition from the toddler room at daycare into the Pre-Kindergarten room and guess what does not happen in that room that happened in the other room. Naps. This results in me having a very grumpy girl when we get home at the end of the day and a bit of a cranky one in the morning as well. I did have some stress related to her switching classrooms because I wanted it to go smoothly for her, but that is not what triggered my thought of stressful situations most of the days. It was the very cranky, tired, grumpy, did not want to listen, little girl that I had been battling with all day that would make me wonder how well getting ready to go to school or how our bedtime routine would be. Complete meltdowns over sock colors, the dog looked at her funny, she wanted to go play with the neighbor and I said no… you get the point. One thing that has become very effective in managing some meltdowns and refusal to participate in the things that I ask of her, the good old counting to three method. The punishment for me actually getting to three either consists of a spanking or getting something turned off/taken away. This past week when having to resort to this method, frequently, I could not help but think about the study of the rats that were given electrical shock to create a stressful event for them (Weiss, 1972). By counting to three, starting with one,it gives my daughter a warning that something unpleasant is going to happen if she does not change her behavior. This is similar to the part of the study with the rats that would receive a warning that they were going to receive a shock but could react by jumping up on the platform to avoid the unpleasant experience. So by my daughter changing her behavior and doing what I ask, she does not receive any type of punishment and it makes the whole morning or night a lot less stressful for both of us. Since it has been studied that increased stress could cause low self esteem and the inability to control cortisol levels (McEwen, 2013), I try to keep her stress levels down as much as possible, even if mine are slowly going up because although she made it to the top of my stressor list, she does bring me all the greatest joy in the world too.
That brings me to my next biggest stressor from the week, my dogs. I just adopted a five-year-old lab mix about two weeks ago and brought her into my home with a nine-year-old lab mix. It is always a little stressful introducing dogs to each other and that was something that was in my thoughts pretty much every day; about whether or not things would continue to go well and then one night it did not. The dogs got into a fight and my resident dog ended up with some injuries that required immediate vet attention. When the fight occurred though, it definitely triggered my sympathetic nervous system (Sapolsky, 1994) to kick in and I also entered Selye’s first stage, alarm stage, of General Adaptation Syndrome (PSYCH 475, Lesson 1). It was an immediate moment of panic as I watched my new dog completely over power my other dog – heart about to beat right out of my chest as I yelled at them both, waiting for my opportunity to be able to reach in to get them separated without getting hurt myself. Thankfully she let go of him on her own and I immediately put her in her crate so that I could examine the damage to my other dog. My heart was going crazy, I was shaking so bad that I could barely hold him still to look at his injuries. He had a puncture wound just millimeters from his eye that was rather deep and bleeding – I cried. Joseph LeDoux said that “fear is terribly basic” because we are afraid to lose what makes us happy (Dobbs, 2006) and that could not have been more true in this situation. Although I never entered Selye’s resistance stage, it did take a little while for my parasympathetic nervous system to take over and for me to achieve homeostasis again. Part of this was probably attributed to the fact that I was adding to my stress and fear by becoming anxious about what could have happened and simply telling myself to calm down was not enough to settle down quickly (Dobbs, 2006). Although it was a very frightening experience, my resident dog was ultimately okay and will make a full recovery and the more time that goes on and they continue to get along I will not be as worried about them being together because I will have replaced the negative memories of them being together with positive ones (Dobbs, 2006).
All in all, my life is not overly stressful. There are not a lot of things that trigger psychological or physiological changes to my body that assist me in dealing with the stress of the situation. I could be mistaken though because a lot of what happens with the amygdala and HPA axis cannot be seen when it is triggered, there may be more things through out my day-to-day that I do not even realize are triggering these reactions to take place. I would say that my brain does a pretty good job at keeping everything under control – now I just have to help keep the dogs and kiddo under control and all will be right in the world.
Weiss, J. M. (1972). Psychological Factors in Stress and Disease. Scientific American, Inc, 104-113.
Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (3rd ed.). New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Lesson 1: Foundations. (n.d.). Reading presented at PSYCH 475 Psychology of Fear and Stress in Penn State World Campus . Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses
McEwen, B. S. (2013). The Brain on Stress: Toward an Integrative Approach to Brain, Body, and Behavior. Perspectives on Psychological Scence, 8(6), 673-675. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu
Dobbs, D. (2006) Mastery of Emotions, Scientific American Mind,17(1), 44-49