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There’s been no shortage of gallows humor over the last two years. A best-selling T-shirt was illustrated with an animated coffee mug running with a baton, handing it off to a glass of wine. Yes, we can laugh at the idea of coping by turning to loads of caffeine and alcohol. But there’s a not-too-subtle truth underneath the humor — we’re all a bit stressed out. And maybe a lot stressed out.
Adults cope in a variety of ways. But there are also side effects that deserve our attention. One in particular is the effect our stress has on our children. Writing for Psychology Today, Vanessa LoBue, Ph.D. says “Classic research has shown that children who live in stressful environments can end up with all sorts of behavioral and emotional problems at some point during development. For example, parents’ own anxiety and household stress have been linked to their children’s emotional problems, including behavior issues, aggression, anxiety, and depression. Maternal stress has also been linked to factors in infancy that predict later anxiety as infants get older, namely a difficult temperament or a temperament characterized by a lot of negative emotions. Further, maternal anxiety and depression are associated with children’s impulsiveness and problems with attention.”
To take the effects a step further, recent research is showing that pregnant mothers who are stressed tend to give birth to children at greater risk for a variety of issues. In a strange evolutionary twist, though, some of these issues can be beneficial. “In circumstances like poverty,” LoBue notes, “the changes we see in fetuses’ brains might function to enhance the fetus’s ability to cope or function in a harsh environment. For example, individuals in poverty have been shown to be more focused on current threats and opportunities instead of planning for the distant future. Although this has been viewed as impulsive or impatient behavior, this behavior makes a lot of sense if the future is uncertain, and there are big problems to face in the here and now.”
Studies like this show how incredibly complicated people are. Perhaps one observation to take away from it all, though, is a simple one: parents have a tremendous effect on their children. So if you’ve been stressed lately, remember that how you react to that stress has repercussions. Read LoBue’s complete article here.