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Psychologists have studied stress management for decades and know a great deal about those who are able to manage their weight successfully when faced with stressors.

Here are a few keys to success.

1. Develop Resilience
Resilient (or hardy) people not only avoid harm from stressors, they often flourish under this type of pressure. Psychologist Suzanne Kobasa’s research indicates that hardy people exhibit the “three Cs”: commitment, control and challenge. Those who are committed to their lives and work, who believe they can control their fate and who see stressors as positive challenges end up managing stress quite effectively.

Commitment
Commitment means giving it one’s all, not just phoning it in. Many Wellspring campers and students exhibit remarkable levels of commitment from the very start.

Control
By reading this newsletter, you may be taking control of the problem you face as the parent of an overweight child.

Challenge
Many Wellspring parents understand they have a challenge on their hands. They keep looking for solutions until they find Wellspring. Their strategy is not simply to hope the problem will resolve itself. Nor do they give up, thinking it’s hopeless.

Resilient weight controllers don’t let setbacks or disappointments derail them. While many Wellspring campers and students used to give up on a new diet after gaining a few pounds, now, when problems arise after transitioning home, most of them will make sure to self-monitor, do more planning and take additional steps to increase activity. Successful weight-controllers don’t stop looking at scales or looking at mirrors. They keep moving forward, committing to making a positive change in their lives and to looking at the many challenges of successful weight control as challenges, not stressors.

To become more resilient yourself and to help your young weight controller develop this approach, consider responding to stressors by asking questions that direct you to take charge. For example:

  • What can I do to eliminate this stressor?
  • How can I look at this problem as an opportunity for change and growth?
  • In what ways does this stressor teach me something about my life?
  • How can I use this situation to improve my functioning or competence?

Try adding these questions to your lexicon at home. Talk in terms of challenges and opportunities rather than promoting complaints and problems in whiny and hopeless tones. In plain terms, it’s making lemonade (sugar-free of course) out of lemons.

If you model this attitude for your child and reinforce it, you’ll have laid a very positive foundation for managing stress.

2. Get Support from Friends & Family
It’s well established that those with strong relationships suffer fewer medical and emotional problems than those who are more isolated. A study of 7,000 adults in California showed that people who lacked strong relationships with others died at a younger age than those who had strong relationships (i.e., married, frequent contacts with friends and neighbors or belonged to social clubs or religious groups).

Many other studies demonstrate that support from others can reduce the effects of stressors:

  • Women who have a companion with them during labor and childbirth experience fewer complications than women who gave birth alone. Women in the supported group give birth sooner, are awake more after delivery and play more with their babies.
  • Social support helps men who lose their jobs. Men with good support report fewer illnesses and less depression than men who do not have adequate support.
  • Recovery from heart attacks is improved with the support of spouses, friends and relatives.
  • Parents who receive training on parenting techniques and problem solving help their children lose more weight than those who do not.

Simply put, we do better at almost anything when we’re surrounded by people who actively show they care.

There are three ways of showing support: Emotional support, information and material support. You’ve undoubtedly used all of them to try help your weight controller.

Emotional Support
You provide emotional support when you:

  • Listen and talk things over to let your child know you understand
  • Allow your child to talk freely about problems and private thoughts
  • Show confidence and provide encouragement

Informational Support
You provide informational support when you:

  • Give advice your child can count on
  • Provide resources that prove useful
  • Help your child solve problems by suggesting various solutions from which he or she can choose

Material Support
You provide material support to your child every day through

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Education

Because the support of friends and family can play such an important role in stress management, one great stress management skill is knowing when and whom to ask for help.

To whom does your child go for support? Does the support network include good listeners? Try to get your child thinking about identifying and taking full advantage of his or her support network.

For your part, try to look for signs of stress from your weight controller. Your child may start asking you to spend more time with him or her. If you ever feel annoyed about having to manage these requests for attention, think about responding positively to these requests like depositing money in a savings account. Providing support for your child can pay off down the road.

3. Use Stress Inoculation
University of Waterloo psychologist Dr. Don Meichenbaum has developed a useful approach for handling major stressors. Called stress inoculation, this technique builds “psychological antibodies” by preventing the attachment of problematic emotions like anger and anxiety to stressors. Stress inoculation includes an educational phase and a coping self-talk phase.

Education about the Stressor
In this phase of stress inoculation, fear of the unknown is abated with important information about the stressor. For example, children going to the dentist for the first time may not know what happens there. A friend may have told them that it hurts or that a big person in a white coat will yank out their teeth with a pair of pliers.

When facing a stressor, it’s generally beneficial to try to understand it, read about it and take other steps to educate yourself about it.

Coping Self-Statements
We all talk to ourselves, at least sometimes. You may have done so when you took your first dive off of a diving board or made your first public speech. Perhaps you made self-statements like “C’mon, you can do it,” or “Go for it.” Research shows that such self-statements are actually quite helpful when facing challenges of all kinds.

Psychologists advise people facing such challenges to use four types of self-statements: preparing for the stressor, confronting and handling the stressor, coping with feelings at critical moments and rewarding oneself for successful coping.

Here are examples of these four types of self-statements that can be used to manage almost any stressor. By using these self-statements, your child can begin to actively cope with stressors and become more hardy and resilient. Consider asking your weight controller to pick a stressor and work through these self-statements with you.

Self-Statements when Preparing for a Stressor

  • What do I have to do?
  • I can create a plan to deal with this.
  • Thinking about what I have to do is certainly better than getting nervous about it.
  • Worrying won’t help. Plan.
  • My anxiety tells me that I have a challenge facing me.
  • I can learn from this.
  • Remain logical and calm.

Self-Statements when Confronting and Handling the Stressor

  • I can handle this.
  • I can meet this challenge.
  • Just take it one step at a time; follow the plan.
  • Beat the fear: think of what I am doing.
  • Relax. I’m in control. Just take a slow, deep breath.
  • My tension just tells me to follow my plan; deal with this challenge.
  • I can eat safe foods as part of my plan.

Self-Statements when Coping with Feelings at Critical Moments

  • When tension comes, just pause and breathe slowly.
  • Focus on the present. Now, what do I have to do?
  • I’ve handled this before and I can manage it now.
  • I’ll rate my fear from one to ten and then watch it change.
  • I’ll just keep the tension manageable; I won’t worry about eliminating it altogether.
  • I can do this. It will be over in a certain amount of time.
  • Okay, keep focused on what I want to do.
  • This is not the worst thing that can happen.
  • Remember, I don’t have to handle this perfectly, just reasonably well.
  • Focus on sensations: coldness, warmth, smells, touch, taste, sights and sounds.
  • Think about other times and places. Good feelings come with good thoughts.
  • I’m in control.
  • If I’m going to overeat, I’ll deviate quantitatively, not qualitatively (see below).

Self-Statements when Rewarding Yourself for Successful Coping

  • Nice going! I was able to do it.
  • It wasn’t as tough as I expected.
  • Wait ’til I tell [a friend, a family member] about it.
  • I’m making progress.
  • My plan worked.
  • I’m learning all the time.
  • It’s my thinking that creates anxiety. When I control my self-statements, I can control my anxiety.
  • I’m doing better each time I use these self-statements.
  • I’m really pleased with my progress.

Weight controllers face many stressors that can directly impact weight control. Consider your standard holiday party. Holiday parties typically include lots of high-fat foods and a generally relaxed and unrestrained state. How could your weight controller use the stress inoculation approach to handle this stressor?

First, your child would learn as much as possible about the event:

  • How many people will be there?
  • What kind of food will be served?
  • More specifically, are there options for the main course and are there good (very low-fat) options during the hors d’oeuvres or early phases of the party?
  • Will there be friends I’ll enjoy talking with, or will I be bored?
  • Will I be able to leave when I feel like it?

The answers to these questions determine the severity of the stressor. The party can be easily managed if low-fat options abound and if socializing provides a good distraction. On the other hand, a boring party combined with abundant high-fat food may require a higher level of coping skills.

Coping self-statements can help get your child through challenges like this. Try some of the following:

Preparing

  • I can create a plan that will get me through this.
  • I don’t have to worry about this; I can plan for it.
  • I’m sure I can learn from this and get even better at managing these kinds of situations.
  • Plan:

    •Get a diet coke or a sparkling water and hang on to it.
    •Find the most interesting people available and talk with them.
    •Convince the person I came with to leave if I give him/her the signal.

Confronting and handling

  • I can handle this.
  • There are a lot of people here, but that gives me greater choices.
  • Stay focused and remember that everything counts.

Coping at critical moments

  • If I see some tempting morsel in the hors d’oeuvre phase, I’ll grip my diet coke even more tightly.
  • Remember to find some low-fat alternatives; they’ve got to be here.
  • Even if I eat some problematic foods, I can still count it and record it.
  • Every food has finite calories and fat grams; nothing is going to kill me here.
  • Let me find somebody I can talk to who can make me laugh.
  • Even if the main course is high in fat, I don’t have to eat a lot of it.

Rewarding myself for success

  • Nice going. I basically followed the plan.
  • The plan was good even though I did eat a few things I didn’t want to.
  • I think I’m getting better at this.

4. Cued Relaxation
Cued relaxation is a way of including relaxation in everyday life by using cues found in everyday life to remind oneself to take a brief relaxation break. Such cues can include a ringing cell phone, drinking water, reaching for a wallet, brushing hair or applying make-up. When the cue occurs, take a few seconds to use a relaxation technique.

Here are a few examples.

Cue = Ringing cell phone

  1. Cell phone rings
  2. Answer phone
  3. Use a breathing technique (e.g., slow rhythmic breathing)
  4. During the call focus on breathing in a relaxed manner
  5. After the call, take another few seconds to execute the relaxation technique once again.

Cue = Drinking Water or Diet Soda

  1. Begin drinking
  2. Focus on the fluid and the sounds and sights of it

    •What color is it?
    •What specifically does it sound like as you drink?
    •Concentrate on the texture of the fluid as it enters your mouth and goes down your throat.

  3. Create a vivid image that involves water. For example:

    •You are on a beach in the summertime and you are watching a lake gently flow to the shore and retreat from the shore.
    •You are hiking on a mountain and you come upon a beautiful waterfall. You are watching the water flow and beat down on the rocks below. You are listening to the sounds and smelling the air.

  4. Take a few minutes to stay in the image, keeping it vivid, using all of your senses to enliven the imagery.

Cue = Reaching for Your Wallet

  1. After your hand makes contact with the wallet, remind yourself to relax.
  2. Tense and then relax some of the muscles in your hand and arm. Tense and relax those muscles at least twice.
  3. Pay attention to the change in sensation from the tense to the relaxed state for each muscle group that you use. Focus on the relaxed state for a few seconds and try to bring that sense of relaxation from the top of your head through your eyes and down to the rest of your body.