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Save Yourself from Summertime Stress

Summertime, and the living is easy. Well, maybe. A lot has changed since the lyrics of that song were written. My own childhood summers were filled with red-ant watching, running through the water hose, and making endless mud pies. The highlight of the day came when the ice cream truck melody wafted down the street, sending every kid on the block scrambling for a quarter. Mom was at home, and a trip in the car came along maybe once a week.

No more. Mom is either at work, fielding calls on her cell phone from home-alone children out of school and making every effort to kill each other off; or she's running a non-stop tour bus in her SUV, trotting kids to soccer, swimming, tennis, and more, swooping through the nearest drive-up window for the next fast-food meal on the go. Summer life is frantic, frazzled, and . . . fun?

So, while the stressors change when the last school bell signals summer, they don't disappear. Summer colds spring up out of nowhere, fed often by a high-sugar, white-flour, fried-food diet. Traveling is a good way to broaden horizons, as well as pick up unfamiliar bacteria and viruses to plague the journey. Staying up late on a sunny summer evening is enjoyable, unless you have to drag everyone out of bed before dawn cracks to get them to day care or summer camp. Children with mixed families may find themselves flying alone to another parent for several weeks, while parents are fitting stepchildren into their routine. The stress can be both good and bad, but it's stress all the same.

Although everyone responds differently, major life changes are some of the biggest causes of stress, both positive and negative, and children are as susceptible as adults. A realistic estimate of your current stress level, and taking steps to lower the effects of stress on your body, can diminish the likelihood that you will develop health problems due to stress in the next 12 to 18 months.

Short-term (acute) stress can keep you awake at night and make you feel irritable and edgy. High stress levels over a long period of time (chronic stress) can cause serious health problems such as high blood pressure, and it can weaken your immune system and make it difficult for your body to fight disease. Stress is linked to health conditions such as depression, heart disease, and asthma.

Make an effort to control your family's summer tornado of activity. Be diligent with a good daily vitamin for every member of the household, allow for plenty of restful sleep throughout the week, and don't forget to include healthy (colorful) whole fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. Fresh produce is widely available this time of year, and with an adult in charge of the grocery shopping, kids will pick up a carrot stick or a fistful of sweet grapes when there is no junk food in sight. You might even find that they're more contented studying ants, less eager to throttle each other or tear the house apart. Now that would be easy summertime living!