Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

Stressed to the Max? Calling Mom Can Help

The sound of mom’s voice triggers hormonal responses, and it’s a good thing.

You may need chicken soup for a cold, but what about calling mom when you're stressed to the max?  A few weeks ago, I published a blog on how a good, wholesome argument with mom can help a teen resist peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol.  That's promising research!  Then low and behold out comes another positive study for moms.  So, why not keep with the theme and let all of you hardworking moms know that you're doing some great things for your kids.  So here goes... 

Mom, did you know that the sound of your voice can actually decrease your teen's stress level?  Pretty amazing, isn't it.  According to new research published in the journal of Evolution and Human Behavior, the sound of your voice triggers physical hormone responses that may lower stress levels. 

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Researchers out of the University of Wisconsin had 64 girls' ages 7 through 12 answer three stressful math questions in front of three strangers.  Next the girls were divided into four groups:

1.  One group called mom.

2. One group had nothing.  No contact with their mom.

3. One group used instant messenger to speak to mom.     

4.  One group spoke with their mom face to face. 

Researchers were measuring the amounts of oxytocin (pleasure hormone) and cortisol (stress hormone) that were released in the girls.   What do you think they found?  Okay, did it make a difference if they spoke with mom or texted her?  Yep.  When the girls spoke with their mom in person or on the phone, their cortisol levels decreased and their oxytocin levels increased.  However, what they found when the girls had no physical contact with their mother, including IMing, they did not experience the same changes in cortisol and oxytocin levels.  

In case you're wondering, cortisol is the hormone that our body releases when we are exposed to stressful situations.  You may know cortisol as "tire around the belly" hormone.  That's because large amounts of it over time can stimulate fat storage around the stomach.  Plus, cortisol over prolonged periods can lead to heart disease and other health problems.   On the flip side, oxytocin is known as the "cuddle hormone" and it makes us feel good inside.  Not only is it an important hormone in reproduction and birthing, it's also known to brighten our mood.  When something makes us feel good, we want more of it.      

Why didn't instant messaging with mom work?  First, there are no voice inflections, pauses or emotions in text lingo; so you can't tell something's wrong like you could by the sound of someone's voice.  This :-) doesn't have the same effect as a human smile.  Secondly, if you see someone face to face, you react to their body language and voice.  Someone can say they're fine, but by the sound of their voice or their facial expression, you may know they're not.  Bottom line:  Texting isn't the same as the power of someone's voice.

What's interesting about this study is not that we all need to run out and call or visit mom when we're stressed, although she'd probably like that, but that our voices hold a power to help us and others through tough times.  As great as texting can be, it will never replace the sound of a human voice; especially the voice of someone who loves or cares for us.  Unfortunately, in our fast paced world, texting is becoming a primary source of communication, particularly with teens.  Human interaction is important to our well being.  We were created to need each other. 

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.

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