Our world today is very challenging. There are pressures at school—and in-home schooling--, home, friends, media, social media—pretty much all around us. And that’s not even mentioning current politics and racism. It’s difficult for adults to handle, much less teenagers. We need to acknowledge that anxiety, stress and depression are normal and valid feelings in today’s landscape. What can we do to reduce stress and conflict? We can hold space for it.
Sometimes we need to find our voice and talk about the challenges we face, giving ourselves permission to speak and be heard. When we express what’s bothering us—what’s holding us back—we give ourselves permission to move forward. Owning and letting go of the negative in our lives allows us to develop resilience and embrace new possibilities.
That first step of talking about how difficult it can be for kids and teens today is important. Give some examples of challenges they might feel; showing them they aren’t alone in their fears and concerns with the uncertainty all around us.
At the same time, we also just need some practical and quick ways to reduce the stress in the moment.
Exercise: Though this is often the tip that gets the most groans from our kids, it’s still one of the best. I know when I get moving, even when I really don’t want to, I always feel better. Physically for sure, but its way more than that. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins and lowers the levels of cortisol in your body. That means you feel less stressed, which in turn enhances your sleep quality, and increase your confidence. In fact, tell your teen that people who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those who don’t.
Stop Procrastinating: When things are hard, it is difficult to summon energy to get stuff done. But, when you put off doing what you need to, it actually only makes you feel more stressed. The work looms over your head and you are always thinking about it. Plus, then when you do get to it your scrambling to complete those tasks before the deadline. Instead of trying to multitask, make a list of your tasks and do them in order of importance. You’ll reduce stress and enjoy greater productivity.
Chew Gum: What? How can that help? When I first realized chewing gum helps stress and focus was when my daughter would do her homework. She has ADHD and for some reason, if I gave her gum or a candy to suck on, she was much calmer and more productive. It turns out that when you chew gum, you get greater blood flow to your brain. Apparently it can cause brain waves to occur that are similar to those experienced by relaxed people. Who knew?
Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness means different things for different people. I find a few deep breaths really helps in the moment. It slows your hear rate and relaxes your muscles so quickly. Whether you take a yoga class, take a walk, stretch or try meditation, focusing on the present can reduce anxiety. I recently started using the meditation app Calm and I find it really helps me to feel more centered afterwards. And I am not exactly a woo-woo type, too say the least. In fact, I started with Calm because it had 2- minute sessions, which was all I could handle.
Listen to Music: Sometimes if I am angry or feel off, I will put on headphones and just take that time to tune out the world. If you have a teenager, you are well versed in seeing this in action! Still, they are on to something because certain types of music can lower your blood pressure and heart rate and may help to reduce stress hormones too. Slow-paced instrumental music works well—I love George Winston piano music, but classical, Celtic, Native American, and Indian music can also be soothing.
Laugh: Ok, it seems incongruous to use laughter to ease stress, because if you’re stressed how do you start laughing? But it works. Find a silly video or call a friend who makes you laugh. Laughing can go a long way to relieving stress. It helps your muscles relax, strengthens your immune system and lifts your mood. So if your kid is in a mood, try to make them laugh.
Get a Pet: Ok maybe don’t go get a pet—maybe just spend time with one! There’s a reason schools bring dogs in during exam times, and there’s a reason some pets are therapy pets. When you play with an animal, your body releases oxytocin and that uplifts your mood. We have a dog, and we all feel better when we hug and pet him. He even makes us go outside and move because he needs a walk every day!
There are so many ways to reduce stress. I would often say spending time with family and friends is a big one. Right now however, I don’t know anyone who needs more time with family! And we aren’t quite able to see friends yet. I do recommend zooming with them because friendship always helps.
For more tips and to connect with other parents, join my private FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/toomuchtogetherness/