Written by Andrea Knox, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development & Resiliency Field Specialist.
How do you cope when feeling stressed or facing challenges? Do you go for a walk, become silent or even holler?! Stressors can wreak havoc on an individual’s health and those around them. However, with the right collection of positive coping skills we can avert havoc and in turn help the children in our lives learn healthy coping strategies and prevent anxiety and worrisome behaviors from forming. Understanding the importance of and adopting healthy coping skills is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself and the young people in your life. By demonstrating a range of healthy coping strategies and verbalizing what we are doing we demonstrate for children there are many positive ways to handle challenges.
So, we’ve got to be a role model! We cannot teach kids the danger of drugs while we use alcohol to deal with our own emotions. We cannot expect kids to talk to us when we bottle up our own feelings. It is also important to note we cannot expect youth to utilize the exact same healthy coping strategies we do. Coping skills are unique to an individual and change over time as children enter different levels of development. Yet, by role modeling and exposing youth to positive strategies they may utilize later we are setting them up to draw on their own healthy coping skills when needed.
Let’s explore ten ideas to help positively manage stress developed by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, an expert in the area of resiliency. These ten points are divided into four parts.
Part 1: Tackling the Problem
Point 1: Identify and then address the problem.
Problem solving is the best way to start dealing with stress. By determining what the issue is and identifying ways to address it we get to the heart of the problem and alleviate the stress. But, before we can accurately alleviate stress we must know if the problem is a real cause of stress or if we just feel like it is. In order to know, we must be thinking clearly, calmly and rationally. Sometimes after a bit of exercise or calming techniques we may realize the problem is not a major crisis we thought it was.
Many of us prefer to cope by ignoring real causes of stress, but with this tactic the problem will persist and often will get worse. Procrastination only builds stress because we do not really enjoy the things we should when we’re thinking of the important items we are putting off. This creates a nagging cycle of stress. Breaking large tasks into smaller pieces and creating lists of what needs to be done can help us address what we need to do.
Point 2: Avoid stress when possible.
Sometimes we know when a situation is not good for us. By avoiding places where we are likely to get into trouble, people who may not be a good influence on us or something that is upsetting we can avert stress in our lives.
Point 3: Let some things go.
There are many things we do not have control over so it is usually best to just let it go instead of complaining and wasting energy on something we cannot change. That way we will have less to worry about and energy to fix the things we can.
Part 2: Taking Care of My Body
Point 4: The power of exercise.
Daily exercise is the best thing we can do to manage our stress and become strong and healthy. Often when we are stressed we feel we don’t have time for exercise, but that is when we need it the most. Exercise helps bring calm and focus. Regular exercise increases our energy level enabling us to take care of what we need to and thus dodge additional stress.
Point 5: Active relaxation.
Our bodies can only use a relaxed or emergency nervous system one at a time. We can learn to turn on our relaxed system by doing the opposite of what our body does in times of stress. Try deep breathing techniques they really do work. Here is one technique offered by Dr. Ginsburg.
Lie on your back with your hands on your stomach with fingers loose. (Deep breaths first fill your belly, then chest and mouth. The breath expands your belly.) Take a full breath while counting to four. Then hold that breath for a count to eight. Slowly release the breath for a count of eight or longer. Do this ten times to feel much more relaxed.
Point 6: Eat well.
Good nutrition makes you healthier not only physically by also emotionally. A healthy balanced diet contributes to alertness through the day along with a steady mood. Those who eat a high mount of greasy, sugary junk food experience more highs and lows in energy level contributing to difficulty reducing stress.
Point 7: Sleep well.
Most children and adults do not get the sleep needed to grow and think clearly. When we are tired we cannot learn or focus as well and become more irritable. To improve our sleep here are some ideas.
- Go to sleep at the same time each night.
- Exercise at least four hours before bed. A warm shower one hour before bed can help calm your body and fall asleep faster.
- Avoid doing homework, watching television or using a phone or other electronic device in bed.
Part 3: Dealing with Emotions
Point 8: Take instant vacations.
- Take your mind away to a more relaxing place or memory you enjoy for an instant vacation.
- Take time for yourself- do something that allows you to think and distress.
- Enjoy hobbies or creative art.
- Recognize and enjoy the small things around you may have stopped noticing.
- Enjoy nature through a quick walk outside.
Point 9: Release emotional tension.
Stuffing all of our feelings and worries inside can cause us to become angry and frustrated without really knowing why or exploding at the smallest thing potentially unrelated to what is really stressing us. Instead, choose to release thoughts and worries one at a time. Here are some ideas.
- Creativity- Outlets like art, music, poetry, singing, dance are powerful ways to let feelings out.
- Talking- Each person needs a trusted adult that can talk to. For children, hopefully this is their parents, but if they prefer not to tell their parents everything another trusted adult is important. Trusted friends are important as well.
- Journaling- Writing it out can do much to release our concerns.
- Prayer- Many people young and old find prayer and meditation very helpful.
- Laughing or crying- Giving permission to fully feel our em
Part 4: Helping a little can make your world better…and help you feel better.
Point 10: Contribute.
When young people contribute to their communities and the larger world around them they feel good about themselves. The sense of purpose contribution brings also gives them confidence to address their own problems. We all can really make a difference in people’s lives and reap the benefits.
Here are some final questions to ask ourselves as we consider fostering healthy coping strategies within ourselves and youth.
Do we recognize that so many of the risk behaviors youth engage in are attempts at reducing the stress/pain in their lives?
Do we condem young people for their behaviors? Do we increase their sense of shame and therefore drive them toward those behaviors?
Do we guide youth to develop positive, effective coping strategies?
Do we help young people understand when their thoughts are magnifying problems; do we help them to make realistic assessments?
Do we model positive coping strategies on a daily basis?
As we struggle to compose ourselves so we can make the fairest, wisest decisions, do we model how we take control rather than respond impulsively?
Next time we will discuss the final “C” of Dr. Ginsburg’s seven “C’s” of resiliency and discuss control.
For more information visit the Fostering Resilience website, or check out "Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings" by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg.