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Mental Health Stress

How to Survive Teen Stress, Depression and Social Isolation

Teenagers are among the highest demographic group to experience mental health disorders. Surveys have shown that at least one in five – or 20% – of all teens suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition.

During this current time of COVID-19, teen mental health stability may be even more hard to come by. The best defenses against teen stress and mental illness are arming yourself with information, making adjustments where you can, and seeking help when you don’t know what to do.

Social Isolation Triggers of Teen Stress During COVID-19

While mental health concerns are always looming, the current pandemic has supplied some extra fuel for that potential fire. Personality factors, home life, disruptions to routine, and personal losses as a result of COVID-19 influence can all play a role in triggering unhealthy psychological responses to teen stress.

    • Personality and behavior: The effects that social distancing orders have on an individual are likely to vary with the person’s personality bend. Teens who are more introverted tend to have an easier time with a lack of socialization opportunities, while extroverted teens may feel trapped, depressed, and anxious without their typical outlets being available. If you are curious about whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you can get an idea by taking a free personality test.
    • Social isolation and connection: Human beings are creatures of habit. We find comfort in knowing what we are going to be doing from day to day. With all of the daily changes surrounding COVID-19, our routines have been disrupted multiple times, and the end of these changes is nowhere in sight. There is constant talk of more restrictions, less restrictions, getting back to work and school, and staying in place.
    • Life events and milestones: There are certain events that many teenagers anticipate as hallmarks of their high school years. There are proms and formals, shows to perform, and the capstone event of walking across the stage at graduation. This pandemic has disrupted all of those plans. In addition to having to establish new routines, teens may also be having to cope with disappointment surrounding the loss of important milestones.
    • Family functioning and resilience: The shelter-in-place orders have many of us spending more time with our immediate family. If the family is already on friendly terms, this can be a great opportunity to reconnect and spend some quality time together. If the family is not so prone to get along, being cooped up with each other for this amount of time can feel like a prison sentence. Patience for each other can grow short, and arguments can become more frequent.

Warning Signs and Risk Factors for Adolescent Emotional Distress

A sudden change in routines and habits can be stressful on everyone. We can expect to feel even more stress as everything slowly shifts into the “new normal” that we will eventually be living in. The following are some common signs that all of these changes are taking a toll on your mental health.

Teen Anxiety

Anxiety involves worry and fear about the future. Teens already have a lot on their plate when it comes to dealing with future unknowns, and the pandemic isn’t helping. Plans for the next school year are still up in the air, families are worried about finances, and career options after graduation may have been altered. While feeling some measure of anxiety over all of this can be considered normal, levels of anxiety which keep you from completing basic tasks or enjoying simple pleasures are cause for concern.

Teen Depression

Some feelings of sadness and loss are normal during this time of adjustment. Clinical depression occurs when those feelings don’t go away, and when they begin to rob you of the ability to find pleasure in anything. People who are depressed may not want to think about the future, and will lose interest in activities that were once enjoyed. In extreme cases, a depressed person may even think about ending it all through suicide.

Teen Substance Use and Abuse

There are a few factors which tend to contribute to the development of a substance abuse disorder. Existing mental health issues is one. Boredom is another. The conditions created by the social distancing orders can include an increase in both of these areas. If you throw in a chaotic home life, the temptation to escape through drugs or alcohol can be even more intense. As most former addicts can tell you, giving in to this temptation is never worth it.

Preventing and Preparing for a Teen Mental Health Crisis

While teen stress responses to our current circumstances can be extreme, there are healthy ways that we can take that edge off. Being proactive about your mental health can put you back in control of where your life is heading. The following are a few ways to take charge of the situation.

    • Create healthy and productive routines: During a time when the world has lost its daily routine, it is very important that you take charge in creating your own. In addition to setting up some daily rituals toward completing your school  or chore tasks, make sure to include some habits which bring you a sense of peace or comfort. Popular self-care routines include spending a few minutes a day in meditation, treating yourself to a long bath or shower, or setting a daily time to connect with friends.
    • Embrace technology: Young people are often chastised for how much they rely on the internet and social media. For once, they are being encouraged to use more of it. Use your technological expertise to create unique ways to connect with friends over virtual platforms, and share your knowledge with family members who may not have wanted to dive into the tech world before the pandemic. This might even be a great time to finally start up your own blog or channel.
    • Ask for help when/if/as needed: One of the most important skills in navigating life is knowing when we need to ask for help. In addition to an increase in services for many local agencies, there is also increased promotion of national mental health support services. Methods of receiving this type of support include phone calls, video chats, and texting. These types of services can be used while in crisis, and beforehand.
Categories
Adolescence Anxiety Mental Health Stress

Living With Anxiety

Life can be challenging enough without being affected by something that throws off your emotions, disrupts time with friends and everything about your internal universe. Living with anxiety is one of those conditions that affects nearly 18% of the population; that’s a large percentage that deals with acute stress from anxiety on a daily basis. It may not seem that serious to people who never experienced it before, but for those of us that have it, anxiety can change everything.

Understanding Anxiety

Think about that 18%, and think about who is a part of that number—your friends, daughters, sons, mothers, brothers, wives, boyfriends, sisters, etc. To understand what people living with this disorder go through it’s a good idea to know what anxiety is, so that when they experience an event you can be there for support. Anxiety is a stress-related disorder that is considered a mental health condition caused by intense feelings of worry and fear about a variety of things like health related concerns, social situations and more.

One small thing like a pain in your left arm, to someone with acute anxiety, can feel like a heart attack when it’s just a nerve. These little things escalate quickly because our minds, and in that moment, it’s all real. Can you imagine feeling like that all of the time? People that live with anxiety, often don’t have any idea when an event will happen or what the intensity of the event will be. So you can imagine how difficult it is to prepare for, constantly in a state of worry about a future anxiety or panic attack.

We say the event because they are considered disrupting to our daily activities and can make it difficult to engage in anything else other than what’s happening in our heads. Some people will experience similar symptoms that tell them an episode is coming that allows them to be prepared for the experience; others have no idea or are not entirely sure what they’re experiencing until it’s happened enough times to see a physician and be correctly diagnosed.

Common symptoms of an anxiety attack:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Numbness
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Clammy palms and sweating
  • Irritation
  • Restlessness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Nausea

Anxiety is Managed, Not Cured

The problem with anxiety is that the feeling of nervousness and paranoia cannot be avoided, you just learn to work through them or manage them differently. Unfortunately, those with anxiety have to experience an attack multiple times before they understand something is wrong. Medications have been used to tone down symptoms or calm the mind, but counseling is the best method and to figure out what works best for you when you experience an attack. There is no cure, but it’s manageable.

Famous People Suffering from Anxiety

Whether you realize it or not, many famous people suffer from anxiety every day. These celebrities deal with bouts of nervous feelings and fear as they’re performing, presenting or walking around the city. Some of the names you may be familiar with are Emma Stone, Kristen Stewart, Adele, John Mayer, Johnny Depp and Charlize Theron! These people are A-lister’s and are in the public eye every day, no matter what they’re doing. It is possible to live with anxiety and do amazing things, but it takes strength and mindfulness to know yourself and how you react. Be inspired to share your story!

At Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, our clients come to us with a variety of preexisting conditions in addition to their addiction, and we’re here for them every step of the way. Call Visions today to learn more about our addiction recovery and dual diagnosis programs at (866)889-3665.

Categories
Addiction ADHD Adolescence Anxiety Bipolar Disorder Depression Mental Health Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Personality Disorder Recovery Social Anxiety Stress

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Mental illness is a frequent partner of substance abuse and addiction, although the cause-and-effect between the two isn’t always clear. However, the issue is a prevalent one that needs to be considered anytime treatment is sought for substance abuse, because diagnosing both correctly is a key component to a healthy recovery process. There are a number of different types of mental illnesses that are often seen in combination with substance abuse and addiction.

Depression
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses associated with substance abuse. In some cases, substances may be used to mask the symptoms of depression. Other times, substance abuse may bring on the depression symptoms or make them worse. Symptoms of depression might include:

  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Persistent feelings of sadness or guilt
  • Loss of interest in or ability to enjoy activities
  • Diminished energy levels and fatigue
  • Difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Changes to sleep or appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideations

Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are also a frequent problem for those struggling with substance abuse. There are different types of anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety and panic attacks. Substances may be used to lessen the symptoms at first, which often only serves to make the symptoms more intense over time. Symptoms of these conditions might include:

  • Feelings of restlessness or nervousness
  • Excessive and ongoing worry and tension
  • Irritability and fearfulness
  • Sweaty palms, racing heart, shortness of breath
  • Headaches, dizziness or nausea

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
ADHD is a disorder often diagnosed in adolescents and frequently associated with substance abuse. This disorder is characterized by three basic components:

  • Hyperactivity – difficulty sitting still, excessive talking, always seems to be “on the go”
  • Inattention – disorganization, lack of focus, forgetfulness, distraction
  • Impulsivity – impatience, blurting out answers, guessing instead of solving problems

Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a mental disorder characterized by extreme swings of mood and energy levels. During the manic phase, the individual exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Excessive irritability
  • Bursts of energy, requiring little sleep
  • Distracted easily
  • Engage in impulsive, high-risk behaviors

Manic phases are typically followed by depressed states, which may include the following symptoms:

  • Extended periods of sadness or hopelessness
  • Low energy, excessive fatigue
  • Significant changes to appetite and sleep patterns
  • Thoughts and ideations of suicide

When mental illness accompanies a substance abuse disorder, it is imperative to address both disorders simultaneously to give the patient the best odds for a successful recovery. At Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, we are experienced in treating both of these conditions at the same time, a situation known as dual diagnosis. Our team of healthcare professionals is equipped to work through both disorders and give our patients the best odds of successful sobriety and improved mental health. To learn more about dual diagnosis or our treatment programs, contact Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers at 866-889-3665.

Categories
Addiction Anxiety Depression Mental Health Social Anxiety Stress

More College Students Struggle with Mental Illness


The number of college students seeking help for mental illness is on the rise, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. As campuses scramble to provide sufficient services for these students, some students are seeing increases in tuition rates to cover the cost. Despite the spending increases, many schools are still lacking the number of support staff needed based on the size of the campus to handle the students in need. More concerning is the fact that one-third of all schools do not have a psychiatrist on staff at all.

Reports of mental illness on college campuses has been increasing over the last two decades. “The American Freshman” 2014 survey by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that in 1994, nine percent of college students were taking a prescription drug for a mental illness. By 2014, that number had increased to 26 percent. Nearly 10 percent of freshmen in 2014 said they felt depressed “frequently,” compared to 6.1 percent in 2009.

Type of Mental Illnesses

The two most common types of mental illnesses seen among college students are anxiety and depression. According to a 2013 report from the American Psychological Association, 41.6 percent of students seeking support for their mental disorder had symptoms of anxiety, while 36.4 percent reported symptoms of depression. Relationship issues, which are commonly associated with the college years, made up 35.8 percent of concerns.

A 2011 National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey found that nearly 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed they were unable to function.” Of that number, 6.6 percent admitted to seriously contemplating suicide at least once during the past year. The American Psychiatric Association found that half of all college students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety during the same time frame.

Mental Illness and Addiction

Addressing mental illness on college campuses is a significant concern, considering many students dealing with mental disorders may also struggle with substance abuse or addiction. According to the Center for College Health and Safety, 20 percent of students that use drugs or alcohol are also likely to experience depression at the same time. Students that use substances are also four times more likely to have a diagnosis of a disruptive behavior disorder. The statistics suggest that addressing mental illness could also have a positive impact on substance use on some campuses.

Substance abuse and addiction are serious problems that are often accompanied by mental illness. At Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, we specialize in treating the combination of addiction and mental illness, known as a co-occurring disorder. We can help individuals address both of these issues simultaneously to improve their odds of sobriety and a higher quality of life overall. To learn more about our programs, contact Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers at 866-889-3665.

Categories
Depression Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Stress

New Study Talks About Stress and Teen Girls

Adolescents experience a lot of stress, more than we may even realize. Stress can come from the natural ups and downs at school because of academic pressure, or via social circles, or from an overwrought family system. For some kids, one thing leads to another, and they find themselves trying to process all of that at the same time. How often are these kids who are struggling in this way, boxed into the at-risk nomenclature? Naming the problem and doing something about it are very different things. Further, if we tell these kids they are at-risk, it evokes a negative connotation. These kids are, in reality, under-served and often ignored.

I teach a yoga class to tweens/teens, and I was warned that one of my new kids was a “problem.” I was told she would be a “nightmare” because she was caught smoking last year, implying that she was also a “bad” kid. I chose not to view her as a problem, or a nightmare, or bad. Instead, I approached her with compassion and kindness and boundaries. I recognized that this kid doesn’t need to be judged; she needs to be seen. She has become one of the most dedicated students in my class. She looks forward to being there. She is kind to her classmates and respectful to me, the teacher. This young lady has allowed herself to be vulnerable enough to allow the process of yoga and conscious breath to disassemble her stress–even if it’s in incremental amounts. The shift has been profound.

A new study talks about teenage girls being more prone to depression when they are exposed to a lot of stress. My class is comprised mostly of girls, most of whom share that they are under stress.  In this recent study, “Jessica Hamilton a doctoral student in the Mood and Cognition Laboratory of Lauren Alloy at Temple University hypothesized that life stressors, especially those related to adolescents’ interpersonal relationships and that adolescents themselves contribute to (such as a fight with a family member or friend), would facilitate these vulnerabilities and, ultimately, increase teens’ risk of depression.”

Researchers examined data from 382 Caucasion and African-American students in an ongoing study. Their findings corroborated Hamilton’s theory, showing increased levels of rumination, depression and emotional vulnerability. Seven months later, when they did follow-up testing, the girls showed higher levels of depressive systems than the boys did. The study also showed that the girls had been faced with more stressors than the boys had. The theory is that if boys and girls faced the same amount of stress, the results of the research would have reflected higher rates in depression regardless of sex.

Stress can be a direct result of consistently not having one’s needs met, feeling disconnected or alone, and from unmitigated change at home: divorce, job loss, violence, poverty, or chronic illness. Additionally, the new independence that comes with the teen years can also be stressful. As much as teens want to individuate, the reality that they have to suddenly do many things themselves can be overwhelming for some.

 

How can we de-stress? Try one or all of these on for size:

1: Time outs are a time in. They are an opportunity for us to reset our minds and bodies.

2: Ask for help.  You don’t have to do this alone.

3: Get some fresh air: go for a walk, or find a way to get outside!

4: Take a media time out: unplug for an hour, and dedicate that time to self-care. If you really want to challenge yourself, turn your phone off for the day!

5: Breathe: 10 deep breaths, extending the exhale each time. Do three or more cycles of this.

6: Say no. No is a complete sentence. Remember this!

Each of these tools encourages an emotional reset. They help turn that fight-or-flight response off and help your body engage its rest-and-digest system. Sometimes, we have to consciously remind our bodies to slow down, but we have to practice. Studies like the one above are a good reminder, a wake-up call, telling us that we have to slow down and process our emotions in a safe, reflective way. Teens need to know they will be ok.

Categories
Anxiety Parenting Recovery Self-Care Stress

Is Your Teen Stressed About Graduation?

It’s time for Graduation!

During graduation time, it’s not uncommon for many teens to fall under great pressure from parents and teachers to exceed in academia or to get accepted into the ideal university. Stress tends to be high at the end of the year, no matter how you spin it. Often times, stress is somaticized (converted into physical symptoms) and it shows up in the form of : stomach aches, headaches, difficulty sleeping, eating more or eating less, and even mood swings.

 

Unfortunately, some kids turn to drugs and alcohol to attempt to quell the anxiety and physical manifestations of their stress, while others may sink into depression. Under stress, our nervous systems go on the fritz, thrusting the body toward a fight/flight/freeze response. If there is no healthy outlet to discharge that stress, it manifests physically.

 

At the end of the year, when graduation looms, there’s a very real potential for an increase alcohol and drug use, anxiety, and depression. We know that adolescent substance abuse tends to rise in the summer months of June and July. According to a report recently released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “approximately 11,000 adolescents use alcohol for the first time, 5,000 try their first cigarette, and 4,500 begin using marijuana” during the months of June and July. But facts aside, what can we, as parents, educators, and mental-health professionals do about it? Can you commit to this:

  • Create safe, open spaces for our kids to talk to us.
  • Create a  safe, open environment to facilitate healthy dialogue.
  • Be present for your kids, emotionally and physically.
  • Take care of your own needs and make sure your history is not spilling onto your kids’ present.

For teens already in recovery, managing that end-of-year stress around graduation is crucial:

  • Use your resources and ask for help from parents, teachers, your sponsor, mentor, or another safe adult.
  • Create prioritized lists, checking things off as you go.
  • Create a schedule.
  • Make time for self-care. Healthy physical activity is great for getting the endorphins going, a bubble bath is self-soothing, yoga or meditation will help you get grounded and settle in.
  • Take breaks. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take short 10-minute breaks every half hour and stretch, get up, walk around. You’ll notice an increase in your productivity.
  • Hang a picture of something or someone that inspires you near your workspace.

Try and remember that graduation is something to celebrate. It’s a wonderful accomplishment and something you’ve been working toward since childhood. All of the scraped knees, tears, trophies, reports, dissections and memorization got you to this place. Celebrate it healthfully!

Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Prevention Recovery Stress

8 Ways to Kick Stress to the Curb

Stress can be really high at this time of the year. Family reunions aren’t always easy, money can be tight, and if you are newly in recovery, the temptation to imbibe is high. The reality is, stress if everywhere no matter the time of year; it’s how we manage it that makes the most difference. Developing quality coping skills is an essential piece to managing stress. Here are 8 tools to help you manage your stress and have fun while doing it!

 

1: Create some healthy rituals: take a bath before bed, do yoga or meditation in the morning before you start your day or before you retire at night.

 

2: Get outside: take walks, go on hikes, do whatever you need to do to get some sunshine (even in December) and absorb some of that healthy Vitamin D. If going outside isn’t an option (say, you are in Maine and there’s an ice storm!), adding plants to your home or workspace can elicit a similar sense of calm and reduce stress.

 

3: Do something that is relaxing and which allows to turn off your head: do a puzzle, knit or crochet, read a book, draw, go surfing or skiing. Essentially, do something that focuses doing something with your hands or body.

 

4: Use positive imagery or meditation to ground (stay connected):

 

A: Check in with your mind and body and visualize a safe space where you are rooted to the earth, and connected to your breath and body. Find an image that is soothing for you and breathe into that heart space.

 

B: Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart: breathe into your hands for a minimum of 3 cycles of 10 breaths.

 

5: Exercise: go for a run, walk, or hike. Take a spin class, or go to yoga. Get your endorphins going. You’ll be amazing at the stress relief you find!

 

6: Breathe. Take long, deep breaths. The longer your exhale, the more efficient you are at activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Try this: breathe in for the count of 4, breathe out for the count of 5.

Do this several times. In layman’s terms, the parasympathetic nervious system is what calms you down. It is essentially the emergency medical technician of your nervous system. The best thing about the breath: It’s portable, you do it all the time, and it’s easy to use.

 

7: Have a dance party.  Put on some silly tunes and rock out in your kitchen, or living room, or wherever the mood strikes you. The goofier, the better.

 

8: Say “No.” You don’t have to always say “Yes” to someone’s request. If your plate is too full, say “No”! Creating those boundaries will lesson your stress. You can only do so much.

 

Be kind to yourself this holiday season and beyond and Kick Stress to the Curb. As the Buddha said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”

 

Categories
Feelings Holidays Mental Health Prevention Recovery Self-Care Stress Wellness

Compassion and Kindness Over Holiday Hustling

We are neck deep in last-minute holiday madness! Traffic is catawampus, and the stores

are loud and overly crowded. I am noticing and experiencing a real hustle and bustle to get things done for the upcoming Christmas holiday, but for many of us, holidays can represent added stress and perhaps anxiety.

 

How about flipping the holiday coin, so to speak, and leaning into the recovery work you’ve been doing around stress and anxiety? Try taking a look at this holiday as an opportune time to work with your discomfort and begin to hold some internal space for it. You may begin to notice some of the other amazing things that occur during this time of year: joy, friendship, abundance, and generosity, community and togetherness.

 

Here are some thoughts on how to do this while also taking care of yourself at the same time:

 

Self-care: You need to care for yourself first before you can care for others. You can’t do anything effectively if you are pulling from an empty well. So, what does that self-care look like for you?

 

Be of service: Do one random act of kindness every day (more if you are inspired).

 

1. Buy a coffee for the person behind you at Starbucks.

 

2. Buy a homeless person a meal.

 

3. Help someone with their groceries at the market.

 

4. Volunteer at an animal shelter.

 

5. Offer to help an elderly neighbor or with their groceries.

 

6. Take a commitment at a meeting. The greeter commitment is a favorite because you get to meet new people.

 

Be kind (to yourself and to others), even when you don’t want to.

 

Practice compassion. “Sympathetic concern for the sufferings and/or misfortunes of others.” There’s a difference between pity and concern: Compassion isn’t a way to feel sorry for someone. It’s an opportunity to show care and kindness to the suffering of others.

 

These small acts of kindness and service during the holidays may actually decrease our focus on stress and anxiety created around the holiday itself. Acts of kindness and compassion facilitate connection with others and allow us to let go of some of that stress and anxiety we are holding onto. Connected action allows us to reconnect with the roots of what the holiday is really about: community, love, and togetherness.  Ironically, all that running around to get last-minute items actually makes us disconnected.

 

So, I leave you with this: a video of two 16-year-olds engaging in random acts of kindness. They dress up as superheroes, wearing tights and capes, and running around paying for people’s food, giving tips to waitresses without even ordering, helping people out when they see they’re struggling to pay for something, and feeding a homeless guy. What can you do this holiday season to practice random acts of kindness? You don’t need a cape and tights, just some willingness to be kind.

 

 

Categories
Adolescence Feelings Mental Health Self-Care Stress

Art: A Healthy Outlet for Difficult Emotions

Art is a wonderful outlet for your difficult emotions like stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and frustration. You don’t have to be Basquiat or Banksy, Ruth Bernhard, or Diane Arbus, Steinbeck or Tolstoy; you just have to be yourself. One definition of art is: “works produced by human, creative skill and imagination.” In other words, your options are limitless.

 

Earlier this week, I wrote about self-regulation and self-care.  Finding your artistic outlet is a wonderful way to self-regulate.  So, what will it be?

 

  • Are you inclined to write? Start a journal. Or write a short story or poem.
  • Is painting your thing? Maybe start with a skeleton of an idea (a feeling, smell, site, or sound) and let your paintbrush or fingers lead the way.
  • Maybe music is your emotional salve. Play for the sake or playing, or sing for the sake of singing.
  • Perhaps photography moves you. Make a random list of things (pirate, horseshoe, laughter, etc.) and go on a photo adventure to find those things.

 

All of these artistic endeavors create space within. Allowing yourself to be creative is a great way to get out of your head and into your heart. Creating art is a magnificent, non-verbal way of processing feelings that can otherwise be too big.

Susan the Art Lady guides and encourages our kids to get into their “art brain,” so to speak, and some of the pieces I’ve seen as a result of their creative sessions have been phenomenal. It’s amazing what happens when we let go. It’s inspiring when we can set aside our judgments of others and ourselves and feed that energy into creating something that is uniquely ours.

 

So as we continue this path of self-regulation and self-care, we can add art to our list of resources. There’s something truly wonderful when we access our right brains and relinquish some of our control. There’s infinite healing in paint, in light, in putting pen to paper, and in a coloratura. Art is part of heart, after all.

 

Categories
Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Stress

Stress: Take the Reins Back

Most of us have stress in our lives. It comes with being a human being in a busy world. As parents, we have the stress of running a home, working, and raising children. As teachers, we have the stress of providing safe, nurturing, educational forums for our students. As therapists and mental-health workers, we have the stress of the role of caretaker. All of these are wonderful and virtuous roles and the stress that comes with them is tolerable when there are outlets to discharge it and refuel. Where stress becomes intolerable is in situations where there is no relief. Long-term stress will eventually create larger issues like:

 

  • Headaches
  • Neck, Shoulder and Back Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Digestion issues (stomach aches, heartburn)
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Compromised immune system
  • Depression
  • Worry
  • Irritability and/or anger
  • Eating too much or not enough

 

There are many ways in which we can manage stress. We can:

 

Breathe. Our breath is one of the most magnificent tools we have. It is something we can do without effort, but it is also something that can be done with focused effort. When we practice controlling our breath, and raising our consciousness around it, it can greatly benefit our nervous systems. Taking deep, meaningful breaths nourishes and invokes our parasympathetic nervous systems, the part of our brains responsible for relaxation and calm. In fact, if our nervous system had a fire department, the parasympathetic nervous system is it. We have to engage in activities that support our parasympathetic nervous systems so we can learn to self-regulate.

 

Slow down. Do you really have to do everything RIGHT NOW?  Prioritize your to-do lists and figure out what needs to be done immediately and what can wait a little bit. Do one thing at a time. Multitasking, though it may seem efficient, can sometimes slow you down.

 

Exercise. Take more walks, do yoga, go surfing, jog. Do something that gets you into your body and allows your mind to rest.

 

Get enough sleep! 5 hours a night won’t cut it, folks. Your body and mind need time to recharge. Anything less than 6 and more than 8 hours of sleep increases inflammation in the body, which will increase your levels of stress, and decrease your ability to self-regulate.

 

Turn off your electronics and go outside! Vitamin Nature is a phenomenal way to get grounded and recharge.

 

Be silly. Laughter is magical. It really is. A good case of the giggles can be incredibly liberating.

 

Stay in the present moment. The more we can accept where we are and what we are dealing with, the better equipped we will be when it comes to managing our stress. My favorite quote from Ajahn Sumedo really illuminates present moment awareness: “Right now, it’s like this.”

 

When we are rigid around our issues, we resemble a stiff, inflexible tree with brittle branches that break with the least amount of pressure. But when we are grounded and our needs our met, those rigid branches become fluid and move with the rustle of the winds. We become simultaneously grounded and flexible. Stress is considered the “silent killer,” but it doesn’t have to be. We can actually restructure our brains by being kinder to our nervous systems with mindful practices of self-care.

As the Buddha said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”