Improve Mental Health with Stress Relief Strategies: Take Control Now

This post provides strategies to help better manage stress and take control of your mental health. It guides readers through various aspects of the topic such as understanding difficult situations, identifying vocal behaviors, developing a plan for issues, and creating a self-care routine. It offers practical advice for creating space for self-reflection, managing your thoughts and emotions, and cultivating self-compassion. Furthermore, it emphasizes that while no one strategy fits all, self-awareness, determination, and consistency are key to achieving personal wellness.

We all occasionally feel overwhelmed by stress, and for some, it can be more than just a passing feeling. Our bodies react to stress in order to prevent a physical, emotional, or psychological reaction, but if it’s not managed properly, it can lead to more serious issues like anxiety and depression. As the start of the current school year draws near, many students, parents, and teachers are considering this.

“We know that anxiety and depression levels have gone up dramatically for both adults and children over the last year and a half, and stressors will only increase these numbers if they are not managed with coping tools and self-care, and possibly even professional care,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill-Cornell Medical College and a psychoanalyst with the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.

Stress, anxiety, and depression make it difficult to function, which prevents children from learning and adults from working. For this reason, according to Saltz, it’s important to educate adults and students about the warning signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as how to combat stress.

Building stress management skills

For parents, kids, and teachers to succeed during any school year, but especially in the upcoming academic year when COVID-19 is still a concern, stress management and coping mechanisms are essential.

“Kids and teens have been exposed to a far different environment of study and socialization, with many losing interest in academics and reporting a waning in attention span and ability to concentrate for long periods of time,” says Julia Turovsky, PhD, clinical psychologist, anxiety expert, and founder of QuietMindCBT.

More specifically, a lot of students have been studying and working for shorter periods of time and in various settings over the past year. Turovsky makes the observation that students might have lost socialization abilities as a result of a lack of exposure to other children, particularly in groups.

According to her, “students, teachers, and even parents have described having a “social battery” that is more easily depleted.” This means they get overstimulated and exhausted from socializing with both individuals and groups and need to return home to rest and recharge.” For people of all ages, this can cause high levels of stress.

However, preparing for these changes beforehand can help everyone transition to school more easily. Students, parents, and teachers can all have the resources they require for a successful and productive 2021–2022 academic year by learning stress management techniques.

All kinds of stressors will be present for students throughout the academic year. Success depends on having the right tools to manage the effects. Here are a few coping mechanisms:

Practice deep belly breathing.

You can practice deep breathing between classes, at lunch, or before and after school. This simple exercise can help you relax and refocus:

  1. Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor and place one hand on your abdomen. Make sure your muscles are relaxed.
  2. Breathe deeply through your nose until your abdomen rises.
  3. Hold this breath for 5 seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth like you’re blowing through a straw.
  4. Repeat this pattern for 3 to 5 minutes.

Try progressive muscle relaxation.

The American Psychological Association recommends progressive muscle relaxation to combat stress and reduce anxiety. This exercise helps you to relax your body and mind:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, ideally lying down.
  2. Start by tensing your lower leg muscles.
  3. While contracting these muscles, breathe in for 5 to 10 seconds, then exhale and release the contraction.
  4. Stay in this relaxed position for 10 seconds.
  5. Move your way up your body, contracting different muscle groups while breathing in and out, holding for 5 to 10 seconds with each breath, and then relaxing for 10 seconds before moving to the next muscle group.

Participate in regular physical activities.

Exercise and sports participation on a daily basis can help to lessen the effects of stress. Encourage your child to participate in a sport or extracurricular activity, or go for a family evening walk.

Recognize and accept all emotions.

Children and teenagers, according to Turovsky, need to understand that using coping mechanisms does not mean that all unpleasant emotions, such as being unhappy, irritated, frustrated, depressed, or anxious, will go away. Instead, coping mechanisms should enable them to identify these feelings and learn to accept them, rather than trying to suppress them.

The start of a new school year can be a stressful time for students, parents, and teachers alike. To help manage stress, Dr. Turovsky, a clinical psychologist, recommends that students, parents, and teachers alike learn to communicate their struggles, find a few trusted listeners, and practice daily self-care.

Learn to communicate struggles.

Turovsky says students should be encouraged by parents and teachers to share when they are tired, distracted, or overwhelmed. Specific coping skills may be different for everyone, but Turovsky says that for most of us, they may include sharing these difficult emotions with people we love and trust.

Find a few trusted listeners.

It’s also important that students have someone who will listen to them in an attentive and nonjudgmental way. Students of all ages should find at least two adults they trust and have access to most of the time. This could include a school employee, family friend, family member, community support person, or mental health professional. Have your child write the names and contact information down on a card to put in their backpack or phone.

Take a meditation break.

Even a 5-minute meditation break — in the school pick-up line, before leaving for work, or before going to bed — can help reduce stress and clear your mind. You can also use this time to practice deep belly breathing to further reduce stress. To start a meditation practice, make sure you’re in a quiet place. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and focus on the present moment. If your thoughts stray — to events that happened yesterday, to your to-do list, or to anything other than the present — acknowledge them, but then let them go and bring the attention back to the present moment. The more you practice mindfulness meditation, the easier it gets to keep your thoughts from spinning out of control.

Practice daily self-care.

Self-care is frequently the first thing that parents prioritize over other tasks. Turovsky, however, asserts that self-care is more crucial than ever. In order to avoid overstimulation and irritability, she advises eating healthily, drinking plenty of water, getting plenty of exercise, resting, and alone time.

Minimize your media consumption.

Taking breaks from social media and the news can help you feel less stressed. Take into account limiting the amount of leisure (non-work related) time you spend online, or limit it to one hour per day at a set time.

Surround yourself with supportive people.

Social support is critical when managing stress. Finding people you trust — whether friends, family members, or coworkers — can help you mitigate the adverse effects of stress. Set aside time each week to meet with a friend. If possible, use this time to exercise, since physical activity also decreases stress. Agree to walk together a few times a week or go for a bike ride.

Coping strategies for teachers and school employees.

In addition to the strategies listed for students and parents, here are additional ways teachers and other school employees can cope with stress. Acknowledge your feelings. Like students, Turovsky says teachers and other school employees need to acknowledge that they may be dealing with burnout. When this happens, the best thing you can do is treat yourself with compassion. “Practicing self-compassion includes recognizing your distress cues and negative emotions and validating them, rather than being self-critical,” says Turovsky.

Ask for support from your administrators.

“The stress of burnout specifically is affecting many school workers, and this requires their place of work to reduce workload, limit work hours, permit hours after work where they are truly off, and create a safe workspace,” says Saltz. Teachers and other school employees, she says, should also know that their workplace will support and guide them toward help with mental health issues if they are struggling.

Take a breather.

You can practice deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation—both discussed above—between classes, at lunch, or before and after school.

Practice daily self-care.

Ways to manage stress during the school year include:

Eating rightProvides energy and nutrients to the body
Daily exerciseReleases endorphins and reduces stress
Mindfulness meditationHelps to clear the mind and stay in the present moment
Proper sleepRestores energy and helps to reduce stress

The start of a new school year can be a stressful time for students, parents, and teachers alike. To help manage stress, Dr. Turovsky, a clinical psychologist, recommends that students, parents, and teachers alike learn to communicate their struggles, find a few trusted listeners, and practice daily self-care. This includes eating right, daily exercise, mindfulness meditation, and proper sleep. Taking breaks from social media and the news can also help reduce stress. Finally, it is important to surround yourself with supportive people and ask for support from your administrators.

Making Goals a Reality

It’s the start of a new school year and you want to make sure your family is healthy and stress-free. Here are some tips to make these goals a reality:

Consider using Sunday to plan your meals and exercise for the week.Take some time to plan out your meals and exercise for the week ahead. This will help you stay organized and on track.
Keep a spare gym bag in your car.This will come in handy if you have time to take a walk during lunch or after school.
Stock your refrigerator with precut vegetables and fruit.Having precut vegetables and fruit on hand will make it easier to grab a healthy snack on the go.
Go to bed at a reasonable and consistent time each night.Getting enough sleep is essential for managing stress and staying healthy.

Knowing when to seek additional help

If handling anxiety and stress on your own isn’t working, it may be time to seek professional help. “Parents need to know the signs to look for so that they know when it’s time to bring their child to a professional for an evaluation and possibly treatment,” says Saltz. They also need to communicate with educators when they think their child needs more help, attention, tools, and support. Additionally, says Saltz, parents need to know when their children may need extra help. “It’s hard to help your child with anxiety if you yourself have an anxiety disorder,” she says.

What are some common signs of stress management?

Feelings of irritation and angerFeeling easily annoyed or frustrated
Lack of motivationFeeling unmotivated or uninterested in activities
Feeling overwhelmedFeeling like there is too much to do and not enough time
Nervousness or anxiousnessFeeling worried or uneasy
Trouble sleepingHaving difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
Sadness or depressionFeeling down or hopeless
Trouble concentratingHaving difficulty focusing or staying on task
Worsening of chronic health problems or mental health conditionsExisting health conditions may become worse due to stress
Changes in appetiteEating more or less than usual
Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other substancesUsing substances to cope with stress
Headaches, body pains, and stomach or digestive issuesPhysical symptoms of stress

It’s normal to experience temporary stress. But if you or your child are experiencing extended periods of stress symptoms, it may be a sign that stress is not being properly managed. Start with your doctor or your child’s doctor. They may want to check for physical signs of stress or other health conditions. Ask about a referral to a counselor or therapist. Here are some resources that may help:

The conclusion

Everyone experiences stress. However, being aware of it and managing it can help lessen its negative effects and maintain your family’s health throughout the academic year. You can manage daily stressors by scheduling time for self-care, eating a healthy diet, exercising, practicing deep breathing, talking to friends and family, and asking for assistance. It’s time to call a doctor if these interventions are failing and you feel that your stress levels or your child’s stress levels are getting out of hand. They can assist in determining whether a recommendation for a mental healthcare specialist is required.


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