May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
With youth mental health disorders on the rise, now more than ever, it’s vital that both children and adults to protect their mental health.
Mental health is especially important for providers who give so much of themselves to help others daily. Dr. Christopher Min, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC, even says that for providers, “self-care is an ethical issue, not an optional endeavor.” But in the midst of a busy day of care, practicing stress relief and self-care strategies may be the last thing on providers’ minds.
Here, Dr. Katelyn Anderson, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC, has mapped out some simple ways for providers to practice coping skills to manage stress. These can take minutes and can be done anywhere: in the car, at home or at the office. These skills can help you get a few much-deserved minutes of respite during your day, while helping you maintain your overall health.
Use theses seven strategies to practice stress relief:
1. Belly breathing
Belly breathing can help relax your muscles and racing heart when feeling nervous or stressed. It can help you think more clearly, while relieving your body and mind from fogginess or pain.
How to practice belly breathing
- Lie down on the floor or sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, filling your lungs up with air.
- Your belly should expand as you breathe in, but the hand on your chest should stay still.
- Turn your lips into “O” as you exhale.
- Feel your stomach flattens as your muscles tighten.
Like any other skill, the more you practice belly breathing, the better you will become. You can also practice belly breathing with your kids or whole family, no matter the age
2. Getting active
Getting active isn’t just good for physical health; it’s good for mental health!
If you’re feeling bored, tired, hyperactive, sad, angry or nervous, getting out and getting active can help even out your emotions.
Activity ideas to help you get active
- Go for a run.
- Go on a family walk or hike.
- Lift weights.
- Attend a yoga class or do a yoga video at home.
- Follow workout videos online.
- Go on a bike ride.
- Go roller blading.
- Play with your kids or pets outside.
- Join a sports team or pick-up game with friends.
- Join a dance class.
Let these ideas serve as inspiration to find activities to get active and have some fun while doing so.
3. Guided Imagery
Have you ever pictured yourself relaxing on vacation when feeling stressed? It’s actually a valid, effective way for someone to cope with stressful times or situations. This strategy is called guided imagery.
How to practice guided imagery
In guided imagery, you use your imagination to focus on your senses and change the way you think and feel. It’s like daydreaming when your mind wanders; you get to imagine doing something fun.
Use the following steps to practice guided imagery:
- Look at videos or photos of a favorite place. Or think of an imagery script, a favorite smell or a favorite memory.
- If you have a photo or video to look at, do that first. Otherwise, go ahead and close your eyes.
- Imagine that you are in your special place. It can be anywhere in the world — you may be at the beach, lying in the grass at the park or in your grandma’s kitchen. Choose a place or memory that makes you feel peaceful and safe.
- Use your daydreaming skills to think about every little thing that makes your place special. Think about what you see, smell, taste, hear and feel in your special place.
- If you have a favorite scent, or a scent from your memory, you can use that to help you relax into the place you are visiting in your mind.
- Be aware of how comfortable your body feels when you are imagining yourself in this place. You may notice your breathing slow down and your muscles get looser as your whole body relaxes.
- Once you are relaxed, you can open your eyes.
A journal is a great place to write about your thoughts and feelings and record daily activities. It can help you relieve stress, learn more about yourself, process strong emotions and solve problems. Journaling can be helpful when you are upset, scared or angry, or when you are excited about something – there’s no wrong way to do it!
To get started, find a notebook and a pen. Pen and paper are best but typing on a tablet or computer works too. Journaling is best done in a comfortable, relaxing and quiet setting — free from interruptions and distractions.
Then, start writing, drawing or typing! There is no right or wrong way to journal. It’s nice to start with 10 minutes of journaling, and then lengthen that time as the skill develops. Then, the more often you journal, the more you will learn about yourself and the better you will feel!
If you don’t know what to write about, here are some ideas to get you started:
- What you did today.
- Something you’re looking forward to, and why.
- Something you’re grateful for.
- Something you’re worried about, and why.
- A time you felt strong or proud.
- Highs and lows: talk about your “high” or happiest part of your day, or your “low” or most challenging part of your day.
5. Giving thanks
Giving thanks or expressing gratitude is not something to wait until Thanksgiving for. Instead, it’s a practice that can be done anytime — in the morning, afternoon or night. It’s a great strategy to help you put things in perspective and feel more content.
Although giving thanks can be especially helpful when you are feeling stressed, frustrated or sad, you can also give thanks when you are feeling fine to remember the great things in your life.
How to practice giving thanks
To practice this skill, think about the things that you are grateful for: maybe it’s your home and belongings, experiences you’ve had or the people in your life. Then, write down the things you are thankful for in a journal or notebook.
You can even take your gratitude practice a step further by telling the people in your lives that you are grateful for them. Make a phone call, send a text or send a letter to your loved one expressing your thankfulness to them. It will make both of your days brighter!
6. Muscle relaxation
Muscle relaxation is the perfect way to help calm your body and mind when feeling nervous, stressed or upset. By tensing and releasing different muscles, you allow your mind to calm and focus. It can also help you practice recognizing when stress or worry may be causing pain and tension in different parts of your body and how you can release it.
How to practice muscle relaxation
To perform muscle relaxation, start by getting into a comfortable position. You can lie down or sit on a chair with your feet on the ground. Then, take five to 10 deep breaths and start to focus on tensing and relaxing the various parts of your body. Here’s how to relax your different muscle groups:
- Face: begin by squeezing all the muscles in your face — eyes, cheeks, nose and forehead. Scrunch up your face. Hold in tight and count to 10. Then, let go of the tightness and feel the muscles in your face melt into relaxation.
- Jaw: start with your jaw by clenching your teeth, and biting down like you have a jawbreaker in your mouth. Hold for 10 seconds and release.
- Shoulders and neck: move onto your shoulders and neck, squeezing and lifting your shoulders up to your ears — like a turtle. And release. You can repeat this a few times. Make sure to continue your belly breaths through each exercise.
- Back: arch your back and try to touch your shoulders together, hold and then release.
- Stomach: move down to your stomach, sucking in and making it hard like a rock. Hold it for three seconds and then let it go.
- Arms: to relax your arms, lift them in the air, stretching like you can touch the ceiling and then release. Or squeeze your arms against your body and hold for a few seconds before releasing.
- Hands: for your hands, clench your fists and pretend you’re squeezing something tight in your hands — like you’re squeezing the lemon juice out of lemons.
- Legs, feet and toes: squeeze and curl your toes underneath your feet and release. Imagine a nice feeling of being warm as you relax each of your muscles.
When you finish, take a few deep breaths and enjoy feeling relaxed.
7. Pay it forward
Usually, when we are helpful to others, we feel happier ourselves! Although providers help others daily, this can be a practice to do occasionally with your family or friends. Helping others can be a great way to relieve stress, feel grateful and help teach your family about generosity.
Here are some simple ways to pay it forward:
- Donating food to a food bank.
- Cleaning up trash in your neighborhood or at the beach.
- Volunteering at an animal shelter.
- Helping family members or neighbors with yard work.
- Bringing a snack or treat to someone who is sick.
- Giving a compliment to a friend or colleague.
- Baking some treats for teachers, providers or first responders.
- Covering someone’s meal behind you at the drive-thru.
- Leaving an extra generous tip for your waiter.
- Sending encouraging letters to family or friends.
CHOC’s mental health team created practical videos explaining all seven of these stress relief methods. Geared towards kids, these can be great to share with your patients, and families and even to review these methods yourself.
For more about CHOC’s pediatric mental health services