We all feel stressed or anxious at times in our lives. Some of us are more prone to anxiety due to genetics, and others of us have learned or been taught to worry or fear certain things in life. Anxiety or fears are not necessarily bad because it is part of our brain’s warning system when it perceives something dangerous/bad is happening, such as, a storm is approaching and your thoughts may be telling you to seek shelter, which is normal/natural. Our brain can also perceive danger when there is none, an example being not getting an A on an exam is detrimental and the world is coming to an end.
Below I have listed some ways to help children and adults reduce stress or worries. While not an exhaustive list, it can serve as a starting place to remind each of us that we have control our emotions and learn to how react thoughtfully and calmly.
One: Draw it. Have your child draw their worries or fears on one piece of paper. On a second piece of paper, have your child draw a person(s), place, animal, or anything that makes them feel safe or happy or calm. For example, they might draw or write on one piece of paper about their fear being in the dark. On the other piece of paper, they might draw a picture of them petting their dog, which makes them feel calm and relaxed. You can tell them before they go to bed, to remember how they felt when they were petting their dog, and that calmness in their body. This can help your child become less worried about going to bed in the dark. Of course reassuring them you are there for them, can help too.
Two: Talk it out. Talking about what is worrying us can help reduce the emotional charge that situation or event has in that moment. Talk with people you feel safe with like parents, friends or other trusted people in your life. The person we are speaking with can empathize and validate our feelings, which can make us feel supported and loved and help diffuse our stress.
Three: Meditation or deep breathing. Taking five to ten minutes each morning to breath deeply, or during times of stress, can help reduce feeling overwhelmed. When we pay attention to our breathing, i.e. inhaling through our nose to a count of four and exhaling through our mouth for a count of four, we stop focusing on the chatter in our minds and begin to relax. If you get caught short of time and don’t have 5 or 10 minutes, take the time while brushing your teeth or sitting at a stop light, to notice each breath as you inhale and exhale, re-centering yourself.
Four: Good ole exercise. Taking a walk, whether it is with a friend or by your-self, can help reduce the stress you hold in your bodies. You can listen to your favorite calming music while exercising, focus on our breathing or practice mindfulness in observing your surroundings.
Five: The method that works for me may be different from what works for you, and that is okay. If you find listening to music, exercise or talking to someone isn’t working try something new. Journaling, drawing, guided imagery meditations, and writing music or poems are other ways to cope with stress and fears. Another option is writing down all your worries before bed, placing those worries in a “worry box”, and putting the box somewhere away from your bed. In the morning get your worry box out, review your worry and decide whether to carry them with you during the day or leave them behind in the box. Sometimes giving ourselves permission to worry helps decrease them.
Primary care physicians have recommended reducing caffeine intake (a stimulant) if people struggle with anxiety. The literature is suggesting reducing children’s video, tv and game time prior to bed is recommended to also reduce anxiety.
If you or your child’s anxiety is interfering with school, work or family life, please feel free to contact Nicole to schedule an appointment.
Nicole Burgess is a licensed marriage and family therapist located in Indianapolis, IN. She works with children, adolescents, individuals and families who struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma or life transitions. She is located close to Carmel, Fishers, Lawrence and McCordsville.