3 Strategies to Reduce Stress and Anxiety That You Can Use Anywhere
Stress Through the 'Ages'
Stress is a fact of life that affects us all and it seems the older we get the more of it we take on. We look back fondly on those carefree days of our childhood. Not a care in the world other than wanting to be with friends and play. Those were the days!
But, we can't stay children forever and we all grow up (other than us men, I'm told that we never grow up!). As we transition from childhood to our teen years the pressures start to mount. As children transition from childhood to 'teenhood', school and social pressures exponentially increase.
Gifted students work hard to maintain excellence not only in the classroom but in extracurricular activates as well. Talented teen athletes not only work hard to excel on the field or court, but work hard to excel in the classroom as well. They may also have extracurricular activities that they participate in. On top of all this, teens are searching for their own identity and working to figure out who they are and who they want to be.
As we transition from 'teenhood' to adulthood, the stress and pressures continue to build. We take on adult responsibilities in starting a family, paying a mortgage, taxes, and the list goes on and on. Man, I'm getting stressed just writing about it!
Are There Different Kinds of Stress?
There are various types or kinds of stress that we experience throughout our lives. Not all stress is bad and some stress can be good and helpful. Below are the different types of stress and their function according to Stress.org:
Acute stress occurs when we experience a situation that is life threatening or emotionally overwhelming. Acute stress triggers the fight, flight or freeze response in our brain. The fear center of our brain, the amygdala, triggers the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) in response to the perceived danger. The HPA axis is often referred to as the "stress response" The stress response releases adrenaline as a result of life threatening or emotionally overwhelming situations. Adrenaline has a powerful effects on the body such as:
increased blood sugar levels
increased heart rate
increased heart pumping
helps the airways to help improve breathing
The stress response also triggers the release of cortisol which is often called the "stress hormone". Cortisol helps the body to:
respond to danger,
increases the body's use of glucose, and
helps control blood pressure
You hear of people lifting cars off of someone stuck under the car and other feats of strengths during life threatening situations. This is the HPA in action. This is the HPA axis at work.
Acute stress that feels life threatening or emotionally overwhelming can create problems. A simple example is when I was rear ended by a car. It wasn't a major accident in fact, there wasn't any damage to the car. Yet, for the next 6 months, when I saw a car pulling up behind me, my body would tense and my hand would tightly grip the steering wheel. There was nothing I could do as it was an automatic response from my body.
This was my mind and body's response to a minor accident. Think of those who experience significant acute stress and the psychological and physical impact:
veterans returning from war
children and teens growing up in an abusive home
a marriage where domestic violence occurs
a teen who is bullied at school and on social media
Acute stress left untreated can result in debilitating psychological and physical impairments.
The stress response serves an important role in acute stress. It provides, often, a life saving function. Acute stress is meant to be short term. Once the stress response is triggered, it can take up to 90 minutes for the nervous system to reset to normal.
Yet, there are situations where acute stress turns into chronic stress. Someone who experience ongoing domestic violence in their marriage. A child who grows up in an abusive household. When we are in situations where the stress-response system is activated long term, the hormones released disrupts almost all of our body's processes. Below are some of the problems created due to chronic stress:
teen anxiety & adult anxiety
teen depression & adult depression
memory and concentration impairment
Much like acute stress, distress has a negative connotation. Some examples of distress in daily life are:
a teen being grounded and the car taken away
parents getting divorced
a physical injury
Distress can turn into chronic stress if it is an experience that is prolonged. Left untreated, distress transitions into chronic stress and results in the psychological and physical problems of chronic stress.
Eustress is stress is stress that we experience in daily life that has positive connotations. Some examples of eustress are:
a gifted teen graduating high school
a talented teen athlete winning a state championship
a college student graduating college
starting a new career
having a baby
Eustress is positive for one's physical as well as mental health as:
eustress can provide positive feelings of contentment, happiness, joy, inspiration, motivation, etc.
eustress also help build one's own self-esteem, self-confidence, resilience, independence, etc.
motivation increases as we experience the positive and uplifting feelings. This can result in increased activity including exercise, play, and other physically challenging and rewarding activities.
What Can I do to Reduce the Effects of Stress and Anxiety?
Below are 3 strategies to help counter the effects of stress and anxiety on the mind and body. As you practice these strategies regularly, you will build up resilience toward the stress in your life. As you build resilience, you will develop a protective shield form the impacts of stress.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, helps increase the oxygen supply in your brain. Belly breathing allows you to take deeper breaths, filling your lungs with more air, thus providing more oxygen to the brain. This result in a feeling of calm and relaxation. To practice belly breathing you can follow the following steps:
Sit in a relaxed posture with your feet on the floor and your arms and hands resting on the arms of the chair or in your lap.
Place one hand on your belly.
Take a deep breath in through your nose breathing into your belly then your lungs after. If you are doing this correctly, you should feel your belly extend first then your lungs, or diaphragm, expanding after.
After you have breathed in as deeply as you possibly can, hold the breath for 3 seconds then fully exhale through your mouth all the air you can.
You will know if you have exhaled as fully as you can as at the end of the exhale when you try to talk, you can't.
Repeat these steps breathing in through your nose, holding, then out through your mouth repeating 10, 15, or 20 times.
Once you complete your set of 10, 15, or 20 breaths, you will feel a sense of calm and relaxation. This is helpful for teens and gifted teens prior to taking an exam. A talented teen athlete who may be anxious before a game. A teen who experiences teen anxiety or teen panic attacks can practice this to help calm the anxiety or prevent a panic attack.
There are many ways in which belly breathing can help you with your daily stress. The key is to practice. The more you practice, the more you will be able to tap into that calm and relaxation that results in belly breathing.
teen performance anxiety for talented teen athletes
One of the foundational elements of EMDR therapy is a practice called "safe/calm place". The purpose of safe/calm place is to help calm the nervous system and reduce intense or distressing feelings. To practice safe/calm place, you can do the following:
Go somewhere where you can be alone and left undisturbed. Sit or lay in a comfortable position.
Think of a place where you feel safe, calm, peaceful, loved, etc. This place cannot be a place that is associated with anything negative.
As you think of this place, try to envision it using as many of your senses as you can.
Visualize what it looks like, look around, see the colors, shapes, structure, etc. of the safe/calm place.
What can you hear when you are visualizing the safe/calm place?
What is the temperature of the air, is there wind blowing, is it hot, humid, dry?
What can you smell? Are you outside in the pine trees? Inside baking cookies with Grandma? What are the smells in your safe calm place?
If you are baking cookies with grandma, what do the cookies taste like?
Not everyone may have a safe/calm place. A safe calm place can be a real place, an imaginary place, or a place that you would like to go to. Do you like the beach and don't have a safe/calm place? You can envision a beach where you are all alone, no one can enter your beach, and this can become your safe calm place.
As you are sitting or lying in your comfortable position, envision this safe calm place and try to be fully present in that place.
Using your senses, explore every element of this safe/calm place. In your mind, try to make this safe/calm place as vivid as you can.
Notice the feelings you are feeling. Notice the physical sensations you may experience. If any other thoughts, worries, or stressors enter your mind, just let them drift or flow by like a leaf on a river.
You can combine belly breathing with safe/calm place to help increase the positive feelings you experience while in your safe/calm place.
You can practice safe calm place anywhere and you can start by practicing for 2-5 minutes.
Where and How Can I Practice Safe/Calm Place?
There are many various situations and places you can practice safe calm place to help you with your stress and anxiety:
You have a stressful and anxiety provoking meeting coming up. Go to a private office, shut the door, and practice safe/calm place with belly breathing to help you relax.
A teen with teen anxiety or teen panic attacks can practice safe/calm place with belly breathing in their bedroom. They can also practice at school or work by going to the restroom and sitting in a stall
One of the best places and times to practice safe/calm place and belly breathing is when you go to bed. Practice this when you settle in the covers. This will help calm your mind, ease the stress and the tension, and help you fall asleep.
Buttery Tapping/Butterfly Hug
Out of all the calming exercises I teach, the butterfly hug is one that people like the best. In trauma therapy or PTSD treatment for teens, the butterfly hug calms the nervous system, stress response, and anxiety. For teens with teen anxiety or teen panic attacks, they experience the same as teens in trauma therapy or PTSD treatment.
The butterfly hug is not only good for teens but anyone who is experiencing stress or anxiety. It is easy to do as you combine belly breathing with the safe/calm place and:
bring your arms to your chest and cross your arms over each other. Your fingertips should rest gently on your collar bone. If you have done this correctly, your arms should be forming an "X" across your chest.
Slowly start to tap alternating from left to right, back and forth, gently tapping your fingertips on your collar bone.
Bring to mind the safe/calm place and envision it with all your senses. Try to bring yourself fully to your safe/calm place in your mind.
Start belly breathing as you continue to tap and envision your safe/calm place.
It is up to you how long you practice this in one setting. You can start with practicing for 2-5 minutes and extend the time the more you practice.
Wrapping it Up
As with anything, the more you practice the better you get at a certain skill. This occurs as you are developing pathways in the brain where the skill becomes almost second nature. Think of learning a musical instrument. It's challenging at firs but the more you practice the easier it becomes AND the better you get at it.
Belly breathing, safe/calm place, and the butterfly hug are simply a new skill to learn. The more you practice the better you will become at it. The better you become at it the greater impact it will have on acute stress, chronic stress, and distress resulting in more eustress. Your reliance against stress and anxiety will increase providing a protective shield against stress and anxiety. As you build that protective shield, panic, fear, anxiety, stress will all decrease in your life and/or you will be able to manage it much better.
Learn More at Katy Teen & Family Counseling: Serving Teens in the Katy Texas and Houston Area
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we have been working with teens and families since 2003. We have watched as stress related disorders such as teen anxiety, teen panic attacks, teen performance anxiety, teen trauma, and teen PTSD have been on the rise.
You don't need to live with teen stress related disorders any longer. Teen therapy at Katy Teen & Family Counseling has caring therapists who specialize in treating teen anxiety and stress related struggles. To start your counseling journey you can follow these 3 simple steps:
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Meet with one of our caring therapists who specialize in teen counseling
Star your journey toward building your resilience against stress and anxiety related struggles
Other Teen Counseling/Teen Therapy Services at Katy Teen & Family Counseling
While we specialize in treating teen anxiety, teen anxiety attacks, teen performance anxiety, teen trauma, and teen PTSD, we also specialize in the following:
optimal brain and athletic performance (peak performance)
teen depression therapy
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR therapy) for:
teen depression therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for:
teen depression therapy Call today to start your journey in building and developing resilience against stress and anxiety struggles. If you have been fighting this fight and need someone in your corner to help you win this fight, email or give us a call.
How to Begin Teen Therapy or Family Counseling
To begin teen therapy or family counseling, simply contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling through our website or by calling 346-202-4662. Our Owner and Lead Clinician answers each phone call to help match you with the right therapist for you teen and family.
About the Author
Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker. He is a Specialist in Teen Therapy & Family Counseling. He has provided therapy to teens and families since 2003. Through his expertise, he helps teens who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, ADHD/ADD, and PTSD. He works with talented teen athletes who have experience mental blocks. Gifted students have unique challenges that Jason understands well. Jason uses CBT, EMDR, Neurofeedback, FFT, and Motivational Interviewing. We only work with teens and families which allows us to focus on what teens and families of today need. Resolving the struggles of today can assure a more successful tomorrow. Proudly serving Katy, Tx and Houston.