Research shows that breath awareness is among the most effective and accessible tools for self-regulation and calming the nervous system. You can activate the rest-and-digest (the parasympathetic nervous system) yourself. Slow down your exhalations, or breathe in but remember to breathe out even longer (maybe purse your lips and imagine making a candle flicker). Here’s an easy breath practice to reduce stress.
- Sit comfortably, with feet on the floor, eyes closed and hands relaxed and resting on your thighs.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose. As your lungs fill, let your chest and belly expand. You might try counting up to five, seven, or whatever feels comfortable. Or focus on a phrase, such as “Breathing in calm” or simply “Breathing in.”
- Breathe out slowly through either nose or mouth, whichever feels more natural. You can count during the exhalation. Make sure the exhale is as long or longer than the inhale. Or use a phrase, such as “Breathing out calm” or simply “Breathing out.”
- If you get distracted, bring your mind back to focusing on the breath.
- Repeat for several minutes.
- Notice how you feel. Is your body more relaxed than before you started? Is your mind calmer?
Meditate and do yoga.
An increasing number of studies show that mindfulness meditation can help ease stress. Meditation encourages us to witness our emotions from a distance rather than getting caught up in them. Furthermore, researchers theorize that yoga might activate the relaxation response via the vagus nerve. This is the nerve that helps control the parasympathetic nervous system. This theory suggests that yoga’s combination of slow movement and conscious breathing initiates a calming response in the nervous system.
Physical activity increases the body’s production of endorphins. These are the brain’s “happy” chemicals. According to the American Psychological Association, exercise forces the body’s physiological systems to communicate much more closely than usual. Therefore, this creates greater efficiency in responding to stress. Moreover, doing a physical activity you enjoy can increase feelings of mastery and self-confidence. Therefore, choose something you like to do so that exercise won’t feel like a chore. Maybe play table-tennis, take the dog out for a run on the beach, go for a swim or hit the dance floor!
It’s only stress if you call it stress.
It’s possible to change the way we think about stress. We don’t need to see it as such a bad thing.In other words, we can distress into eustress. Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, conducted several studies involving karaoke singing, public speaking, and math performance. Surprisingly, the results showed that people who reframed their anxiety as excitement performed better than those who told themselves to stay calm when feeling stressed. According to Brooks, simply telling themselves that they were excited helped them feel more confident and competent. Furthermore, others perceived them that way as well. Think of stressful situations as opportunities to learn and improve.
Whether or not you get enough Zs can have a big impact on stress. One study examined how teenagers reacted during the day when they didn’t get enough sleep at night, as compared to how older adolescents and adults behaved. Scientists found that sleep-deprived teens found stressful situations much more threatening than the older study participants. To improve sleep, make sure your room is dark and cool at night. Turn off your phone and other devices a half hour or more before bed. You might try introducing a relaxing bedtime routine that includes reading, writing in a journal, and/or listening to quiet music. Or try a guided meditation from the Insight Timer app.
There are relaxation techniques that can help teens manage stress. Here are two to try.
- Lie on a comfortable surface.
- Start by tensing the muscles in your toes.
- Keep them tensed for about five seconds, and then consciously relax those muscles.
- Relax the entire body for 30 seconds.
- Next, tense your foot, hold for about five seconds, and release. Relax for 30 seconds.
- Continue working your way upward, tensing each area of the body for a few seconds, releasing, and then letting your whole body relax.
- Picture a place that you find particularly relaxing, such as a beach, a house you feel especially comfortable in, or a beautiful garden.
- Visualize how this place looks, sounds, and smells. Imagine the temperature and how the air feels on your skin. Is there a soft breeze blowing? Do you hear seagulls calling?
- Breathe slowly and deeply as you focus on the sensations and the positive feelings that the image conjures up.
Create a Support Network
Multiple studies have shown that social relationships improve mental and physical health. The more support we have, the more resilient we are against stress. Find people you trust who will listen to you and make an effort to understand what you’re going through. Your support network can include family, peers, guidance counselors, and mentors. A mental health professional can also provide support.
The people and places that can help include:
- Trusted adult friends
- School teachers or counsellors
- University health team
- Beyond Blue
- headspace and other young mental health services
- Kids Helpline
For some people, getting the facts and making plans can help counteract stress. If you have a big project looming, create a schedule that will keep you on track. If you’re facing an unknown situation, do some research so you know what to expect. Arming yourself with information and planning ahead can prepare you to face challenges head on, with more confidence.
Learn How to Cope With Emotions
Pay attention to your breath and consciously make it slower and deeper.
- Relax your body, letting the muscles release from head to toes.
- Tune in to the feelings you are experiencing in your body and your mind.
- Observe what you are feeling with compassion and without judging yourself.
- Continue to let the feelings be there without pushing them away, as the wave recedes.
In conclusion, teens and their parents don’t have to accept stress as a given. The more often teens can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the more benefits they will feel, in both mind and body.
Support the Teenagers in YOUR life!
If you or someone you know are passionate about Wellbeing for Youth? Our next Yoga Ed. Teens Teacher Training is coming up in 2020. This evidence-based training looks at yoga and mindfulness for teenagers as a whole. We’ll explore how yoga tools can support teenagers at school and in the community and how to teach yoga effectively to adolescents. Make sure to enrol early to secure your spot! www.yogazeit.com.au