* 9 Tips to Celebrate the Holidays With Less Stress

By Alice Munson, MSW, Courier & Press, Nov. 28, 2017 –

It seems that before the new school supplies have been broken in and the Halloween costumes are put away for the next season, Thanksgiving and Christmas are upon us.  The demands of the holidays can sometimes override the inherent joy of the season, allowing stress to take over.

Here are some tips to help reduce stress and make the upcoming holidays more enjoyable:

  • Put first things first. says of Dr. Redford Williams, director of Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University, “The holidays are supposed to be about kindness and generosity, and people most often neglect extending these courtesies to those who need them most – themselves.”
  • Remember the airlines’ admonition, “In the event of loss of cabin pressure, adults should put on their oxygen masks first, then put one on a child.”  As parents, this may sound counter-intuitive, but let’s face it, if you’re not breathing you can’t help anyone else.  Healthy self-care allows us to handle those bumps in the road that are inevitable for us all.
  • Set a realistic budget.  The cost of food and gifts seems to have grown faster than Jack’s proverbial beanstalk. Decide how much you can spend and stick to it.
  • Refrain from trying to buy the happiness of others, especially children.  Those same children may try to convince you otherwise, but is that the message you want to instill in them?
  • You may also want to consider a donation to the charity of your choice, your church, or a school.  Large families may opt for a gift exchange.  Just decide what works best for your family. Overspending during the holidays could result in a post-holiday financial crisis – not a stress-free way to start the New Year.
  • Accept help.  This is not a time to “out-Martha” Martha Stewart. Remember, Martha has lots of help!  The pursuit of perfection can put a damper on anyone’s holiday.  If Aunt Jane wants to contribute her famous horseradish-chocolate chip Jell-O mold to Thanksgiving dinner, accept graciously.  It may not be what you had planned, but it will make her feel appreciated and valued. Isn’t that what we would all like?  All family members can help with shopping and cleaning according to their age and abilities.
  • Just say no.  Avoid over-committing your time when you know you are over-scheduled.  Not speaking up can cause you to feel resentful, overwhelmed, and out of sorts.  You may think, “They should know how busy I am!”  No one can discern our wishes or read our minds.  And no one can participate in every project, no matter how worthy.  Just choose what you can reasonably accomplish.
  • Give yourself a time-out.  According to the Mayo Clinic, “Finding something that reduces stress by clearing your mind and slowing your breathing helps restore your inner calm.”  Fifteen minutes without the distractions of family, friends, and electronic devices may be enough to refresh and allow you to handle the next task at hand.
  • Remain open to the joy of the season.  The first snowfall, the innocence of a kindergarten Christmas pageant, the gathering of family and friends around the Thanksgiving table, or the sweet sounds of a church choir….all of these and more are available to enjoy if we allow it.  In the words of those accidental philosophers, the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you find you get what you need.”  Peace and joy are gifts of the season, freely given.

* Dealing With Anxiety

By Amber Russell, Courier & Press, Oct. 3, 2017 –

Thump, Thump, Thump.  Everything feels like it’s going in slow motion.  All I can hear is my heart beating, which feels like it is going to beat right out of my chest.

I can’t breathe.  I can’t think. I’m starting to sweat.  Thoughts begin swirling in my head.  “It is so crowded.”  “Everyone is looking at me.”  “I am in the way.”  “I am taking too long.”  Tears start to well up in my eyes as I think, “Please don’t let me see anyone I know.”

Sound familiar?  This is how I feel sometimes in a crowd or even at the grocery store.  Forty million adults (18 percent of the population) in the U.S. suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.

I am very familiar with anxiety and what helps me cope.  What works for me, however, might not work for someone else experiencing similar symptoms.

There isn’t one single coping mechanism that will magically make your symptoms go away, but there are lots of things aside from medication and therapy you can try.  To get started you may want to try talking with someone you trust, focusing on things you can control, finding a place you feel comfortable and safe, and doing something physical such as going for a walk.

Here are a few other suggestions to try when symptoms surface:

1. Know what triggers your anxiety.  Is it work, school, crowded places, a specific person? Do you feel overwhelmed or something else more specific?  What are your symptoms?  They may include racing heart, sweating, trembling, nervousness, rapid breathing, constant worrying, restless sleep, inability to focus, intense fear or embarrassment.

Keep a journal to track when you have panic attacks or strong symptoms.  Note the date, time, what was going on at the time of the attack, what you were thinking about beforehand, how long the symptoms lasted, and what made them go away.  Once you have more information about symptoms and causes, the anxiety is easier to control.  I get very anxious in crowds, especially while shopping.  From tracking triggers and symptoms I know that while I obviously can’t avoid shopping altogether, I should not shop on super busy Sunday afternoons.

2. Try deep breathing.  When we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow.  We feel like we can’t breathe, so we try to breathe fast by taking in quick short breaths through the mouth.  This can actually cause hyperventilation.  Try the 4-7-8 method instead:

  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
  • Hold breath for a mental count of 7.
  • Exhale completely and slowly through your mouth, making a swoosh sound to a mental count of

Repeat these three steps at least 2 times.  It may seem awkward at first, but it really helps to focus on breathing.  Slow it down, breathe in through the nose, hold the breath, and slowly exhale through your mouth.

3. Try grounding techniques, which help put your mind in the “here and now” instead of focusing on how stressed and anxious you are.  The more you focus on how stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you are, the more stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you become.  Try the 5-4-3-2-1 game.  Look around the room and mentally describe 5 things (poster, clock, lamp, etc).  Name 4 things you can feel (hair touching your shoulders, the breeze of a fan).  Name 3 things you can hear (the air conditioning unit, the click of a pen).  Name 2 things you can smell or smells that you like.  Name 1 good quality about yourself. Repeat with different items if needed.

If you or your child suffers from an anxiety disorder, take steps to manage it.  Start with the coping techniques mentioned above, and seek professional help if anxiety is interfering with daily life.

* Help for Stressed Out Kids

By Vicki Kirkman, Courier & Press, Sept. 5, 2017 –

Stress is a natural part of life and something that everyone experiences.  It can be positive or negative and affect your daily life greatly if not managed appropriately.

In some situations, stress can motivate us to do better or work toward hard-to-reach goals.   Other circumstances can leave someone feeling overwhelmed, anxious and out of control.

Children and teens are affected by stress in several ways.  Parents need to remember that all children respond to situations and experiences differently.  What causes stress for one child or teen might not affect another one.

However, some stressors are common for children and teens.  These stressors include pressure at school, being involved in too many after school activities or conflict with friends and family.

Other big and complicated issues like divorce, death of a loved one, drug use, and financial problems at home contribute to stress.  Medical illnesses and world events like natural disasters or war can also be sources of stress.

It’s important for parents to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress in their children and help them manage it in a healthy manner.  Young children that are stressed may complain of stomach aches, headaches or say they just don’t feel well.

They may try to avoid attending school or visit the school nurse frequently.  They may also be more tearful than normal, have trouble sleeping, wet the bed or not eat as much at meals.  Some children experience nightmares or have acting-out behavior such as outbursts or tantrums.

Teenagers can experience many physical reactions to stress, including digestive problems, headaches, tense muscles, racing heart, frequent colds and fatigue.  Teens might also feel overly emotional, irritable, depressed and experience mood swings.

Mentally, teens with stress overload may feel forgetful, lack concentration and have a negative attitude.  Both children and teens often withdraw from activities they enjoy and isolate themselves from friends if they experience too much stress.

Parents can play a key role in helping their children and teens manage stress.  Most importantly, parents can model good coping skills and stress management in their own lives.  If children see their parents deal with stress in a healthy and positive manner, they are more likely to apply that to their own life.

Other ways parents can help their children are listed below.

  • Teach your kids how to identify their body’s cues for stress overload.  Pay attention to headaches, upset stomach, tearfulness or tense muscles.
  • Limit extra-curricular activities.  Too many evenings participating in sports, extra lessons or just running errands can cause kids and teens to become tired and pressed for time to do homework or just relax.
  • Prepare ahead of time to avoid extra hassles.  Lay out the next day’s clothes, pack lunches, put homework and bags in an easy place to grab, etc.
  • Monitor and limit exposure to television, social media and cell phone.  Phones should be put away at night so kids can sleep and not be tempted to text friends or surf the internet.
  • Encourage relaxation and leisurely activities with friends and family.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet.
  • Teach communication skills like problem solving, good decision making and sharing feelings and thoughts with others.
  • Recognize when stress is too big to tackle alone.  Don’t hesitate to speak to a Youth First Social Worker in your child’s school, counselor or doctor for extra support and help.

Stress management is crucial in life and best handled with the guidance of parents and supportive adults.  By helping children and teens manage stress, they can be better prepared for life’s challenges.

* Emotionally Preparing Your Child for Standardized Testing

By Amy Steele, LCSW, Courier & Press, February 28, 2017 –

The pressure children feel from standardized testing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety.  While low levels of anxiety can motivate students to study and perform well, severe anxiety can make it difficult for a child to go about their daily activities.

Some students experience physical symptoms of anxiety such as stomachaches, headaches, feeling too hot or too cold, or feeling like their heart is beating rapidly.  Others experience emotional symptoms such as “blanking out,” having difficulty paying attention, or experiencing trouble thinking clearly.  If your child describes these symptoms, talk to their teacher and the school social worker or school counselor about ways to help them.

Start preparing your child emotionally by understanding their feelings.  Talk to them about their feelings about the upcoming test, listen for the level of confidence they seem to have, and ask them what about the test worries them.

Particularly during times of stress, children need extra comfort, nurturing and understanding to help them feel secure and confident.  Build time into the day to give them some one-on-one attention.

Encouraging your child to talk about how they feel and listening to them with empathy assures them their feelings are normal.  Let them know you have confidence in them and believe they can do it.  Help them rehearse positive thoughts and statements, such as “I’ll do my best” or “I’ll show what I know.”

Teach them ways to relax or stay calm before or during the test by practicing at home, possibly before bedtime.  Have the child take a slow deep breath while spelling out their name, one slow deep breath as they say or think each letter.  Another way to help them relax is to talk through and imagine a scenario where they go to school, have a good day and feel calm as they take the test and do well.

Remind your child of the strengths, talents, and personal qualities that make them special and unique. Make sure they know those qualities go far beyond what a standardized test can measure.  Be specific so they can remember these valued qualities when they need to remember them most.

Finally, express your unconditional love to your child.  This gives them confidence, security and a relational bond that is a great boost for their hearts and their brains.

* Supporting and Facilitating Stress Management in Children & Teens *

By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – February 21, 2017 – Courier & Press –

Stress is a natural part of life and something everyone experiences.  It can be positive or negative and affect your daily life greatly if not managed appropriately.

In some situations, stress can motivate us to do better or work toward hard-to-reach goals.  Other circumstances can leave someone feeling overwhelmed, anxious and out of control.

Children and teens are affected by stress in several ways.  Parents need to remember that all children respond to situations differently.  What causes stress for one child or teen might not affect another one.

However, some stressors are common for children and teens.  These stressors include pressure at school, being involved in too many after-school activities, or conflict with friends and family.

Other big and complicated issues like divorce, death of a loved one, drug use, and financial problems at home contribute to stress.  Medical illnesses and world events like natural disasters or war can also be sources of stress.

It’s important for parents to recognize signs of stress in their children and help them manage it in a healthy manner.  Young children who are stressed out may complain of stomach aches, headaches or say they don’t feel well.  At school, they may visit the school nurse frequently or try to avoid attending school.  They may also be more tearful than normal, have trouble sleeping, wet the bed or not eat as much at meals.  Some children experience nightmares or have acting-out behavior such as outbursts and tantrums.

Teenagers can experience many physical reactions to stress.  Digestive problems and headaches, tense muscles, racing heart, frequent colds and feeling fatigued are all signs of stress.  Teens might also feel overly emotional, irritable, depressed and experience mood swings.

Mentally, teens with stress overload may feel forgetful, lack concentration and have a negative attitude.  Both children and teens often withdraw from activities they enjoy and isolate themselves from friends if they experience too much stress.

Parents can play a key role in helping their children and teens manage stress.  Most importantly, parents can model good coping skills and stress management in their own lives.  If children see their parents deal with stress in a healthy and positive manner, they are more likely to apply that to their own life.

Other ways parents can help their children are listed below.

  • Teach your kids how to identify their body’s cues for stress overload.  Pay attention to headaches, upset stomach, tearfulness or tense muscles.
  • Limit extra-curricular activities. Too many evenings participating in sports, extra lessons or just running errands can cause kids and teens to become tired and pressed for time to do homework or just relax.
  • Prepare ahead of time to avoid extra hassles. Lay out the next day’s clothes, pack lunches, put homework and bags in an easy place to grab, etc.
  • Monitor and limit exposure to television, social media and cell phone use. Phones should be put away at night so kids can sleep and not be tempted to text friends or surf the internet.
  • Encourage relaxation and leisurely activities with friends and family.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet.
  • Teach communication skills like problem-solving, good decision making and sharing feelings and thoughts with others.
  • Recognize when stress is too big of an issue to tackle alone. Don’t hesitate to speak to a counselor, social worker or doctor for extra support and help.

Stress management is crucial in life and best handled with the guidance of parents and supportive adults. By helping children and teens manage stress, they can be better prepared for life’s challenges.