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De-stress for better connection

Stress is part of life. We can’t ignore it or run away from it, but we can learn to manage our response to stressors. When we do this we’re more optimistic, think more clearly, learn more effectively, feel more connected to others and are better at responding instead of reacting.

Before we can learn to manage our stress response, we need to know what stress feels like in the body. Knowing this helps us recognize what’s happening so we can act. Take a moment to think about what you feel when experiencing stress. Does your heart race? Do you feel jittery or ill? Do you lose focus and shut down? Think about what situations evoke these feelings.

Now that you know what to watch for, embrace the calm in these situations by doing one of the following practices based on Neuroscience, Positive Psychology and Mindfulness. Share these practices with club members to help them manage their stress.

Name it to tame it
Name the negative emotion you’re feeling out loud. Anger, Sadness, Frustration, whatever it might be – name it!
Now take three calming breaths and say these words silently as you breathe. With each in-breath: “Peace.” With each out-breath: “Release said emotion.”

Why it works
Naming the emotion reduces the emotion’s impact. When we acknowledge emotions and release them we can experience the emotion without being overwhelmed or carried away by it. Even naming the emotion without doing the breathing works.

Take three deep breaths
Take a deep breath in through your nose, and release the breath slowly through your mouth. Do this three times. Notice how you diaphragm raises with the in-breath and falls with the out-breath.

Why it works
Deep diaphragmatic breathing with a slow exhale is key to stimulating the vagus nerve, activating the parasympathetic nervous system. It lowers stress, reduces heart rate and blood pressure and calms you down.

Offer self-compassion
We’re great at comforting friends when they’re having trouble, but what if we’re in a bad spot? Research says we resort to negative self-talk. Instead of belittling self over something that went wrong, offer self-compassion. Here’s how.
Acknowledge your suffering. Example: “I feel really awful about this situation.”
Acknowledge that suffering is part of life and that others experience this too.
Be kind to yourself. Place your hand over your heart and say comforting words silently. Example: “It’s alright, I learned from this and will do better.”

Why it works
Using self-compassion turns off the fight, flight and freeze stress response that is triggered by negative self-talk. Offering words and actions of self-compassion and forgiveness calm the brain allowing the reasoning section of the brain (pre-frontal cortex) to come online.

Be grateful

List 10 things or people for whom you feel grateful. Either write it down or say this silently to self.

Why it works
When we think about why we’re grateful, our natural feel-good hormones — dopamine and oxytocin — are released in the brain. These hormones calm the brain and prime the neuropathways for better learning. This is a great practice to use for test taking anxiety.

Recall happy times

Think of a happy memory from an earlier time. Recall everything that happened and exactly how you felt at the time. Experience the happy emotions.

Why it works
When we recall happier times, we recreate all the good feelings from the event. We trick the brain into feeling happy and the feel-good hormones — dopamine and oxytocin — flood the brain, boosting our mood and calming us.

Make someone smile
Notice the people around you. Really see them. Is there something amazing you notice about someone near? Approach this person and give them a sincere compliment. A kind word from the heart.

Why it works

When you do a kind deed for someone else, you’re rewarded. Your brain is flooded with the feel-good hormones of dopamine and oxytocin. You feel more connected to the person you complimented, your mood is elevated, and you feel happy and calm. The great news is that the person you complimented experiences the same thing.

Laugh out loud
Laugh for no reason, without relying on humor, jokes or comedy. Just laugh out loud. Practice in the mirror in the morning or in the car before driving to school. This is just one of the laughing yoga practices. Learn about more laughing yoga at laughteryoga.org.

Why it works
Laughing tricks the brain into feeling happy and energized. The feel-good hormones dopamine and oxytocin are released, boosting your mood and calming the brain which relieves stress.

Revisit the present moment (Body scan)
Doing a quick body scan helps us check-in and affirm what we’re feeling. It can be done sitting or standing, with eyes open or closed anywhere you happen to be. Take a deep in-breath and relaxing slow out-breath. Place your attention at the top of your head noticing any sensations. Now move your attention down the body focusing on each body part. Finish by focusing attention on your feet and how they’re connected to the earth.

Why it works
Focusing on body sensations brings us back to the present moment. We leave all our worries and regrets behind to focus in the here and now through our senses. This is a mini vacation for the brain. A reboot that reconnects us with the current moment. This stress-relieving practice can be used any time but is especially helpful when trying to quiet the mind for studying or sleep.

Learn mindfulness meditation
Mindful awareness is paying attention in a specific way: on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment. We can learn this skill by practicing mindfulness meditation, a type of meditation that can be done anywhere at any time. Try these free guided meditations available from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center: http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations.

Find your happy
According to the newest scientific research about happiness, when we’re happier we manage our stress more effectively and bounce back quicker when faced with challenges and difficulties. Learn more about all the techniques mentioned here and check out resources to help in finding true sustainable happiness at www.keyclub.org/projecthappiness.

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