coping skills

Express Yourself

iStock-937983086.jpg

Express Yourself

A closer look at some ways you can express yourself

Expressing how you feel to release tension

Expressing yourself can help you keep in touch with how you are feeling. It can also help you release a lot of tension that you might be carrying around. Sometimes, when people lose touch with how they feel, their feelings burst out in situations or ways that are embarrassing or inappropriate.

Everyone needs some time alone to reflect on feelings. Being able to express how you feel might help you make better decisions about what is right for you now.

Ways of expressing yourself

Finding out the best way for you to express yourself can be rewarding. You might find that you enjoy expressing yourself in a particular way, like painting, playing a sport, singing, drumming or even yelling into a pillow. If you don’t know which way works best for you, try some of the following suggestions.

Write about how you feel. Writing can be a useful way to explore your feelings. Some people keep diaries or journals, while others just write down whatever comes into their head at a particular moment. You might want to write a story about what is happening in your life now or make up a story based on some past event in your life. Writing poetry works for some people, too.

Play a sport. Playing sports lets you express yourself in a physical way. There are plenty of opportunities to yell or curse or feel elated when things go well. Team sports allow you to express yourself with others and use your mental and physical energy. If you’re not much for team sports, you can still use physical activity as a way to express yourself. Try challenging yourself with a long bike ride or strenuous hike. Afterwards, you may feel a sense of accomplishment from pushing yourself, leaving you feeling more confident.

Create. Even if you don’t think of yourself as an artist, art is a useful way of expressing yourself. Even if you’re not particularly good at any of these, give it a try. You don’t have to be good at it to enjoy it.

Some forms of art you could try:

  • Painting

  • Drawing or sketching

  • Digital art

  • Sculpting, clay or metal

  • Jewelry making

  • Blacksmithing

  • Wood carving or woodworking

  • Building small projects

  • Welding

  • Cosplay (dressing up as your favorite characters)

  • Crocheting

  • Glass blowing

  • Makeup

  • Photography, film or digital

  • Calligraphy

There are so many ways to be creative and it doesn’t have to be just painting or drawing. Not only is art good for expressing yourself, it can also be used for relaxation.

Sing, play music or shout. Singing along to your favorite songs or playing a musical instrument is another way of expressing yourself. Sing in the shower or in your car. If you play an instrument or sing regularly, you might want to start writing your own songs or music to express how you feel. It may also be fun to sing or play music with your friends.

Dance. Dance is a form of self-expression, but you don’t have to be a ballerina to do it. Put on some music at home or go out and dance as much as you like in whatever way you like. If you find you really enjoy dancing, you can try joining a local dance group or attend a dancing event or class.

Talk to someone. One of the simplest ways of expressing ourselves is through communication. Effective communication is learning how to express your thoughts and feelings in an appropriate way with another person and is an important life skill to have. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your thoughts with someone you’re close to in your personal life, a school counselor or other mental health professional may be able to help.

Whatever it is you decide to do, it should come naturally and be a source of pleasure for you. If you find yourself becoming frustrated with one of the above techniques, move on to another and see how that feels for you. For more ideas on coping with stress, check out our Developing Coping Strategies article.

 

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Relaxation

iStock-543179508.jpg

Relaxing

Have you given yourself enough time to relax lately? Take a closer look at what you can do to bring more relaxation into your life

Putting things in perspective

Relaxation is important. It’s easy to forget to make time for yourself when things get stressful. Sometimes you might get so preoccupied that days can go by without you doing anything for yourself.

Many forms of relaxation, like walking or sitting quietly, are very simple, easy to do and don’t cost a thing. Others, like yoga or meditation, require some training or discipline. That being said, you can easily find videos online that walk you through a meditation practice called Guided Meditation, or follow along to yoga routines posted online. Going fishing or playing sports can be a great way of relaxing too.

Put aside some time in the day and try out some of these relaxation techniques to see which ones work for you.

  • Go for a walk, taking the time to notice what is around you

  • Listen to some music you really like

  • Go fishing

  • Sit quietly in a park and look at the things around you

  • Play your favorite sport

  • Take a bath

  • Go to a movie or watch a DVD

  • Visit a friend

  • Be creative, express yourself

  • Go for a swim

  • Do a puzzle

  • Read a book

  • Learn yoga or meditation

Breathing techniques

When you’re anxious or stressed, your breathing can become quick and shallow, which reduces the amount of oxygen going to your organs. Learning how to breathe deeply can help reduce some of the physiological symptoms of anxiety.

To become aware of your breathing, place one hand on your upper chest and one on your stomach. Take a breath and let your stomach swell forward as you breathe in, and fall back gently as you breathe out. Try to get a steady rhythm going, take the same depth of breath each time to breathe. Your hand on your chest should have little or no movement.

When you feel comfortable with this technique, try to slow your breathing rate down by putting a short pause after you have exhaled and before you breathe in again.

Initially, it might feel as if you aren’t getting enough air in, but with regular practice this slower rate will soon start to feel comfortable.

It might help if you imagine that you’re blowing up a big balloon in your stomach when you breathe in and deflating it when you breathe out. This exercise helps you to breathe more deeply. When you are consistently taking deep breaths, it sends a message to the brain and body to calm down. Give it a try!

For more information

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Stress

iStock-524904818.jpg

Feeling stressed?

A closer look into stress, its causes, and how you can manage it

What is stress?

Stress is a common feeling that comes from a physiological reaction your body has to certain events. It is the body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina and heightened alertness.

Even though stress can be a positive thing (like motivating us to make positive changes in our lives or giving us that “extra push” for an exam) sometimes we have too much stress and begin to feel that our lives are out of balance. When this happens managing stress could become a challenge.

What causes stress?

Common events that can stress you out (also called stressors):

  • Tests and exams

  • Problems at school or work

  • Relationships

  • New and greater responsibilities

  • Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse

  • Moving to a new place

  • A traumatic event—such as the death of a loved one

  • New or chronic illness or disability

  • Peer pressure or being bullied

  • Unrealistic expectations placed on you by yourself, friends, family, or culture

  • Watching parents argue

  • Feeling guilty

Everyone’s threshold for handling stress is different, and can change from day to day. Depending on your own resiliency (or ability to thrive in spite of adversity), even dealing with one stressor could be enough to overwhelm you. Could you imagine trying to juggle several stressors at once?

How does stress affect the body?

The human body responds to stressors by activating the nervous system and specific hormones. The brain tells your glands to produce more of the hormones called adrenaline and cortisol, and to release them into the bloodstream. These hormones speed up your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and metabolism. These changes within your body help prepare you to deal with pressure, which is also known as a stress response. When this natural reaction works properly, the body’s stress response improves your ability to perform well under pressure.

Can I be too stressed?

If you have too much stress in your life, it can do more harm than good, but sometimes stress is necessary to get through certain situations. For example, feeling stressed out about an exam might encourage someone to study more and prepare for the exam. However, there’s also a chance it could become overwhelming—making you panic and feeling so nervous about an exam that you can’t study or concentrate.

It’s important to remember that stress affects people in different ways, and what causes one person to become stressed may not have the same effect on someone else. Try not to compare yourself too much to others, they’re all experiencing things unique to them as well.

What can happen if you’re experiencing too much stress?

Too much stress may have negative consequences for your health, both physical and mental.

Psychological/Emotional Consequences

  • Feeling hostile, angry, or irritable

  • Feeling anxious

  • Avoiding other people

  • Crying

  • Moodiness, feeling frustrated with things that normally don’t bother you

  • Low self-esteem or lack of confidence

  • Anxiety attacks

  • Depression or sadness

Physical Consequences

  • Upset stomach, diarrhea, or indigestion

  • Headache

  • Backache

  • Inability to sleep

  • Eating too much or too little

  • Raised heart-rate

  • Smoking

If you are experiencing any of these problems you may want to talk to your local doctor, counselor or other mental health professional.

Managing stress

It may not be possible to get rid of the stress altogether in your life, however managing your stress is possible. Below are some ideas for managing stress:

  • Tackling the problem. When you’re feeling stressed, you might not realize right away what is causing you stress. First you need to figure out what the problem is and make it manageable. The problem will not go away on its own. In fact, if you ignore the problem, it will probably just get worse. Once you know what the problem is, there are a number of ways you can de-stress.

  • Go for a walk or run. Exercising can be a good way to relieve stress. It helps to get rid of pent up energy and can leave you feeling much calmer. Exercising also releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones, which make you feel less pain and make you happier overall! Any sort of exercise can be helpful during stressful times. You may want to go and kick a football with friends, dance, or head to the gym.

  • Hang out with friends. If you are feeling stressed, hanging out with friends can be a great way to keep your mind off of things for a while. By talking with friends, you could realize that similar things that stress you out, also stress your friends out. If you are stressing out about school or work, remember that it is also important for you to have a social life. It is okay to go do something fun with your friends and take a break from your other responsibilities sometimes. Balance is key.

  • Turn the stressor into something fun. Sometimes you might find that the problem isn’t all that bad. It might even be fun! For example, locking yourself in your room or library to focus on doing work might help with stress. However, working in a silent room might also be making you more stressed. You might want to try getting a group of friends together to study in one place, and then maybe grabbing a bite to eat after. Studying together could lower everyone’s stress levels.

  • Take some deep breaths. Deep breathing can help to relax the body and calm you down. Taking deep breaths before an exam, game, job interview or before going on stage may help to calm you down and allow you to focus on the task at hand. The Developing Coping Strategies or Mindfulness articles may also be helpful.

  • Set realistic goals. With unrealistic goals, it is hard to keep things in perspective and cause you to get too stressed out. Setting realistic goals (both short-term and long-term ones) and managing your time and expectations may help to reduce or manage stress. You may also want to check out our Problem Solving and Putting Your Goals into Action articles.

  • Have multiple paths to achieve your goals. There is never one path to achieving your goals. It is important not to put all your eggs in one basket. You could investigate and plan other ways to get where you want to go, whether it’s a university degree, job, or holiday vacation. Everything might not always play out how you thought it would, but you might end up happy with the results. For example, you might get a new job and be very excited about it. After a few days, you might realize your tasks are not as enjoyable as you had hoped. Though your path to achieving job experience is not exactly what you thought it would be, in the end, you might reach your goal and be completely happy with it.

  • Try to avoid harmful behaviors. It may be tempting to use smoking, alcohol, drugs and caffeine as a means of managing your stress. Try to avoid using these substances as a coping mechanism because, in the long run, they may make you more stressed out and can be harmful to the body. Once you rely on something like caffeine, you may realize you are unable to function without it. You may also be tempted to engage in other negative behaviors besides using drugs or alcohol, such as procrastinating, overeating, skipping class, or blaming others. These behaviors will likely get you into trouble, create conflicts, or make you even more stressed out once everything begins piling up.

  • Watch what you’re thinking. Your outlook, attitude, and thoughts influence the way you see situations, people, and the world around you. Is your cup half full or half empty? A healthy dose of optimism can help you make the best out of stressful circumstances. Even if you’re out of practice, or tend to be a bit of a pessimist, everyone can learn to think more optimistically and reap the benefits. Learning to embrace the challenges that come up in your life will help you change how you view adversity. Embrace them and conquer them.

  • Speaking to someone. If you find that you are always stressed and have a hard time focusing on daily tasks, it may be helpful to talk to someone. It can be hard to ask for help, but your friends and family members might not be able to read your mind and know what’s going on with you. Talking to someone else might help you realize that something you are stressed out about is actually pretty manageable. Parents, teachers, or a school counselor may be able to help you cope.

Stress and relationships

Maintaining relationships with friends, family, co-workers, or boyfriends/girlfriends may cause you to become stressed, or your being stressed might affect those relationships. To help manage the stress, it could be helpful to talk to someone about what’s upsetting you. Talking to someone that you trust could help you work out why you are stressed out by the situation or relationship and also offer solutions about healthy ways to manage the stress. You can talk to a friend, family, member, or teacher, but if you feel more comfortable talking with someone else, you can also talk to a doctor, counselor, or even trained volunteers on a helpline.

For additional information:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally written by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Mindfulness

iStock-610047050.jpg

Be Here Now

A closer look at how to stay present through practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness

You may have heard of mindfulness as a form of meditation, or a tool you can use in daily life to lower stress, improve focus, or treat anxiety or depression. You can use mindfulness when you are stressed out about an exam, anxious in social situations, and many other difficult times, but what is it exactly?

What is mindfulness?

One simple definition is by Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the main teachers of mindfulness in the United States:

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

In other words, mindfulness means focusing on what is happening right now, rather than replaying things that happened in the past or worrying about what’s going to happen next. Sounds simple, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it is easy! It’s really hard to stay focused on what’s happening now and not get caught up in the past or future. It takes a lot of practice to build the mindfulness habit.

How do people practice mindfulness?

  • Meditation. Some people practice mindfulness meditation, which generally means sitting still with eyes closed for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or longer, simply noticing their breath or other inner experiences happening in the present moment.

  • During your day. Other people use mindfulness principles when doing other activities in their daily lives, like eating, talking to friends, exercising, etc. When you notice your mind jumping ahead to worries about what you are going to do next, or stressing about whether your friend thought your last joke was funny, you bring your attention back to what’s happening right now.

Common Mindfulness Practices

1. Mindful eating: In this practice, you slow waaaay down and spend about three minutes eating a single raisin. It may sound silly at first but it is a powerful exercise! Give it a try:

  • Step One: First hold the raisin in your hand, and spend a full minute looking at it, feeling the texture on your fingers.

  • Step Two: Then place the raisin in your mouth and feel the texture on your tongue before you start chewing.

  • Step Three: Chew very slowly, and notice all the flavors and sensations before swallowing.  Pay attention to each bite, the way the food looks, smells, and tastes.Take at least two minutes to hold, chew, taste, and swallow the raisin.

You can also use mindful eating techniques when you are eating your regular meals. People often report enjoying their food more and reducing overeating when they practice mindful eating!

2. Mindfulness of breath: This is a beginner practice to build basic mindfulness tools, increase focus, and help you feels less stressed.

  • Step One: Find a comfortable place where you can sit and close your eyes for a few minutes.

  • Step Two: Bring your attention to your breath. Don’t try to change anything, don’t make your breath any deeper or slower, simply observe what is happening.

  • Step Three: Whatever you focus on, try to observe ten full cycles of breath, in and out.

Some tips:

  • When focusing on the breath, you can try paying attention to the experience of your lungs filling and emptying, your belly rising and falling, or the feeling of air going in and out of your nostrils.

  • If your mind wanders to something else, don’t worry about it or beat yourself up, that’s part of the process! Just notice that you wandered and return to focusing on your breath.

3. Body scan: This practice helps you build awareness of what’s going on inside you.

  • Step One: Find a comfortable place where you can close your eyes for 3-5 minutes (set a timer if you’d like).

  • Step Two: Start by taking a few deep breaths. Bring your awareness to your feet, feel the sensation of them resting on the floor.

  • Step Three: Slowly bring your awareness up your body, noticing how your lower legs feel, any tension or relaxation there, then upper legs, back, belly, chest, shoulders, arms, and ending with your neck and head. Spend at least ten seconds on each area, more if you like.

  • Step Four: When you have scanned your whole body, take another three deep breaths and then open your eyes

It’s important that you don’t try to change anything, judge any feelings as good or bad, or try to figure out why you feel a certain way. If you notice yourself thinking or judging, simply remind yourself that you are here to observe only and return to your mindfulness practice.

4. Grounding: This practice will help you build your awareness of what is happening around you in your environment.

  • Step One: Sit or stand comfortably, with both feet on the ground.

  • Step Two: Look all around the room, silently naming what you see: blue wall, tall plant, open book, etc.

  • Step Three: Pause and listen to all the sounds you can hear too: traffic outside, hum of the air conditioner, the sound of your own breath or heart. Notice any smells, any sensations (breeze, heat, etc) and name those, too.

  • Step Four: To end, return your attention to the feeling of your feet on the ground.

Benefits of Mindfulness

So why do any of this stuff? Here are some of the benefits of mindfulness:

  • Improves focus, attention, and memory

  • Lowers stress

  • Increases ability to feel happy and enjoy the good in life

  • Helps you spend less energy worrying about what might happen in the future

  • Reduces overthinking or rumination (endlessly replaying things that happened in the past)

  • Helps you identify your emotions, improving self-awareness and your ability to communicate with others

  • Increases your understanding of your body

  • Research shows that mindfulness can have a significant impact on depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions

Resources to learn more:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally written by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Developing Coping Strategies

 

Coping 101

A closer look at developing coping skills that work for you

 

How can I develop coping strategies?

In some situations, despite our best efforts, we still can’t fix the problems we find ourselves in. For example, if you didn’t get into your dream college it’s natural to feel upset and disappointed. It may trigger thoughts of not being good enough or asking yourself why that happened to you. If your dream college rejects you, don’t feel discouraged. You’re able to talk to your friends about what they’ve done when a college rejected them or you can talk to a school counselor to see what your other options are. If you spend all your time thinking about why you didn’t get in then you lose time looking at other colleges that you may like just as much as your dream college.

When things don’t go as planned, there are other alternative routes to take. These routes become easier to identify once you find the right coping strategy. If you’ve tried a number of problem-solving strategies and none of them have worked, it might be time to focus on developing skills to help you cope with your problem.

Coping strategies can help you learn to accept situations that are beyond your control and find ways to help you feel better even if the problem still exists. When you develop coping strategies, you’re able to build resilience. You’re able to see things in a better perspective and you’ll feel much better about how you handled a certain situation. Being able to cope with things makes you a stronger person.

To develop coping strategies, try taking the following actions:

  • Challenge negative self-talk. Try and focus more on positives about yourself rather than the negatives. The less you bring yourself down, the better you feel about yourself. Check out our article here for more information.

  • Talk to people who can support you.  Opening up, whether it’s to a best friend, a close family member, or a counselor, can be helpful. They may offer a new perspective or just a comforting response to help you through. If you feel uncomfortable talking to someone in person, you can also call a helpline anonymously. There is always someone there to listen to you.

  • Relax. Breath. A little relief can go a long way towards helping you reflect on your situation and what can you do for yourself. You may want to try deep breaths, a long walk or something else that you find soothing.

  • Distract yourself. Try not to spend all your time and energy thinking about your problem. Keep yourself occupied. Keeping busy can help lift your mood and may even offer opportunities to channel your emotions into positive outlets.

  • Get involved. Make time for enjoyable activities so that you don’t focus exclusively on your problem. Volunteering in areas that interest you may also help.

Different coping strategies

There are numerous ways we can use coping skills to deal with the circumstances and emotional states we find ourselves in. Sometimes our emotions are so intense that relaxing in the moment is out of the question. In order to come to a centered place, we need to get out of our minds and bring ourselves to the present moment. When we are grounded, we are more capable of handling our emotions in an effective way.

Some ways of doing this are through tapping into the five senses. To practice these mindfully, absorb your attention into everything you do. If you’re eating, notice the textures, the different flavors, and the temperature of the food. Really try to be with the moment as much as possible. If you find your mind wandering off, be gentle with yourself and come back to the present moment. It can take a lot of practice to be fully present, so go easy on yourself.

Coping strategies through the five senses:

  • Touch. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket, walk in the grass with bare feet, hold a warm mug of tea, hold your best friend’s hand, explore nearby textures, notice the feeling of your clothes on your skin and the quality it holds (heavy, soft, scratchy, loose, etc)

  • Sight. Notice the textures around you, name the colors you see, look at photos you’ve taken when you were at peace or happy, identify plants or animals on a walk

  • Hearing. Listen to all the small sounds happening around you, hear your breath as you breathe in deeply, try to identify all the instruments used in some soft music, listen to a guided meditation

  • Taste. Notice the texture of the food or drink, identify the different flavors, let food melt in your mouth as you explore its qualities, drink something refreshing

  • Smell. Enjoy the different scents of your environment, try to figure out the different smells you come across, light a candle or incense

Once you find yourself in a space where you’re capable of relaxing and soothing yourself, explore using your current strengths or talents as a form of self-care. If you’re unsure what that might be for you, try thinking of things that make you feel fully absorbed, perhaps losing track of time from how involved you are with this activity. This sensation is called “being in flow”. You’re partaking in something that naturally speaks to you and allows you to transform your feelings by channeling them into something that makes you feel good. If you’re having a hard time thinking of what that might look like for you, try exploring some of the possibilities below.

Coping skills for self-care & relaxation:

  • Yoga

  • Journaling

  • Listening to your favorite music (or songs you can sing along to)

  • Taking a hot bath or shower

  • Going on a walk

  • Putting yourself out in nature

  • Meditating

  • Self-massage

  • Reading a book

  • Studying something that interests you

  • Painting or drawing

  • Having someone play with your hair

Our feelings often act as a sort of internal communication with ourselves. Pay attention to the feelings you have, but don’t become absorbed by them. They’re trying to tell us something about ourselves. Maybe it means we need to set better boundaries for ourselves, or perhaps, telling us how much we care. Although it’s important we sit with our feelings at times, it’s equally important to let those feelings pass and move on. This isn’t the same as avoiding our problems—it’s creating space to let things go.

Healthy distractions:

  • Writing poetry, short stories, fan-fiction, or exploring creative writing prompts

  • Playing or learning an instrument

  • Doing something creative like painting, sculpting, woodworking, or building things

  • Working out

  • Playing video games

  • Watching a movie

  • Calling a friend

  • Watching funny videos online

  • Browsing wholesome content on social media

  • Experimenting with makeup

  • Learning a new language

  • Cleaning up your room

  • Taking care of your pets or plants

  • Cooking a nice meal

Practice acceptance

When you’re faced with a difficult situation, an important question to ask is: “What’s the best thing I can do to resolve this problem?” If there’s anything you can do, it’s important to work through the options one step at a time. Writing out your options and then weighing them with a pros and cons list may be a helpful way of narrowing down the best resolution. However, sometimes you might find yourself in a situation that you can’t change, no matter how much you would like things to be different.

There’s not much you can do about your height, your age, most of your physical features or the family you were born into. There are also things that have happened in the past that you can’t change. What has happened has happened, and we can’t change the past, but you can still change the way you deal with a situation in the future.

The best way to deal with situations you can’t change is to practice acceptance. This means accepting the way things are without insisting that they should be different, and deciding to get on with life in spite of the situation. Accepting how things are or happened and letting go of the attachment you have to more favorable outcomes will reduce the amount of suffering you put on yourself. Sometimes, accepting things as they are and removing expectations (from yourself AND others) can remove the pressure for things to be perfect or to always go well, and can better allow you to heal.

Coping Strategies and Resolutions

Is there a situation that you don’t like? If you can change it, try working through the eight steps in the Problem Solving article to find a solution to your problem. If not, see how you feel after trying to accept the situation. What can you say to yourself to accept the situation? What sorts of things can you do to get on with your life in a positive way, in spite of the problem?

Remember that problems are a normal part of life, and that we usually feel better when we do something to resolve them rather than just dwell on them. But, if you can’t solve the problem, it’s helpful to change the way you think about it. Practice acceptance and move on with life in a positive way.

 

Information for this article was provided by:

  • Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences (2005)


Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com