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November 17, 2022

“October” and “scary” go hand-in-hand, whether you’re talking about Halloween or horror movies. One thing that doesn’t have to be scary, though? Encouraging your students to create a mental health tool kit! This tool kit can equip your students with ways to manage stress and anxiety while also reminding them of daily habits that are essential to mental as well as physical health and well-being.

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Mental health among children and young adults is a growing concern for parents, and it has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five adolescents ages 12-17 have experienced a major depressive episode, and seven in 10 parents agree that the pandemic has taken a toll on their child’s mental health. It’s important to teach your students that attaining and maintaining good mental health is an ongoing process. It’s seldom a smooth road; it’s more akin to a journey with a few stop signs, roadblocks, and detours. The good news is that with the right map, the road is drivable, and the journey is achievable! What would this “map” look like in real life? Let’s explore.

Getting Introspective

Start with these guiding questions to help students focus on their thoughts and feelings:

  • Think of a time when you felt stressed or anxious.
  • How did your body respond to this feeling? Maybe your heart rate increased, your mouth or throat became dry, or your hands felt clammy.
  • Have you noticed certain events that cause you to feel this way? Perhaps it’s presenting to the class, meeting strangers, or taking an exam.

Once your students can pinpoint their feelings, symptoms, and potential triggers, it’s easier for them to handpick tools that can deescalate the situation. There are a multitude of ways to de-stress, and it can look different for everyone! Have your students try the following strategies:

  • Breathe in, breathe out: Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in for four counts. Then exhale slowly through the nose for four counts. Pay attention only to the rise and fall of your belly and chest.
  • Music therapy: If you’re able to, listen to a song that makes you feel calm or happy. Many music streaming services have playlists specifically designed to curb anxiety.
  • Muscle relaxation: Stress and anxiety often cause pain and tension in certain muscles, so tensing and releasing those muscles can provide relief. Try squeezing the muscles in your face, shoulders, hands, legs, and toes for 10 seconds at a time and then releasing, making sure to breathe through it. The goal is to pay extra attention to how loose your muscles feel after the exercise.

Can your students think of other exercises or strategies to alleviate stress? Ask for ideas, and try them out as a group! Students can decide individually which ones belong in their personal tool kits.

Supplementation Minimizes Frustration

Along with healthy exercises that can decrease feelings of stress and anxiety, arm your students with strategies they can use in their everyday lives to keep stress at bay. Engage students in an open conversation about things they already do to lessen stress, and also discuss activities and behaviors that might not be helpful. Here are some topics you may cover:

  • Physical activity is a proven stress reliever. Need some ideas for incorporating it into your program? Y4Y’s Health and Wellness Click & Go can get the ball rolling — literally and figuratively!
  • Do your students’ parents or guardians limit screentime (maybe to the student’s dismay)? Research shows that this can actually fight off anxiety symptoms over time, making it a perfect tool for students to include in their mental health tool kits. Express to your students that, while they may not love time away from their devices, it’s important to let their minds focus on other stimulating activities.
  • Something as simple as combing your hair and brushing your teeth can be supplements in a mental health tool kit. Keeping up with your personal hygiene is a little reminder that you deserve attention and care!

I’ve Got the Power!

Let your students know that having a mental health tool kit packed with handpicked strategies that work for them is a powerful thing. It gives them the confidence and  know-how to regulate their own feelings and emotions. Model key strategies for your students. The next time you or your staff are feeling overwhelmed, doing something as simple as a breathing exercise can show your students that destressing doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s something that we can all benefit from, so why not start young?