Reducing Stress

February 2019

We live in a world that seems to grow increasingly busy with each passing day. School, work, extra-curricular activities, chores, and non-stop access to various forms of technology are often part of a child’s day to day life. Although the variety of activities available to children and their families can provide great benefits, they can also lead to stress and frustration if not properly managed. In Cache Valley, student responses on the annual Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) Survey administered in cooperation with Bear River Health Department, indicate that students across the valley are experiencing a consistent increase in the levels of stress they feel in their lives. That stress contributes to feelings of anxiety and depression, and in extreme cases, thoughts of self-harm.

There are many approaches families can choose from to help address these issues. Scaling back on extra-curricular activities, dedicating time for building connections between family members, and managing the amount of time spent on electronic devices all can contribute to lower stress levels in children. Another approach that is growing in popularity is the practice of “mindfulness” in the home.

Mindfulness is defined as “the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.” Practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve attention and reduce stress as well as increase one's ability to regulate their emotions. According to data from The Hawn Foundation, which trains educators on the use of mindfulness strategies in the classroom, when students develop their habits of mindfulness, the benefits include:

  • improved their ability to get along with other children
  • greater optimism and enhanced self-concept, self-regulation, and self-management
  • improved their planning and organizational skills
  • better impulse control

Maria Hersey, Ph.D., the U.S. director of education and training at the Hawn Foundation states that mindfulness training is about “getting students to reflect on their own thoughts and actions and learning how to make better choices for themselves and for others as well. So in our technology-based world where everybody is connected, we talk to students about the importance of self regulation and learning how their brains work so they might react less emotionally and more rationally in situations, and understand that they can be in control of themselves and their actions."

So how can families incorporate mindfulness into their routines at home? Some simple ideas include

  • Implement "brain breaks," in which children take a deep breath and calm themselves for three to five minutes to quiet their minds, be present, and just focus. Parents can encourage their kids to take a brain break during homework time, during stressful situations, or simply when transitioning from one activity to the next. "It's just a moment when you need to decompress a bit and just be present," Dr. Hersey says. It's about taking that time to be calm and peaceful, remember the things that are important in life, focus on the positive, and be purposeful in our actions
  • In order to teach children to truly be in that moment and not thinking about tomorrow's math test or Saturday's birthday party, parents could do a "listening walk" with their children, asking them what sounds they hear, what the sounds remind them of, and how they help them remember a happy time or appreciate a positive experience
  • However a parent chooses to teach their children mindfulness, parents practicing it themselves may have the greatest impact on their children. When a parent sets routines in place for taking just a few moments a day to close their eyes and notice their breath, their thoughts, their emotions, and their body sensations, it has the potential to make a great impact on the whole family."
  • A variety of resources, including apps that guide children and parents though basic mindfulness exercises, are available to support families as they look for ways to become more mindful in the home. Developing habits of mindfulness is one way family members can help one another manage stress more effectively and bring an additional component of peace and emotional security to the home, which is good for everyone in the family