YouthZone column: Tools to handle stress through mindfulness

Katie Westcott
Katie Westcott

How you handle stress is important. At YouthZone, we’ve seen kids facing both real and perceived pressures that they are often not equipped to handle.

During a YouthZone assessment, kids talk to us about how they deal with stress. Some have positive coping skills and some turn to drugs and alcohol or even self-harm.

Did you know stress can make you sick? There’s a sweet balance between stress that pushes you to get things done and stress that takes a physical toll on your body.

Where is your stress level? Take a moment to breath. I mean really breath. Can you turn off the world for 30 seconds? How about two minutes? It can be surprisingly difficult at first, but with practice it can become a handy resource in any situation.

There are several strategies to intentional breathing but many find it helpful to just sit in silence, close their eyes, and focus on each inhale and exhale. If you find that your mind is racing with thoughts, it can be helpful to write those thoughts down and then come back to the breathing exercise. Don’t worry, all your thoughts will still be there when you’re done.

Once you are focused on breathing, take note of how your body feels. Are you achy? Sore? Tense? Imagine that with each inhale you are targeting a specific area and imagine that with every exhale you’re letting go of the tension.

If you practice this for a few minutes you may notice that your heart rate slows down and your muscles have a chance to release some tension. You may even find that you have more energy after a few minutes.

While you will see the immediate benefit to your physical body, it may be surprising to learn that your mind needs this kind of rest, too. Many of us don’t even realize our brains get tired. Deep, intentional breathing offers your brain a break from the constant activity and stress of everyday life.

When we allow our minds to slow down, we are able to think more clearly and make decisions more effectively. We can also access different parts of our brain that may not be used when we’re in overdrive.

At YouthZone, we know youth are wired for impulsivity and must be taught the skills for good decision making. This requires them to use different parts of their brain that have not yet matured. Teaching them the skills to reduce stress helps them to be open to new ideas. Mindfulness and intentional breathing provide a way to focus and allow new learning to take place.

Katie Westcott is YouthZone’s Youth Advocate II. Katie has an undergraduate degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies from Colorado State University and completed her master’s degree in Psychology with an emphasis in health in 2018 from Grand Canyon University.

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