With Back to School season we will have plenty of ways to practice our Stress Management Tools. There are big stresses like taking tests or giving presentations and everyday stress like catching the school bus or running to get to class before the bell. The trick is to let the body calm back down after it is done with the running or performing or heightened state of alertness that we need in the moment.
We often think of trauma as something huge and catastrophic and stress as something we deal with on a regular day. The real difference though, is that a trauma can be any stressful situation that goes unresolved. So learning how to manage stress is an important tool that we can learn for ourselves and then practice with our kids.
Our bodies are amazing and we can do some pretty cool things when we call on that stress-response (like that mom who pulled the car off of her baby), but when we stay in that elevated state of stress-response for too long, then it becomes traumatic.
Sometimes too much happens at once and then we need to seek help to resolve the trauma and release it. It is best on those kind of days to seek help early and often.
But today we’ll talk more about some quick and easy things to try at home.
I recently completed my Certified Family Trauma Professional training program and it was a great way to add to my toolbox of techniques that I can use with my clients and their families (and my kids). One of the main messages in the training was to honor the ways in which families have already learned to cope with stress and trauma and then help them develop strategies to try new tools that they might like even better.
What are Triggers?
Everyone gets triggered by something. I feel like this word is getting a little bit too much use by the kids these days and we can lose sight of how important it can be when someone has a traumatic memory triggered.
A “trigger” just refers to something totally normal that is happening in the present that takes on a much larger meaning and can make you have a really strong reaction.
- Do spiders make your skin crawl?
- Are you afraid of heights?
- Do you hate being called on in class?
- Are you afraid of getting hit with the baseball so you avoid gym class?
Sometimes we remember what happened and we know why we are triggered. One night, we spun our car across the highway in a really bad rain storm and now when it is raining really hard I get a little more nervous driving. If the car hydroplanes I can go into a full panic. I might be in a bad mood all night if I don’t stop and bring myself back into the present. Sometimes we are triggered by something and we don’t have a memory to help us to make sense of why it bothers us so much.
Sometimes the stories are so many generations old and the trigger was storied in our DNA and we have no memory of why it bothers us so much.
In those moments though, we need ways to calm down and bring ourselves back into the present.
Try these Three Steps to get started:
First, start keeping a list of the things that bother you:
What are some things that trigger you? Maybe you get sweaty palms or start to feel nervous when you are late for an appointment or when you have to fill out paperwork. Many people get this way if they feel singled-out or have to speak in front of a group. Keep a journal and write down what types of things bother you.
Second, start making an inventory of things that help:
What works for you when you need to calm down?
Do you like walking it off? Do you take a few deep breaths and count to ten.
If you start to keep an inventory of ones that you like you can practice it with small stressful moments and then be really good at it when the bigger stressful moments hit you.
And, as moms, the more we practice, the more we can model it for our kids so they learn to calm themselves down when stressful things happen in their life.
Third, practice some new techniques and model them for your kids:
Try this handy tool:
Try this Story Hand technique when you are stressed about going somewhere new or facing something that seems too big to try.
You touch each of your five fingers one at a time and name something about the thing you are doing. If the big concert is stressing out your kid, try practicing:
- Hold their pinky and talk about how they love to sing.
- Hold their ring finger and remind them that their whole class is doing it together.
- Hold their middle finger and tell them to look at their teacher who will be smiling because they are so proud.
- Hold their pointer finger and teach them to sing “Watermelon” in case they forget the words.
- Hold their thumb and tell them you love them and you are always proud of them and that you will get ice cream after!
- Use this moment to hold their hand and connect. You can fold all the fingers in to the palm and squeeze.
Improvise as needed and depending on the kid’s personality and age. They can hold their own hand and make up their own reminders. They can wrap all the fingers of one hand around the finger that they are on and hold. When they are done with the fingers, press the thumb of one hand into the palm of the other and hold for a few seconds.
Grounding Techniques to Stay Present:
You can use this technique to help them ground if they are anxious and you need to bring them back to the present moment. Teach them this tool when they are young and they can easily use it in school.
- Look around and practice saying 5 things that you notice right now. Count on your 5 fingers.
- Tell me something that you see, hear, feel, smell and taste.
- If there is time name 5 things that you see, 4 that you hear, 3 that you feel, 2 that you smell and 1 that you taste.
- Another variation is to tell me a color that you see, a shape that you see etc. This works well on car trips as well.
You can use these techniques when they are a little bit nervous about something new and then they learn how to calm down when they are really anxious about something big.
Some added benefits of these simple hand techniques:
- Massaging the hands is a technique for reducing stress. Start to pay attention and you will probably notice that you do your own forms of self-massage of your hands and fingers. Watch your kids, they probably try this intuitively. Some kids also rub their ears to calm down. Trust your kids and learn what works for them. Then you can remind them of those tools in those really stressful moments.
- There are pressure points in the hands that reduce stress. They can reduce feelings of nausea and headaches. You can research more for specifics, and ask a practitioner for more support and to treat specific symptoms. But it is fun to explore how you already use this inner wisdom to start to feel better in your stressful moments.
(Now you know why people wear those funny bracelets when they go on boats! Pressing on that acupressure point on the wrist is known to calm nausea.)
Stretching the hands and wrists also helps prevent carpal tunnel if they’ve spent too long writing their homework assignments.
Have fun trying some new techniques and enjoy the return to routines. We will be back to concert and graduation season before we know it.
Contact me if you want help with deciding which tools might be best for you and your family.
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