When stress goes unmanaged in parents, the resulting emotional dysregulation can have a major impact on our ability to tune in to the needs of our children. Younger children and teens are particularly sensitive to this, as they often show us what they are feeling and needing through their actions and behaviors rather than their words. Being able to recognize what a child’s behavior is telling us requires a greater level of attunement. Because of this, it also requires a higher level of self-regulation and lower levels of stress.
It’s important to clarify that being emotionally regulated does not mean being unemotional. Actually, to be emotionally regulated means that we are aware of and in control of our emotions.
For example, depression is a dysregulated version of sadness or grief; rage is a dysregulated version of anger; and OCD is a dysregulated version of anxiety.
Nine Ways to Lower Stress Levels
When we are in the midst of stressful circumstances, it may take more conscious effort and self-care to be emotionally regulated. The good news is that there are many flexible and tangible ways that we can lower our stress levels. Here are just a few.
- Exercising Indoors or Outside. Moving your body can help improve your mood and help improve your confidence. Just 20-40 minutes of aerobic exercise can help to release our body’s natural “happy” hormones, endorphins and dopamine. Stretching is another great way to relax your body.
- Gratitude Journaling. At the end of the day list a few things for which you are grateful in a journal. Spending a few minutes writing in a gratitude journal can boost serotonin production in the brain. It can help improve your sleep, decrease aggression, and leave you feeling empowered. Even better, do it in the morning right when you wake up and before you go to bed. Some studies have shown this simple exercise to be more effective than psychotropic medications for depression.
- Structure and predictability. Every day doesn’t have to be the same, but some structure and knowing what to expect can help parents and kids be more successful and flexible.
- Breathe. Control Your Heart Rate. Research put out by HeartMath Institute shows that certain emotions like anger and anxiety can only exist within a certain heart rate. If you can control your heart rate, you can control your emotions. When you’re feeling anxious or angry, your heart rate is much higher, but slowing down your breathing can decrease it. One useful tip to help slow your breathing down is to think of someone or something you’re grateful for. Slowing down your breathing multiple times a day can greatly improve your mood.
- Make Sleep A Priority. Sleep is imperative and foundational to mental health. Research shows that blue screens, alcohol, and caffeine/sugar can be really disruptive of sleep. Try to avoid these things in the hours prior to going to bed.
- Acknowledge The Grief Process. What we resist, persists. There are a lot of losses happening during this pandemic so it’s important to slow down to feel and give attention to our sadness, fear, and uncertainty.
- Destressing in the Outdoors. Being outside can help you feel connected to something larger than yourself, with so many sights, sounds, smells, textures to take in. It can even help to regulate the nervous system! The great outdoors, away from bad news and all distractions, provides space to broaden and shift your perspective beyond pandemic stress. It can help boost your mood and combat feelings of isolation.
- Listen To Relaxing Music & Podcasts. On YouTube, you can listen to hundreds of videos featuring bilateral stimulation music. With headphones on, this can be incredibly relaxing. Bilateral stimulation is a technique used in EMDR that can help regulate the brain and promote restful sleep. Mindfulness related podcasts can also be helpful during this time. We recommend Brene Brown’s new podcast, “Unlocking Us”.
- Check Out Mindfulness-Based Apps. There’s an app called Headspace that walks you through 10-25 minute lessons in mindfulness. Unwinding Anxiety is another app that is great for practicing mindfulness.
Parents can help younger children cope by first taking care of themselves so that they can be attuned to the struggles and needs that their children are experiencing. Practice the self-care exercises above with young children by integrating activities into your daily routine.
Always validate a child’s feelings; try to put yourself in their shoes first so you can hear and understand what the emotional experience is. Listen carefully and you might be able to help them label or provide words to what they are feeling.
Here is an Emotions and Needs Cheat Chart that you can use to better understand what your child needs based on the emotions they are expressing:
*This comes from and Emotion-Focused Family Therapy approach focused on care-giver interventions
Finding help for your teen at Solstice East
Solstice East is a residential treatment center for teen girls ages 14-17. Located in Asheville, North Carolina, our program specializes in helping teens who struggle with behavioral and emotional challenges related to trauma, loss, and anxiety. For more information about how our program can help your daughter dealing with stress and anxiety, call our admissions team at (855) 672-7058.