Module 3: Inoculating your Brain about Anxiety and Stress

 

Question: What are the three moments in your life that helped shape the person you are today?

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.”

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident.

Like Shawn mentioned, stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV.

 

activities

Stress Quiz - Take the Quiz!


 

Activity:  Stress Bustingstress busting document

 

Think of the last time something that made you feel bad, nervous, or worried. What did you do? What made you feel better? When something happens that makes you feel bad, nervous, or worried, what do you usually do that helps you the most? What do you do that doesn’t help much, but you do it anyway?

 

Now, think about the three things that stress you out and write them down. Once you’ve written them down, think about and write down what you could do to feel better and lower your stress scale. After you complete the Stress Quiz, there is a series of tips to reduce stress, which may be helpful. Click on the PDF worksheet to the right to capture this information if helpful.

Family Activity

Here are five additional activities families can do together that can help manage stress for everyone:

 

1. Exercise

Exercising as a family is a great way to stay in shape and help manage stress. Even just 15 minutes of running or walking a day can make a big difference in both physical and mental health.  Exercising helps to release feel-good endorphins that make you feel better and energized.  According to a study by the American Psychology Association (APA), thirty-seven percent of teens say they exercise specifically for stress-relief. Try activities that the whole family can participate in such as going for a walk, hike, or bike ride.

 

2. Mindfulness

In our fast-paced world, even young people need to take some time to slow down and self-reflect. Taking a moment to observe mindfulness practices as a family is a great way to take a breath and spend quality time together. Many studies have shown mindfulness practices, even if used for just a few weeks, can reduce stress and anxiety, while supporting mental health and wellness, along with increased memory and focus, according to Mindful Schools.

 

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness can look different for each person and can include breathing and relaxation exercises, reading, listening to music, exercising and other activities that quiet the mind and support self-reflection. For more tips about mindful practices, visit mindful.org.

 

3. Gardening

Being outdoors, in general, helps to alleviate stress and anxiety, but participating in a family activity such as gardening can help even more. In a study conducted in the Netherlands, participants reported being in a better mood after gardening and showed lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Not only is gardening a fun family activity, it can bring about other healthy habits such as healthy eating if your family plans on growing their own fruits and vegetables. These steps towards a healthier lifestyle in both hobby and diet can lead to reductions in stress and anxiety for families.

 

The City of Irvine offers gardening classes and workshops. To learn more, visit cityofirvine.org and check out the activities section in Inside Irvine.

 

4. Art

While physical activity has shown many positive results when it comes to stress-relief, taking on creative and mental activities as a family can also help with managing stress and anxiety. A family art project, even something as simple as a scrapbook or making a collage, is a great way to bring your family together and focus on making something creative and meaningful.

 

5. Reading

Reading is a great way to combat stress. According to a study by the University of Sussex, reading for only six minutes can reduce stress levels up to 68%!  Getting your child to enjoy reading might seem like a difficult task but reading with them can help encourage them to enjoy the activity. Consider starting a family book club and decide together what books you can read. Reading is a great individual activity but can also turn into a meaningful family discussion.

 

6. Savoring

You have heard more than once that you must “enjoy life’s simple pleasures” which can seem a bit trite, we’re swayed by research that says actively savoring the good things that happen in our life — no matter how small — can indeed drive more happiness, both in the moment and in the long-run.

 

What is savoring? Savoring is more than pleasure. It means having positive feelings while simultaneously focusing awareness on them. Savoring entails deliberately focusing one’s full attention on the present and bringing the whole experience of pleasure into one’s awareness as it is happening, with as many of the senses as possible. Since our minds have an extraordinary ability to remember sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings, savoring pleasurable experiences locks away the positive feelings so that we can recall them to evoke positive emotions at a later time.

 

The next time you feel a big emotion — maybe a wave of pride, or even a flash of anger — slow down. Noticing your reactions can shift your perspective and help you find things to appreciate in every kind of moment, even ones that don’t seem outwardly joyous. Try this savoring practice to build up a habit of noticing the small moments you might otherwise skip over.

 

In this activity, you will spend 10 minutes writing about a happy, joyful or pleasant event that happened THIS WEEK AT WORK or HOME.

 

For example, you could write about: “A good conversation you had with a co-worker” or “A good conversation with your child about how excited are they about their new school project.”

  • Write about the people, sounds, physical sensations, and sights that you experienced at the time of the event.
  • Focus on the positive emotions that you felt during and right after this event.
  • Focus on how this event occurred and how you created this situation for yourself.
  • Write about anything else that makes you feel good about this event.

 

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