April Awareness month for Alcohol & Autism

April’s Mental Wellness Meet-up Topic: Dangers of Alcohol for Alcohol Awareness Month & Spreading Awareness of Autism & providing info/support services for families

The symbolism of band-aids is what I use to talk about how some individuals use drugs and alcohol to cope with struggles and trauma in their life. Drugs and alcohol are the band-aid, they do not cure the wound or prevent others from happening-- it masks the wound and provides temporary relieve. A wound needs time to heal, ointment, water to cleanse, and support. Those who are addicted or depend on drugs need support from others, need to be give opportunity to heal, and need to realize they are worth healing! 

Alcohol Awareness Month, founded and sponsored by Facing Addiction with NCADD since 1987, is a national grassroots effort observed by communities throughout the United States to support prevention, research, education, intervention, treatment and recovery from alcoholism and alcohol-related problems.

Remember that use of alcohol is your decision and that drinking is not necessary for having a good time. Know that “Drinking Too Much Too Fast Can Kill You” and that alcohol poisoning, a drug over-dose, is more common than many people think.  Avoid situations where someone else’s alcohol consumption or other drug use may put you at risk. Always respect another person’s decision not to drink alcohol.  If you are concerned about yourself, a friend or family member, contact local addiction services, like ACCA’s family support navigator for help; they will connect you to someone who is specifically trained and successfully experienced in helping individuals and families dealing with alcohol-related problems.

What is Alcohol?- Alcohol is a substance that when misused or abused can be harmful to the body. It is found in many drinks such as beer, wine, champagne,  and liquors. Alcohol is LEGAL for people who are 21 years of age but they need to be safe, responsible & respectful when they do decide to drink.

What Does Alcohol Do To The Mind & Body?- Alcohol is a depressant that effects many different parts of the brain; meaning that is slows down breathing, heart rate and makes users moody or mean to others.

·         Loss of judgment (someone may think that they are okay to drive a car when they really cannot, because they are impaired due too much alcohol).

·         Loss of coordination (someone may trip and hurt themselves or someone else after using too much alcohol).

·         Alcohol can hurt many parts of the body including the brain, liver, stomach, and heart. When people drink too much they can get sick and vomit & have a headache.

·         Youth brains are more vulnerable to alcohol because the brain doesn’t fully develop until age 25.  The brain controls the whole body & when drinking it can affect how someone walks, talks, breathes, & makes decisions. Alcohol can alter this development, potentially affecting brain structure & function.

·         Research shows that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are 4x more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.

·         Mixing alcohol with other drugs, especially prescription medicine is especially dangerous. It can cause nausea and vomiting, headaches, drowsiness, fainting & loss of coordination & puts you at risk for internal bleeding, heart problems & breathing difficulties.

What is Alcoholism? -It is a disease in which the person has lost control over their drinking. The person may want to stop, but cannot do so. The person may drink every day, miss work to drink, and hurt family members and themselves by drinking.

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Helpful Resources:

·         Facing Addiction with NCADD: www.facingaddiction.org

·         Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): http://www.aa.org/

·         Al-Anon Family Groups: https://al-anon.org/

·         National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/

·         Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Alcohol and Public Health: https://www.cdc.gov/Alcohol/

·         Addictions Care Center of Albany, Inc. : http://www/theacca.net

o   Family Support Navigator FREE services 518-465-5829 ext. 416

·         Northeastern Community Action Partnership: www.northeasterncap.com

Underlying Question: Why?

--What drives an individual to do what they do?  Family struggles?  Pressure from friends/family?  Job issues? Stress?  Wanting to suppress feelings/thoughts?

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of disorders of brain development. Commonly known as autism, these conditions are characterized by difficulties in social skills, both verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitious movements, delayed child development and other unique strengths and challenges. In the phrase ‘autism spectrum disorder,’ spectrum refers to the variation in presentation of symptoms and assets of each individual with autism.

The notion that autism is a spectrum of disorders is a relatively new phenomenon. Before 2013, autism spectrum disorders, such as Asperger’s syndrome and Kanner’s syndrome, were thought of as distinct disorder classes with independent treatments. In the latest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association combined subcategories of autism and related conditions into one unified category with different characteristics and severity. Autism is now understood to be on a continuum with overlapping symptomology, caused by a multitude of complex genetic and environmental factors. This progression of the classification and etiology mirrors that of evolving treatment approaches for individuals with autism. Treatments have changed in the last century due to changing theoretical conceptions, new philosophies, and research advances in the field, ranging from biochemical to social and behavioral methods.

30 Things Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum Want You to Know

It is estimated that one in 68 children are now diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum disorder, and yet, this diagnosis remains as misunderstood as ever. We simply do not live in a society that is accommodating or even accepting of those who are not “neurotypical.” Fortunately, parents of autistic children are wonderful at communicating who their children are and why. Below are 30 things those parents of children on the Autism Spectrum want you to know.

Not all autism is the same, and neither is every child with autism.  It’s called the Autism Spectrum because autism actually covers a wide scope of complex disorders in brain development. Included are Asperger’s Syndrome, “classic” autism and  Pervasive Developmental Disorder, among others.  The types of autism range in everything from communication skills, anxiety, social interaction, and repetitive behaviors, among other things. As with any kid, a child with autism should be treated as an individual with his or her own set of abilities and preferences.

Just because my kid doesn’t look like another kid with autism doesn’t mean he’s not on the Autism Spectrum.  As one parent wrote on the popular Autism Speaks blog, “Knowing one child with autism doesn’t mean anything really — they’re all so different. Please don’t tell me my son doesn’t have [autism] because he looks so different from the other kid you know on the Spectrum.”

You can’t always see autism.  There is still a shocking amount of ignorance among the general population when it comes to the Autism Spectrum. Many people assume that children with autism have certain identifiable facial features or particular habits. But as it has already has been mentioned, every single person with autism is different and mild cases of autism are common. These stereotypes and lack of understanding often make things difficult for parents. It’s especially hard in the case of schools, coaches, or other organizations who deny a diagnosis because it is not easily seen.

Our home is safety proofed.  You’re probably familiar with baby proofing a house. But while most families can take down the safety gates and doorknob locks once the child ages, families with children on the Autism Spectrum often have these items and more protecting their child from their home’s inherent dangers. This is because many children on the Autism Spectrum are prone to behaviors that can bring about self-injury. 

Autism causes the brain to process things differently.  Children on the Autism Spectrum process differently things others often take for granted. Crowds, loud noises, and bright or blinking lights, among countless other things, can often lead to extreme anxiety or a total meltdown on the part of the child. As one parent of an autistic child stated, “If you are in a supermarket and your child is getting overwhelmed and maybe making a scene, it makes it ten times worse when people around you are giving you dirty looks or making comments.” 

My child may be nonverbal, but she has a lot to say.  We live in a very verbal society that is ill-equipped for those in our population who are nonverbal. It’s estimated that about one-third of those on the Autism Spectrum are unable to speak. Still, it would be a mistake to assume these people do not have ideas, opinions, and other things to say. Some autistic children learn sign language to communicate, while others type or use other tools. 

My autistic child has feelings.  A common challenge children on the Autism Spectrum and their parents face is the assumption (by other children, other parents, and even teachers) that because an autistic child cannot verbalize or express their feelings like a neurotypical child might, those feelings must not exist. But nothing could be further from the truth. As one parent bluntly describes, “Even children who don’t speak can still hear you. Don’t talk to me over my children like they aren’t there, especially if you’re going to sympathetically tell me what a saint I am for dealing with a horrible situation every day. I’m not a saint. I’m their mother. And she HEARS YOU and understands that you’re saying she’s a burden to me.”

Children on the Autism Spectrum are not dumb.  Kids with autism have the potential to be absolutely brilliant. They’re also talented, philosophical, kind, and creative. This is something much of society fails to see, but in truth, the autistic mind is simply wired differently than those not on the Autism Spectrum. Hans Christian Andersen, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Michelangelo, Mozart, and Sir Isaac Newton (to name but a very few!) — all are said to have exhibited autistic tendencies. 

“Autistic” is not my child’s sole definition.  A child on the Autism Spectrum is first and foremost a child. Autism is simply something that has happened to that child. Make an effort to see someone on the Autism Spectrum for their unique personality, talents, likes and dislikes, not the differences brought about by their autism diagnosis. 

A schedule means nothing to us.  Children on the Autism Spectrum often have a difficult time adapting to changes in routine. Taking a vacation, weekend away, or even just a spontaneous trip to the zoo can be a bit of a challenge. Even the best-laid plans can go awry and cause total havoc. 

Please let my child play with your child.  A study done in Australia found that 42% of teens and adults on the Autism Spectrum do not feel comfortable leaving their own home because they often feel others treat them negatively. Not only is this heartbreaking for the affected individuals, it also leads to further misunderstanding and stigma about autism by the general public. Children with autism like to play with their peers, and largely benefit from being included in things like play dates and sports teams. 

My kid works harder than any other child her age.  As already mentioned, we do not live in a society that is accommodating to people on the Autism Spectrum. This means that an autistic kid has to work much, much harder  to function just about anywhere they go.  Behind that hard-working kid are parents, teachers, and therapists who are also working hard to help that child. An autistic child acting like their neurotypical peers has not been cured. He’s simply working 100 times harder to keep up, and that’s something we should all keep in mind. 

There’s no need to tag us in every Facebook article about autism.  Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum are research junkies, and do their best to stay up-to-date with each and every advancement in the autism community. Certainly, they know more than the average person. As one parent put it, “There’s literally no Facebook article [about autism] we haven’t seen. So, before you share it and tag us because we’re that friend with the child with autism, take that into account.” 

Please keep your unsolicited advice to yourself.  This is a big one, and parents say it all the time. Please don’t offer unsolicited advice about something you probably know very little about to a parent who lives and breathes autism. 

We know best when it comes to our autistic children.  All parents know their own children best, but this statement is especially true of parents of children on the Autism Spectrum. Most parents of autistic children have spent countless hours researching and consulting with doctors. They know their children’s ticks and the best ways to avoid meltdowns. Autism Speaks advises other parents keep the unsolicited parenting advice to themselves, saying, “Do ask the family whether there’s something you can do to help, but he prepared for a ‘no.’” 

I’m not someone to pity simply because my child has autism.  Autistic children are writing books, making films, creating blogs, and making all sorts of other groundbreaking achievements. Yet, when a parent tells someone their child is autistic, they are usually met with an unnecessary apology or look of pity. Autism is not something to be pitied, and our society’s outlook should change to reflect that. 

As parents, we aren’t looking for an autism cure. Parents of neurotypical children are often surprised to hear that parents of children on the Autism Spectrum aren’t really looking for a cure. Autism is part of their child’s life and identity, and they wouldn’t be themselves if they weren’t autistic. These parents might research to find management tips and tricks (such as diets), but they understand that finding a magical cure to get rid of autism altogether is, for lack of a better word, just silly.

 

We can’t just “get a babysitter.”  Generally, when parents need a night away, they hire a babysitter. Simple right? Well, not if you’re the parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum. Kids with autism exhibit different behaviors than do neurotypical children. For one, parents leaving isn’t just annoying, it’s disturbing on an emotional level. That makes it very hard for an autistic child to settle down while a babysitter is running the house

You can’t “catch” autism like you would a cold.  Though we know more about autism today than we ever have before, this is a misconception that parents of children on the Autism Spectrum run into constantly. Autism is not contagious. It does not spread from one person to another. It’s as simple as that. 

I’m not an autism expert.  If you want to learn more about autism and what it’s like to be autistic, there is one reliable source: a person on the Autism Spectrum. Parents of autistic children can tell you what it is like to live with a person on the Spectrum. They are experts on their own child. But the only person who can tell you what it’s like to live with autism is an autistic person himself. 

My autistic child is not trying to be difficult.  As one parent stated about her autistic son on the popular website Baby Gaga, “He isn’t giving us a hard time. He’s having a hard time.” No child on the Autism Spectrum is trying to behave badly when they experience a meltdown. The biology of autism is complicated and extensive, and much of it cannot even be tested for medically. Children on the Autism Spectrum have trouble with their methylation pathways. Their intestinal tracts do not absorb nutrients well. This impairs their immune system and guts, which then leads to issues in the brain. Because the brain and body of an autistic child do not always work as one, they have to express their pain and frustration in the form of things like meltdowns. 

When my child is having a meltdown, please stay calm.  Meltdowns occur because children on the Autism Spectrum often feel overwhelmed by their surroundings. Therefore, a sense of calm is required to end the meltdown and restore a child’s feeling of control. During a meltdown, the parent will likely be busy trying to calm their child. A helpful person standing by shouldn’t approach the parent and child. They can help by trying to make the immediate area as peaceful as possible. As Autism Speaks recommends, “Scan the area around the child for sights and sounds that may have contributed to the meltdown. . . . Is there an alarm that can be silenced? A flashing display that can be temporarily turned off? 

Please be patient with my child.  Children on the Autism Spectrum often have a slew of sensory issues and meltdowns in common. Because no one would expect a family with autistic children to stay home all hours of the day, these meltdowns often happen in stores, at parks, and in other public places. Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum simply want others to understand that these meltdowns are not brought on by bad behavior, and to please remain patient with both the parents and the child. Rolling your eyes or mumbling snide comments are not helpful. It will not change the immediate situation and can even add further stress to both parent and child. 

No, I don’t just need to discipline my child more.  Meltdowns are not tantrums. They are not the result of a lack of discipline on the part of the parent. Children on the Autism Spectrum have sensory issues. One child may be a sensory avoider, while another is a sensory seeker. And kids with sensory issues do not respond well to physical punishment. Spanking, time out, and yelling are not usually effective tools of discipline for a child with autism. Rather, parents of children on the Autism Spectrum rely on routine and repeated exposure to teach their autistic children rules and boundaries. 

We need to hear we are doing a good job. This is, of course, true of every parent, but it is especially true of parents of children on the Autism Spectrum. Raising a child with autism is a lifelong learning curve. As more and more is learned about the biology of autism, parents must keep up with new therapies and decide if they would be right for their child. For instance, there are new supplements, dietary concerns, and feelings about a new friend or teacher. The list of things to keep parents up at night is a long one

Don’t stop trying to include us. Autistic children, their siblings, and their parents are simply people, and people like to feel as if they are a part of a community. Though spending the day with a child on the Autism Spectrum may come with a few additional challenges, continue to spend time with them. Ask families to come to the Sunday BBQ, ask questions to better understand, and invite the parents out for dinner and an evening away. If they say no, ask again next time. 

We are incredibly lonely. For all of the reasons already listed, it’s easy to see why being the parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum is a lonely experience. Parents are with their children all the time. Many will be with them for the rest of their life. That makes joining a community of friends incredibly difficult. Divorce rates amongst parents of children on the Autism Spectrum is especially high. If you’re a friend of a parent of an autistic child, ask that parent if they’re okay. Ask if they need something, or if you can help with anything. Showing them they’re not as alone as they may feel will go a long way in brightening their day. 

Please just listen to us. Raising a child on the Autism Spectrum is hard and frustrating, and sometimes parents just need to vent to a friend. If you’re the chosen friend, listen with compassion. Likely, the parent is just looking to share their battle, and they are not looking for unsolicited advice or opinions.

The rate of autism is increasing.  Current figures say autism affects 1 in 68 Americans, but that number is expected to increase in the near future. Still, there is very little understanding and support throughout communities and amongst organizations and businesses. 

We don’t need “Autism Awareness,” we need “Autism Acceptance.”  You’ve probably seen the bumper stickers, Facebook posts and the t-shirts calling for “Autism Awareness.” But as parents of children on the Autism Spectrum continually insist, our society is aware of autism. It’s autism acceptance that we need. Though one in 68 American children are now diagnosed with autism, our society still treats autistic individuals and their families as social pariahs. To become a more inclusive society will take advancements in access to services, affordable health care, employment opportunities, Medicaid expansion, fair pay, and more opportunities for quality education. 

Resource content: https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisprograms.com/things-parents-of-children-on-the-autism-spectrum-want-you-to-know/?fbclid=IwAR3mU2djU__I2AQIPJQS0AiIgi3ZJFR3JX63c5kcvdTGFl6DrxLgkS4hbQo 

Helpful Resources:

Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region- https://www.asgcr.org

Wildwood Programs- www.wildwoodprograms.org

Crossroads Center for Children- http://crossroadcenter.org/

NAMI NYS- http://www.naminys.org/

MHANYS- https://mhanys.org/

Autism Speaks- https://www.autismspeaks.org/

Parent to Parent NYS- http://parenttoparentnys.org/

 

Coping Strategies for our Mental Health

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What Are Coping Skills and Strategies?

Coping strategies and skills are the responses and behaviors one adopts to deal with difficult situations. Coping strategies come in many forms.  Think of when you were last upset or angry. How did you respond to that emotion? Did you go for a walk? Listen to music? Draw, color or paint? Mediate? Go to the Gym? Those are healthy coping strategies that individuals choose to practice to move forward for their own self-care and wellness purposes. However, in life, there is always a balance of positive and negative.

Humans tend to learn coping strategies from those they come into contact with while growing up. When a person learns and develops habits of negative coping skills, stressors become catastrophes and confidence in one's ability to cope is diminished. Negative coping strategies are self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, reacting to others' actions, driving fast, bullying, physical and mental abuse, cyber attacks, sexual assault and etc.

Strategies for Good Mental Health Wellness

According to Sydney Youngerman-Cole, RN, BSN, RNC and Katy E. Magee, MA, "Many mental health problems begin when physical stress or emotional stress triggers chemical changes in your brain. The goal of treatment and prevention is to reduce stress and restore normal chemical processes in your brain." Coping skills are methods a person uses to deal with stressful situations. Obtaining and maintaining good coping skills does take practice. However utilizing these skills becomes easier over time. Most importantly, good coping skills make for good mental health wellness.

Some good coping skills include:

  • Meditation and Relaxation Techniques: Practicing deep breathing techniques, the relaxation response, or progressive muscle relaxation are ways to help reduce stress and induce relaxation.
  • Time to Yourself: It is important to set aside time every day to allow yourself to relax and escape the stress of life. Give yourself a private, mini vacation from everything going on around you.
  • Physical Activity: Moving around and getting the heart rate up causes the body to release endorphins (the body's feel good hormones). Exercising provides some stress relief.
  • Reading: Escape from reality completely by reading. Reading can help you to de-stress by taking your mind off everyday life.
  • Friendship: Having friends who are willing to listen and support one through good and bad times is essential.
  • Humor: Adding humor to a stressful situation can help to lighten the mood.
  • Hobbies: Having creative outlets such as listening to music, drawing or gardening are great ways to relax and relieve everyday stress.
  • Spirituality Actively believing in a higher power or divine being can have many health benefits. In recent studies, it has been found that people who pray have better mental health than those who do not.
  • Pets: Taking care of a pet helps distract the mind from stressful thoughts. Studies Show that pets are a calming influence in people's lives.
  • Sleeping The human body needs a chance to rest and repair itself after a long and stressful day. Sleeping gives the body this chance so that it is ready to perform another day.
  • Nutrition Eating foods that are good for you not only improve your physical health, but they play a major role in your mental health. When your body gets the proper nutrients, it is better able to function in every capacity.

There are also negative coping skills which can hinder progress in dealing more positively with stress. Actions that are harmful to both mental and physical health include:

  • Drugs
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Self-mutilation
  • Ignoring or storing hurt feelings
  • Sedatives
  • Stimulants
  • Excessive working
  • Avoiding problems
  • Denial

These actions offer only temporary relief, if any, from stress. Ignoring or covering up how you feel does not solve the problem and the next time the situation arises, you will still have no way of dealing with it.

The next time you find yourself faced with a difficult or stressful circumstance, remember to practice your new coping skills. These skills lead to good mental health and happier you.

Ten Tips for Better Mental Health

  1. Build Confidence - identify your abilities and weaknesses together, accept them, build on them and do the best you can with what you have.
  2. Accept Compliments - many of us have difficulty accepting kindness from others but we all need to remember the positive in our lives when times get tough.
  3. Make Time for Family and Friends - these relationships need to be nurtured; if taken for granted they will dwindle and not be there to share life's joys and sorrows.
  4. Give and Accept Support - friends and family relationships thrive when they are "put to the test." Just as you seek help when you are having a tough time, a friend or family member might come to you in their time of need.
  5. Create a Meaningful Budget - financial problems are big causes of stress, especially in today's economy. Over-spending on our "wants" instead of our "needs" can compound money worries. Writing down where you money is going helps you keep a closer eye on your finances.
  6. Volunteer - being involved in community gives a sense of purpose and satisfaction that paid work cannot. Find a local organization where your life skills can be put to good use.
  7. Manage Stress - we all have stressors in our lives but learning how to deal with them when they threaten to overwhelm us will help to maintain our mental health.
  8. Find Strength in Numbers - sharing a problem with others who have had similar experiences may help you find a solution and will make you feel less isolated. Even talking about situation with people who have not experienced what you are going through is a good way to gain outside perspective.
  9. Identify and Deal with Moods - we all need to find safe and constructive ways to express our feelings of anger, sadness, joy and fear. Channeling your emotions creatively is a wonderful way to work off excess feelings. Writing (keeping a journal), painting, dancing, making crafts, etc. are all good ways to help deal with emotions.
  10. Learn to Be at Peace with Yourself - get to know who you are, what makes you really happy and learn to balance what you can and cannot change about yourself.

Meditation / Relaxation Techniques

When our bodies are exposed to a sudden stress or threat, we respond with a characteristic "fight or flight" response. This is when epinephrine (adrenaline) and nor-epinephrine are released from the adrenal grands, resulting in an increase in blood pressure and pulse rate, faster breathing and increased blood flow to the muscles. Every time your body triggers the "fight or flight" response to situations that is not life-threatening, you are experiencing what is essentially a false alarm. Too many false alarms experienced by the body can lead to stress related disorders such as heart disease, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, insomnia, sexual dysfunction and immune system disorders.

A simple meditation technique practiced for as few as 10 minutes per day can help you control stress, decrease anxiety, improve cardiovascular health, and achieve greater capacity for relaxation.

The Relaxation Response

The relaxation response was developed by Harvard physician Herbert Benson in the 1970s. The technique has gained acceptance by physicians and therapists worldwide as a valuable adjunct to therapy for symptom relief in conditions ranging from cancer to AIDS. The relaxation response is a technique designed to elicit a state of deep relaxation in which breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure and metabolism are decreased. Training our bodies on a daily basis to achieve this state of relaxation can lead to enhanced mood, lowered blood pressure and reduction of lifestyle stress.

The two essential steps to the relaxation response are:

  • The repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer or muscular activity.
  • Passive disregard of everyday thoughts that inevitably come to mind during the process, followed by a return to the repetition.

To elicit the relaxation response:

  • Choose a focus word or phrase for repetition. You can use a sound such as "om," a word such as "one" or "peace," or a word with special meaning to you.
  • Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet place free of distractions. Close your eyes and relax your muscles progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head and neck.
  • Breathe slowly and naturally and as you do say your focus word, sound, phrase or prayer silently to yourself while you exhale.
  • Intruding worries or thoughts should be dismissed to the best of your ability by focusing on the repetition.
  •  Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. It's okay to open your eyes to look at a clock while you are practicing, but do not set an alarm.
  • When you have finished, remain seated, first with your eyes closed and then with your eyes open, and gradually allow your thoughts to return to everyday reality.

The relaxation response can also be elicited through other meditative and relaxation techniques. No matter how the relaxation state is achieved, the physical and emotional consequences of stress can be reduced through regular practice.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is one of the easiest stress management techniques to learn, and the best thing about it is that it can be done anywhere! When we become stressed, one of our body's automatic reactions is shallow, rapid breathing which can increase our stress response. Taking deep, slow breaths is an antidote to stress and is one way we can "turn-off" our stress reaction and "turn-on" the relaxation response. Deep breathing is the foundation of many other relaxation exercises.

  • Get into a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
  • Put one hand on your stomach, just below your rib cage.
  • Slowly breathe in through your nose. Your stomach should feel like rising and expanding outward.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely and letting your stomach fall.
  • Repeat several times until you feel relaxed.
  • Practice several times a day.

Information about the relaxation response courtesy of: Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine
 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR is a technique of stress management developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s. Jacobson argued that since muscular tension accompanies anxiety, one can reduce the negative feelings by learning how to relax and relieve the muscular tension.

PMR is based on alternately tensing and then relaxing one's muscles. A person can practice this technique by either sitting or lying down in a comfortable spot. The key to the relaxation process is taking some deep breaths and then proceeding to tense, then relax a group of muscles in a systematic order. One can start with the head and move down to the neck, shoulders, etc or can start with the feet and legs and proceed accordingly. The goal of the process is to cause deeper relaxation to the body than by simply attempting to relax.

A Simple Exercise that will Help You Relax in 10 Steps:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position, with eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths, expanding your belly as you breathe air in and contracting it as you exhale.
  2. Begin at the top of your body, and go down. Start with your head, tensing your facial muscles, squeezing your eyes shut, puckering your mouth and clenching your jaw. Hold, then release and breathe.
  3. Tense as you lift your shoulders to your ears, hold, then release and breathe.
  4. Make a fist with your right hand; tighten the muscles in your lower and upper arm, hold, and then release. Breathe in and out. Repeat with left hand.
  5. Concentrate on your back, squeezing shoulder blades together. Hold, then release. Breathe in and out.
  6. Suck in your stomach, hold, and then release. Breathe in and out.
  7. Clench your buttocks, hold, and then release. Breathe in and out.
  8. Tighten your right hamstring, hold then release. Breathe in and out. Repeat with left hamstring.
  9. Flex your right calf, hold, and then release. Breathe in and out. Repeat with left calf.
  10. Tighten toes on your right foot, hold, and then release. Breathe in and out. Repeat with left foot.

Meditation is a mind-body practice originating from ancient religious and spiritual traditions. The practice of meditation started thousands of years ago and first became popular in Asia with the teachings of Buddha, who practiced meditation himself. Eventually, the Buddhist form of meditation spread to the Western world, and remains popular today. In meditation, one learns to focus their attention while trying to eliminate or diffuse their stream of thoughts. This practice is believed to result in a state of greater relaxation and mental calmness. Practicing meditation can change how one reacts to emotions or thoughts.

Meditation is used as a mind-body medicine. Generally, mind-body medicine focuses on two things: the interactions between the brain, body, and behavior of the individual, and the ways that emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavioral factors affect health. Meditation is used to help reduce anxiety, pain, depression, stress, insomnia, and physical and emotional symptoms that are associated with chronic illnesses and their respective treatments. Meditation is used for overall wellness.

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Other Positive Coping Skills

Here's a list of coping skills that will help you when you are feeling strong emotions such as anger, anxiety, or depression. These activities are not likely to create more stress or problems, so these help you be more resilient and stress tolerant.

Diversions

  1. Write, draw, paint, photography
  2. Play an instrument, sing, dance, act
  3. Take a shower or a bath
  4. Garden
  5. Take a walk, or go for a drive
  6. Watch television or a movie
  7. Watch cute kitten videos on YouTube
  8. Play a game
  9. Go shopping
  10. Clean or organize your environment
  11. Read
  12. Take a break or vacation

Social/Interpersonal (with others)

  1. Talk to someone you trust
  2. Set boundaries and say "no"
  3. Write a note to someone you care about
  4. Be assertive
  5. Use humor
  6. Spend time with friends and/or family
  7. Serve someone in need
  8. Care for or play with a pet
  9. Role-play challenging situations with others
  10. Encourage others

Cognitive (Of the Mind)

  1. Make a gratitude list
  2. Brainstorm solutions
  3. Lower your expectations of the situation
  4. Keep an inspirational quote with you
  5. Be flexible
  6. Write a list of goals
  7. Take a class
  8. Act opposite of negative feelings
  9. Write a list of pros and cons for decisions
  10. Reward or pamper yourself when successful
  11. Write a list of strengths
  12. Accept a challenge with a positive attitude

Tension Releasers

  1. Exercise or play sports
  2. Catharsis (yelling in the bathroom, punching a punching bag)
  3. Cry
  4. Laugh

Physical

  1. Get enough sleep
  2. Eat healthy foods
  3. Get into a good routine
  4. Eat a little chocolate
  5. Limit caffeine
  6. Deep/slow breathing

Spiritual

  1. Pray or meditate
  2. Enjoy nature
  3. Get involved in a worthy cause

Limit Setting

  1. Drop some involvement
  2. Prioritize important tasks
  3. Use assertive communication
  4. Schedule time for yourself

How Each Category of Coping Skills Helps

Diversions are those coping skills that allow you to stop thinking about the stress inducing situation. Diversions aren't meant to be the final solution, but each can be useful in the basic goal of remaining safe.

As time goes on, move away from diversions and toward those skills that will build resiliency to the challenges that continue. Diversions are only useful if one can recognize warning signs when feeling overwhelming emotions.

Social or interpersonal coping strategies involve interactions with others. Scientific studies have proven the benefits of social support to counteract the effects of stress on DNA. Social supports can be useful for recognizing warning signs and providing assistance in difficult times.

Cognitive coping skills are those that involve using the mind and thought processes to influence the way one feels and behaves. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of treatment that helps people find ways of thinking that improve their mental responses to situations.

Learning to think in more rational ways can be done by recognizing and changing irrational thoughts. Ultimately, a person can become much more stress tolerant and ultimately improve behavioral outcomes.

Tension releasing or cathartic coping strategies involve acting on strong emotions in ways that are safe for one and others. Punching a pillow could be a way to release tensions in a safe way. Be careful with cathartic responses because these tend to become habit forming and may translate to real life scenarios, so the child who practices punching a pillow may envision a person's face and end up actually punching that person's face when angry.

Physical process is directly tied to mental and emotional processes. A person's breathing rate can illicit a response from the sympathetic nervous system. Raising your voice can send signals to your brain that you are angry. In the same way, acting calmly in the face of difficulty can help send signals to your brain that everything is o.k.

Exercise is another thing that can help by producing endorphins, which are naturally occurring drugs that can create a calm or euphoric feeling.

Praying, meditating, enjoying nature, or taking up a worthy cause can affect a person on a spiritual level. Satisfying the need to feel worthwhile, connected, and at peace improve well-being at the core of a person. Spiritual well-being then exudes out of a person in attitudes and actions that are self-actualized. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we all need to feel a sense of purpose, but not everyone reaches that level.

Limit setting is a preventative measure to protect against overwhelming stress created by doing too much of something. Limits can be set for one's self or others. An example of setting a limit with others is learning to say "no" when you know you are too busy to help someone. Setting a limit for yourself could include dropping involvement in work activities that are not a good fit for your skills and focusing on those that you are efficient doing, which may mean having to be assertive with your boss about how you can help the most.