Category Archives: Stress relief

Best Tips for Dealing with Back to School Stress

Suggestions for easing Your Teen’s Mind

back to school stress; therapeutic activities for teens; calming resources.

Wow! Once again summer has raced by and back to school time is upon us. It seems that kids have to get back to school earlier and earlier every year, which sometimes seems to correlate to the time when it actually gets hotter and hotter.

Getting back to school can be stressful for the student who has enjoyed sleeping in a bit (it seems that the early hour that we start school really is not conducive particularly to Teens’ natural wake up rhythm). Or to the student who is starting high school, or just having concerns about new teachers, a new schedule, wondering if they’ll have friends, or feeling scared about all the work coming. Kids experience stress in response to the social dynamics at play with classmates, bullies, social media, and the socio-cultural-racial (and racist) world we live in.

Even if kids are excited to get back to school and looking forward to reconnecting with friends, they can experience stress as they make the change in their routine.

Of course, the stress can also be felt by the parents who have to get their kids back into an ‘early wake-up and get out the door quickly’ routine, and who have to deal with the frustrations or low energy or struggle that comes up about doing homework and other school-related projects. Or who are faced with fear and unease as they send their kids into potentially hostile and unsafe environments, that lack diversity or sensitivity to those kids’ needs.

Some parents may be happy to be back into the school routine and out of the challenging ‘summer time I’m bored’ routine, but as with any change (desired or not), there is some related stress as each person has to adapt to the new.

It’s important to remember that any change brings about some stress and we need to be mindful of that and make some room for the variety of responses to stress that can occur in ourselves and in our family (irritability, quick temper, tiredness, tearfulness, difficulty sleeping, restlessness, drama, grouchiness, withdrawal, intensified anxieties and worries, needing to talk a lot, sullenness, etc).

Here are some potentially fun and lighthearted ways to help your kids and teens to manage the back to school stress that they might be feeling. These are tools that your kids can learn and do, in order to be more present and therefore better able to deal with school and home life stress that is inevitable:

  • Play the game of sounds – that is, write down for a few moments all the different sounds that you can hear. Your teen can do this by himself, or you can do it together and see who hears the most sounds, or take turns and go from one to the next person naming the sounds that you hear.
  • Counting sounds – when you first arrive somewhere and you feel a little anxious, your teen can count the first 5 to 10 sounds that they hear. This can help them to settle in and get comfortable.
  • For an entertaining video that illustrates the point of going from our fight/flight/freeze response (which happens automatically whenever we feel threatened) to feeling more at peace, watch “The Fly“ on YouTube. It demonstrates that what we resist persists, and helps us to be more accepting of whatever is – which allows the hard stuff to actually pass more easily.
  • Listen to music. Have your teen identify a favorite song that makes them feel happy, sad, anxious, mad, etc. When listening to music they can listen for any silence that happens during the song or they can listen for one particular instrument only.
  • They can use a breath ball, opening it as they breathe in and closing it as they breathe out. Count to four in, pause for the count of four, breathe out and count to four, and then pause for a count of four again. Keep repeating this. This helps to calm down any anxiousness. They can also breathe in thinking “I’m giving myself a hug,” and then breathe out thinking “I’m giving the whole world a hug.”
  • The important thing is to build in purposeful pauses throughout their day, where they simply take a deep breath and check in with themselves to see how they’re feeling emotionally and physically, and to be kind to themselves, however they are.
  • Do a mountain or lake visualization. When breathing in, say to yourself ‘I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out I feel strong and solid.’ They can visualize a tree or an animal or someplace that holds meaning for them and that they connect to a sense of calm.
  • Parachute or scarf breathing. Toss a light scarf into the air and breathe in, and then allow yourself to breathe out at the same rate as the scarf as it falls.
  • You and your teen can align your breath with each other and be a mindful mirror. Change your breath to mimic theirs. Let them vary their own breath any way they like, and you follow. Then switch.
  • You might have mindful minutes with them by drawing with your finger on their back and having them guess what you’re drawing.
  • Encourage them to have every interaction of a day be meaningful.
  • Set limits on device use and screen time. Have designated tech-free areas in your home, or times in your week. Put your devices down too. Let alerts and reminders be reminders to be grateful about something or check in with your body.

All of these suggestions are tools to help be more mindful that are useful for your teen, as they’re getting back to school, as well as for yourself as you are adjusting to the next routine in your daily lives. Being mindful is about being present in the moment and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, without judgment. Being mindful to your immediate experience helps to create more sense of calm and ease with whatever you are facing.

I’d love to hear from you. What’s helpful to you or your teen as you deal with back to school stress? What are some tricks you might have for creating calm in the midst of the storm?

If you or a teen that you care about is having difficulty making adjustments to changes in routine or dealing with adolescent issues, or you’d like more help with parent-teen interactions, please contact me for a parenting or teen therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
www.cindiriveratherapy.com
criveramft@gmail.com
(510) 482-4445

Best Tips for Making Your Relationship More Secure

When we feel safe in our relationships, we can have more closeness and trust

Learning how to calm yourself can help build security in your couple relationship.

When we feel safe in our relationships, we can have more closeness and trust.

Often, we come into our relationships expecting that OUR PARTNERS are the ones who will make us feel safe and secure. We have the fantasy or wish that THEY will respond to our needs in positive ways, and THEY will be trustworthy, and THEY will be supportive no matter what we’re going through; that THEY will communicate clearly and understand us when we don’t.

It might come as a difficult realization to find out that our partners have the same wishes from us: that WE will be able to control our reactions so they can feel comfortable; that WE will be able to communicate our needs in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them; that WE will be available and supportive and affectionate in just the right ways whenever they are feeling stressed; that WE will read their minds and know just what they need, when; and WE’LL be able to prioritize their needs over our own.

We might forget that a relationship really is the creation of two people 100% and it’s never just one partner who should take on the lion’s share of the responsibility or who is the only one needing to make changes. Both people in a relationship contribute to the sense of safety (or discomfort) that is felt by themselves internally, and that felt by the partner.

I talk to so many couples who get caught in a terrible cycle of reactions that don’t feel good to either one of them, and that seems to lock them into some repeated pattern of poor communication, or who immediately feel the need to defend themselves or react intensely from what has hurt them. Many of these couples are needing a sense of safety in the relationship but have been ineffective in bringing that about.

Usually, when we are in a reactionary mode it doesn’t bode well for how the rest of the communication can go. When we feel unsafe or threatened we are reactionary and not thoughtfully responsive. We try desperately to get safe from the feeling of being rejected or hurt or pulled away from, or having somebody be angry with us. We do whatever it takes to protect ourselves, and unfortunately, this is often hurtful or aggressive toward or withdrawing from our partners.

What we often don’t remember is that our actions and reactions to our partner contribute as much as their actions and reactions do, to the wellbeing and feeling in these important relationships. We may be making our partner feel unsafe and anxious by the way that we express our emotions, or react to something they’ve opened up about, or when we pull away or come in too close in a demanding or critical way. We think that’s the way we should be because they have come at us in bad ways also, and we don’t want to be hurt again ( or taken advantage of, or dismissed, etc).

The good news is we can also impact the cycles of communication in a positive way and we can actually be creative and resourceful about bringing safety into the relationship. There are things that we can do that can create more an environment of comfort and security, that will contribute to our partner feeling safer in a relationship with us, and therefore not being so reactive with us, and so we can feel safer with them. We can take responsibility for the tone of our interactions, and actually enhance the connection that we have with our partner.

Here are a few suggestions for how to create a sense of safety within yourself, and a safe space for your partner and the relationship, and it goes without saying, it will be better for the both of you.

Don’t threaten that you will leave or that you can’t take it anymore. It is very stressful and not enhancing of a relationship to live with the uncertainty of wondering if your partner will stick around. Commit instead to not leaving, and to being there while you work on things. Even when things get hard and you think the only way to get through this is to leave. Greater willingness to stay present actually brings about more freedom and allows one to live with more security and safety.

Do the ‘Welcome Home’ exercise whenever you’re reconnecting or one person is coming home or you’re seeing each other after being apart. This rebalances a sense of safety with each other to deal with the stress, demands or distractions that do come up. To do the ‘Welcome Home exercise’, whenever somebody enters the door, stop what you’re doing and give a full body embrace or hug and hold onto each other for a few seconds, until you feel your partner physically relaxing. This re-stimulates the connected warm secure feeling we had as babies with our caretakers and restores our sense of security in the world.

Take a few moments to gaze into each other’s eyes at least once a week. This also resets the body and sense of safety that you feel. Really look at and notice whatever you see in each other‘s eyes. Hold a warm gaze and convey your appreciation or love for your partner through your eyes only. Again, this repeats important bonding that occurred when we were babies and helps us to feel loved and safe, from the inside out… If you didn’t experience this as a child, it’s not too late to begin experiencing the secure feeling this provides as an adult, and the healing that can come from this.

Be present with each other. You don’t have to discuss anything but be fully present together. Notice mentally and then out loud what you’re experiencing in your senses, emotions, body sensations, thoughts. Listen to sounds together. Maybe do a walking meditation together where you are both attentive to the experience of walking each step, and of doing that together.

Try to get to know your partner from a new perspective. Notice his or her mannerisms, body posture, reactions, facial expressions, signs of hunger or anger or tiredness or other emotion. Approach your partner with curiosity while trying to become an expert on their behavior by noticing subtleties and nuances about them. Especially look at the things you think you know so well about your partner, with new eyes. Approach your partner with curiosity in order to understand more what it feels like to be them, not through your lens as much as from their perspective.

New experiences can help to build attraction for someone. Even in your long-term relationship, you might be able to have increased experiences of novelty and share that excitement with each other. You might walk in a new neighborhood, or try out a new activity. When you do something you enjoy, tap into the good feeling that comes up in those new situations to spark enthusiasm for each other – acknowledge how happy, excited, interested, blessed you feel being with each other. Call your partner when you’re thinking of him or her in an exciting way. Tap into those feelings of excitement when you try novel experiences and direct a similar level of enthusiasm to your partner.

Do a writing exercise meant to clear the clutter before having a discussion about something potentially difficult. Both of you take a moment to acknowledge and write down your immediate stressors, your distracting thoughts, what you notice about your breath, and what you notice about any body sensations. Taking 5 minutes to write this down will help clear away the “noise” allowing for a clearer and more present conversation to be had with your partner.

In order to calm yourself and make yourself safely available (before things get too heated, or even in the moment of noticing that stress is still present) try some diaphragmatic breathing where you take slow deep breaths in and intentionally fill up the lower half of your lungs, and hold your breath a few seconds before exhaling even more slowly. A calm breath leads to a calm heart and better performance in the art of relating. Diaphragmatic breathing slows the heartbeat, helps to disengage from distracting thoughts and sensations, and promotes internal quieting and relaxation. This creates a safe space for each of you.

Another calming breath: Try breathing in through your nose to the count to five. Then hold for a count of five. Then breathe out through your nose for a count of five. And repeat five times. This kind of breathing is always available to you in whatever your circumstances are. You have the power to create calm and safety within you and to impact the sense of security that both of you have in your relationship.

So I’d love to hear from you. What do you notice brings security and trust to your relationship? What are things that you are aware of that can make the level of safety better or worse?

If you or someone you care about is having difficulty finding or bringing safety into your relationships, please call me for a couples therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
www.cindiriveratherapy.com
criveramft@gmail.com
(510) 482-4445

Three Simple Tips for Calming Yourself Down in a Hot Mess World

Wishing you the balm of calm

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I hope you’ve been able to enjoy some downtime this summer and that you’ve been able to participate in gatherings of your liking with people that you care about and enjoy being with. Hopefully, you’ve had some time to appreciate the warmth of the outdoors without the discomfort of too much heat (internally or externally!).

I hope you’ve had a chance to play around a little, maybe have a lighter schedule, maybe get to the ocean or mountains and experience their summertime glory.

My niece was just telling me about all the cool things she got to do while away at teen camp, and it sounded like so much fun, and brought back great memories of having all that freedom, and all those deep connections that get bonded during summer camp.

I think adults should have summer camp also, where you get to try new things, build new teams, laugh and play games, and run around carefree. We all need that kind of a break from the busyness and challenges of being responsible adults all year long.

Sometimes that can be in the form of a vacation. I hope you can or have taken a vacation and experienced a little respite, waking up on your own internal clock, and had a chance to just breathe.

I know though, that even if you have taken a vacation, or gone to summer camp this summer,  that you probably still feel stress at different times. Maybe realizing your summer is more than halfway over, or not having had much of a summer break at all, or having challenges at work that keep ramping up the pressure on you, or trying to keep your kids occupied through what feels like an already too long summer, or arguing with your partner while on vacation, or dealing with a myriad of microaggressions and the negativity of racism in your daily life.

To help you feel a little more calm when you are faced with different stressors, I’ve put together a nine-minute video for you that describes three practices you can use to calm yourself down in your life when you’re starting to feel the stress build. Wouldn’t you like to feel more at ease or have access to something that can put you more at ease the next time you have to deal with something stressful?

You can check them out here.     Tips for calm- video

There are three practices that wouldn’t take you more than two minutes each to give yourself a dose of calm balm. I hope you enjoy them and that they are helpful to you.

Here’s the video again:         Tips for calm- video

I’d love to hear how these tips for more calm work for you. Let me know what situations you might find them useful in.

May you be blessed with some downtime out there, so you can take some time to have calm time on the inside. Take good care.

If you or somebody you care about is having difficulty finding the calm in their lives,  Or managing the stress, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
www.cindiriveratherapy.com
criveramft@gmail.com
(510) 482-4445