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Creative Calming Strategies for Stress or Anxiety

Stress Relieving/Calm-Down Techniques to Try

By Renee Jain, MAPP

Navigating stressful days can be stressful, and sometimes deep breathing isn't the solution that works for every thing. When your child is in need of tension relief, try one of these techniques:

  1. Visualize a quiet place. Research has shown that visualization is beneficial for a range of populations to reduce stress levels. Ask your child to close their eyes and picture a calm, peaceful place. Then, gently guide them to slowly start to build up a picture of how it looks, smells, and feels to be there.
  2. Drink water. Dehydration has been linked to many health conditions including anxiety! Pour your child a tall class of cold water and have them sip it slowly. You can try this with them, and observe the calming effect this has on your own nervous system.
  3. Sing out loud. Everyone knows the sweet relief associated with rocking out to your favorite tune. But the physical act of singing out loud, even if it is off key, has been shown to release endorphins, the "feel good" chemical in the brain.
  4. Paint it out. Not only does painting give the brain something to focus on other than the stressor, but participating in arts can be very good for you!. If the thought of dragging out the tempera gives you stress, have your child try "painting" with shaving cream on a plastic shower curtain in the yard. Not only is clean up a breeze, but your child will smell great when they are finished.
  5. Jump rope. Set a timer for 2 minutes, put on some music, and challenge your child jump to the beat of the song. If your child isn't able to jump rope, playing hop scotch is a great alternative.
  6. Blow bubbles. Just like blowing on a pinwheel, blowing bubbles can help your child gain control of their breathing and thus, their mental state. Bonus: Running around popping bubbles is just as fun as blowing them.
  7. Blow out a candle. Light a candle for your child to blow out. Then re-light it and move it further and further away from them, so they have to take deeper and deeper breaths to blow it out. This is a great way to practice deep breathing, while making a game out of it.
  8. Count backwards from 100. Not only does counting give your child a chance to focus on something other than what is bothering them, counting backwards offers an added concentration challenge without overwhelming their brain.
  9. Repeat a mantra. Create a mantra that you and your child can use to help them calm down. "I am calm" or "I am relaxed" work well, but feel free to get creative and make it something personal to you and your child.
  10. Breathe into your belly. Most of us breathe incorrectly, especially when we are in a stressful situation. Have your child think about their belly like it is a balloon. Tell them to breathe in deep to fill the balloon, and breathe out to deflate it. Repeat this simple process 5 times and notice the effects.
  11. Shake a glitter jar. Calm Down Jars" have been making their way around Pinterest for a while now, but the concept behind them is sound. Giving your child a focal point for 3-5 minutes that is not the stressor will allow their brain and body to reset itself. These jars can be made simply from sealed canning jars filled with colored water and glitter or with baby food jars filled with warm water and glitter glue.
  12. Go for a run. Running and even a good walk is a great way to reduce stress, and can sometimes be more effective than a trip to the therapist's office. Going for a 10 minute jog can not only affect your child's mood immediately, its effects on their ability to cope with stress can last for several hours afterward.
  13. Count to 5. Just when it seems as though they "can't take it anymore", have your child close their eyes and count to five. This form of 5-second meditation offers the brain a chance to reset itself and be able to look at a situation from a different perspective. It also gives your child a chance to think before they act in a volatile situation.
  14. Talk it out. For children who are able to verbalize their feelings, talking about what is bothering them gives them a chance to let you know what is going on while processing it for themselves. The trick is to resist the urge to "fix" the problem. Your child needs you to listen and ask appropriate questions, not offer unsolicited advice.
  15. Decorate a wall. We're not talking about paint and decor, but poster tack and pictures from magazines or printed from the internet can give your child a chance to create large-scale temporary art in any space. The creative process is what is important, not the end result.
  16. Walk in nature. According to Standford Scientists, walking in nature has been proven to improve cognition and reduce stress. Even if you do not have time to spend the 50 minutes researchers did, taking a 15 minute walk in nature works can be just what your child needs.
  17. Blow on a pinwheel. Similar to the candle exercise, blowing on a pinwheel focuses more on controlled exhalation rather than deep inhalation. Tell your child to make the pinwheel go slow, then fast, then slow to show them how they can vary the rate at which they blow out the air in their lungs.
  18. Squish some putty. When a child plays with putty, the brain's electrical impulses begin firing away from the areas associated with stress. Try a store bought putty or make your own.
  19. Write it out. For older children, journaling, or writing their feelings down can have a profound effect on their mood, especially if they can do so without the fear of having it read. Give your child a notebook to keep in a safe place, and allow them to write about how they feel, assuring them you will not read it unless they ask you to.
  20. Go to your calm down space. Having a designated "Calm Down Space" in your home gives children an opportunity to retreat when they feel out of control and rejoin the group when they need to. It is important to make this space comfortable so your child wants to visit it when they are in need of a self-imposed "time out".
  21. Play music. Music has a profound effect on mood, sleep, stress, and anxiety. Use a variety of musical styles to set the tone in your home, car, or your child's room.
  22. Have a dance party. Adding a physical component to your musical enjoyment gets your kids moving and is a fun way to be active. Crank up the tunes and have a dance party in your living room when your child is in a bad mood and watch their mood transform.
  23. Change the scenery. How many times have we thought to ourselves, "Just walk away," when confronted by a big emotion? Your child may simply need a change of scenery in order to calm down. If you are inside, head out. If you are outside, find a quiet space indoors. Either way, change the scenery and you will likely change the mood.
  24. Go for a walk. There's a real reason people go for walks to clear their heads. Not only is the fresh air and exercise restorative, but the natural rhythm walking creates has a self-soothing quality. Take your child on a walk, and they may even open up to you about what is on their mind.
  25. Plan a fun activity. When you are in an anxious moment, it can seem as though the walls are closing in and the world will come to an end. Some children need to focus on what is ahead of them in order to reset their internal dialog. Plan something fun to do as a family, and let your child have a say in it. Any topic that will get them focused on a future something to look forward to can be helpful.
  26. Take a coloring break. It's not without good reason that restaurants give children coloring; it gives them something to focus on, and can be a great mindfulness activity that reduces anxiety. Make a trip with your child to pick up some crayons and markers, and get them excited about filling in the pages of a coloring book.
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