There are many tools that we use to help us calm down or cope with significant stressors. The simplistic and generalized strategies that we are mostly familiar with, especially in schools, include taking deep breathes, going for a walk, getting a drink of water, and maybe even listening to music. However, I have often felt that these generalized methods of coping or distressing may not fit everyone or may even be ineffective in many situations. One of the main factors for their potential ineffectiveness is that the cortisol that gets released when someone is experiencing high levels of stress does not fully metabolize for about 15-20 minutes. Our brains are not able to access our pre-frontal cortex, our decision making part of our brain, while the cortisol is metabolizing. So, a few deep breathes in many situations won't cut it.
I have recently discovered the ACCEPTS framework that support the development of a practical, individualized and meaningful coping plan. This framework is well know in the field of psychiatry and is a component of the DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) model. The ACCEPTS model outlines 7 different potential coping strategies that could all exists within in one person's coping or stress management plan.
Engage in a 15-20 minute activity, and this can be just about any healthy activity. Read a book, go for a walk, call your friend, do your homework, or read the inspirational quotes on the back of ULead Cards Anything that keeps you busy and keeps your mind off the negative emotion will help. For example, If a student is feeling stressed in math, perhaps doing 20 minutes of art is a useful strategy.
Do something kind for another person. Giving service can help you relieve emotional distress in a couple ways. An act of service is also an activity that, as mentioned above, will help get your mind off of the problem at hand. Additionally, we feel good about ourselves when we help someone else, and that in itself can help you deal with stress. In school this could be helping to sharpening a bunch of pencils. At home this could be loading the dishwasher.
Put your life in perspective. Is there a time when you've faced more difficult challenges than you're facing today? If that's the case, is there another person who has suffered more than you? Are you in your safe home, while in another part of the world someone else is searching for food and shelter after a natural disaster? The goal of this exercise is not to add more distress and emotional pain to the current situation. Instead, use this skill to add a different perspective to what you’re experiencing right now. This could also include thinking "big picture". For example, thinking I did not get to play soccer today and lunch but there are other kids who never get an opportunity to play soccer.
You have the power to invoke the opposite emotion of your current distressed feeling. I If you're feeling depressed, go ahead and Google Image search "animals" or read a joke book. Adding a dose of the opposite emotion helps reduce the intensity of the negative emotion.
5. PUSH AWAY
When you can’t deal with something just yet, it’s okay to push the problem out of your mind or ignore it temporarily. You can push away by distracting yourself with other activities or thoughts. You can even set a time to come back to the issue when your cortisol levels are not so high. This is when engaging in some form of mindfulness can be quite useful. (Inquiry Adventures' now offer the wonderful book Mindful Games and the Mindful Games Activities Cards on our website and, of course, we have the Mindfulness Thumball)
Replace negative, anxious thoughts with activities that busy your mind, such as saying the alphabet backwards, naming all the capitals of Canadian provinces, or playing with a thumball. These distractions can help you avoid destructive behaviour until you're are more able to achieve emotion regulation.
Use your five senses to self-soothe during times of distress. A self-soothing behaviour could music, cooking, eating a comforting snack, or watching your favourite show. Anything that appeals to your senses can help you cope with the present situation.
Now, not all these potential coping strategies are practical for a school or work setting but many of them could be. The objective is to have individual's develop their coping plan when they are thinking clearly and make sure they have some options that would be doable in all their typical settings (work, school, sports, hanging our with friends). Coping plans are not not just be for those who consistently struggle with self-regulation, anyone can experience a significant stressor at any point that could result in a poor decision or unhelpful behaviour. The more we are prepared the more we will likely use our strategies. This way even teachers, fellow-students, friends, or co-workers can remind someone who is experience significant stress to check their coping plan; to figure out what to do for that 15-20 minutes to calm down while they are unable to access the decision making part of their brain
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