Keeping with the theme of spreading mental health awareness during the month of May, today's blog focuses on a group of individuals that have one of THE most important jobs, teachers. Teachers spend eight’ish hours per day, 9’ish months per year with classrooms of 20 (often 30) plus kiddo’s, helping them stretch their minds, develop life skills and, at times, identify areas of learning difficulty or disability that can result in emotional and behavioral manifestations.Read More
With approximately 1 in 5 children currently living with a mental health condition, raising mental health awareness on elementary, middle and high school campuses is more important than ever. As a counselor, I know that the symptoms of a great number of mental health conditions begin to appear around the age of 14. The reason why 14 is the magic age is something I can only guess has something to do with the mixture of genetic predisposition to certain mental illnesses, environmental influences and chemical imbalances and fluctuations due to puberty. My worry surrounds the fact that of the 1 in 5 children with a mental health condition, less than half seek treatment, and the majority of that half do not seek treatment until years after the onset of symptoms. Like most health conditions, waiting to seek support can greatly impact a child’s life. Many youngsters with mental health conditions also struggle with addiction, drop out of school and become tangled up with the justice system.
It is often very difficult to tell the difference between normal pre-teen/teenage “stuff” and symptoms of a mood disorder (like Depression), behavior disorder (like ADHD) or an anxiety disorder (…like Anxiety). In fact if you read the diagnostic criteria for a number of mental health conditions, you may find yourself thinking well, that’s every teenager. In a way, I am sure for most parents, educators and yes, even counselors that makes identifying and diagnosing some of these conditions… well, scary. You’ll read on blogs, in text books and journal articles that there are certain warning signs to look out for. While this is true, I believe this is only half of the puzzle. Every child is different, mental health conditions can affect each child differently. The other half of the puzzle is knowing what is typical and what is not for A SPECIFIC child, trusting your gut and seeking professional support.
My responsibility as a school counselor is to facilitate discussions about mental health and the impact that untreated conditions have on a student’s academic growth and provide information and about the mental health support programs available for students and families. During mental health awareness month, I will give several presentations in schools across metro-Detroit, talking with students, parents, teachers and other school counselors. With each conversation I will help to normalize the need for mental health services, and breakdown barriers between those that need support and those who offer support. Throughout mental health awareness month, I will do my best to support the needs of the student’s I am fortunate to know and advocate for. How will you help raise awareness this month? How will you influence positive mental health care in the children that you care for?
It’s always around this time of year that I really feel the need for a good break from the daily grind. I’m sure this feeling has something to do with the impending spring break for primary school students and the fact that we always get one last good cold blast/snow storm in late March early April. Never the less for me, the desire to take a vacation is usually coupled with combative thoughts about how much I really neeeed a break;
“I’ll come back to work and there will be so much piled up”, “I can make it through, deep breath, it’s almost the weekend”, “I can’t really afford to take a break right now”.
The truth of the matter is we ALL need a break to distress and rebuild stamina. Around this time of year, I do my best to flip how I look at my desire for rest and relaxation…In taking a break, I’m not removing myself from responsibilitiesso to say, I’m taking care of my needs so I can continue to take care of my responsibilities. Scheduling in a break helps me put myself first.
Our bodies are made to handle short bursts of stress hormones like cortisol that are released during high stakes, high anxiety situations. It is when stress becomes pro-longed and our bodies experience those stress hormones chronically that serious health problems begin to arise. Everyone is different in regards to how their body physically feels stress. I myself feel it in my gut first; stomach aches and gastrointestinal issues (I’ll spare you the details). In others stress triggers headaches, muscle tension etc. When we don’t “metabolize” stress, by taking care of ourselves, it builds causing an increased likelihood of serious physical and mental health issues. So one can argue that R&R is needed to promote a healthy life style, it gives our bodies an opportunity to settle and regain equilibrium.
My top excuse for not allowing myself a break is that I have a million things to do and don’t have time. A break or vacation can come in many forms. Don’t get hung up on trying to plan elaborate trips including travel, rentals, time off work etc. A break can be 30 minutes of watching a funny TV show, 10 minutes spent reading the newspaper comics outside, or 2 minutes of guided meditation. Self-care strategies for that help metabolize stress will be different for everyone, a technique or activity that does the trick for me may not work at all for you. Spending the time trying out different activities, and truly giving each one the old college try is the key. Look for self-care, stress reducing activities or techniques that fit into a few different categories: an activity you can do multiple times per day, per week, per month, per year.
In next week’s blog, we’ll discuss some ideas for fitting breaks into your every day schedule and fit into these four categories! Until then, how do you take care of yourself on a daily basis?
Self-Care strategies for everyday
This week’s blog piggy backs off our topic last week regarding the importance of self care, and managing stress. Let’s look at it this way, if you don’t take time to care for yourself, your ability to help others is in jeopardy. When you’re stressed out, how efficient are you at work? Does the chance of you snapping at someone you love increase? For me the answers are “not at all”, and “yup”.
Self-care strategies that help metabolize stress will be different for everyone, a technique or activity that does the trick for me may not work at all for you. Spending the time trying out different activities, and truly giving each one the old college try is the key. While you’re putting together a list of techniques that work for you, look for self-care, stress reducing activities or techniques that fit into a few different categories: an activity you can do multiple times per day, per week, per month, per year. Practicing self-care needs to be high on our list of priorities. I find it helpful to schedule my self-care in, writing when I will do an activity on my calendar and treating it like any other appointment. Here is a list of activities that I use that fit into each of these categories.
Every Day stress fighters
· Minute meditation
o You can find free guided medication’s online, like this one on youtube. Meditation calms your heart rate and breathing, refocuses your mind and reduces muscle tension
· Yoga poses for the office
o Stretch it out! Quick, simple yoga poses like these help rid your body of tension, promoting over all calm and refocus. Put together your own sequence of stretches to help reduce tension where your body feels it most.
· Sing, loudly
o In the car, in the shower, in your backyard…where ever. Pick any song that gives you the boost you’re looking for and belt it out.
Weekly stress fighters
o Engage in some sort of physical activity (preferably) a few times per week. Make sure you pick an activity that you enjoy and will do, not something you will dread. Going for a walk or jumping rope are low cost examples. You can also try a spin class (my fav: Cycle & Row) or Yoga (my fav: Bikram Yoga)
· Practice Mindfulness
o After you begin to practice mindfulness, it will astound you how on “auto pilot” we do most activities. Find the basic premise here
o Swing on a swing set, draw with sidewalk chalk, color in a coloring book, put together a puzzle, play with Playdough… These might seem childish, and that’s the point. Relax, have fun, one of these activities is bound to make you smile.
Monthly stress fighters
· Treat your self
o One day a month schedule a few activities that you love to spend time doing. Reading, biking, bird watching, batting cages, lunch with friends etc. Whether you prefer activities with others or something solitary, plan a few things ahead of time and schedule them in. Kind of like your very own personal day.
Yearly stress fighters
o Helping others does wonders for us. Volunteering helps combat depression and stress and helps boost self-confidence. There are tons of places to volunteer from soup kitchens to kid’s art classes. Do a basic google search for a topic that interests you and see what you can find.