Prioritizing Your Mental Health During The Holidays

Tis the season to be stressed. As if life wasn’t crazy enough, the holidays seem to creep up on us year after year. And if you are the least bit Type A, you know there is quite a bit of added pressure that goes in to the holiday season. Decorate your home, create picture perfect holiday cards, make sure your house is spotless before your family comes, cook a delicious meal, find the best gifts, wrap said gifts and of course find and decorate the perfect tree. The to do list goes on and on. On top of all this, we spend a great deal more time with our friends and family at holiday parties and get togethers than we do throughout the rest of the year. So how does one check everything off their list and prioritize their mental health during such a chaotic time? The key is boundaries. Which may sound simple, but really isn’t.

Be more self-aware. What is self-awarness you ask? A simple Google search tells us that self-awareness is “the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires”. A great way to become more self-aware of your feelings is by listening to your body. Do a quick body scan from head to toe and try to listen to what your body is telling you. Is there any tension? How is your stomach feeling? What is your heart rate like? Your breath? Our body typically tries to send us messages about our emotions– whether we are anxious, excited, angry, or depressed. Now that you are more in tune with how you are feeling, you are also more equipped to identify strategies for managing your mood. For example, maybe if you realize you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it is time to take a break from all the holiday shopping you are on a mission to finish. I promise there will be another sale tomorrow.

Set healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries especially with friends and family can cause a great deal of guilt. We often would rather wear ourselves too thin than to tell our neighbor Sally we can not make her annual White Elephant Party this year. We feel guilty for letting people down at the expense of our own physical and mental wellness. A few tips for setting boundaries this holiday season include knowing your boundaries, planning ahead, and being respectful but assertive. Take a minute to think about what you value. Do you value quiet nights at home with your SO? Make sure to keep a few nights open in the month to get that quality alone time in. Maybe you value a lot of family time with your kids. Then it is important to set boundaries at work to make sure you have adequate time to do all the fun, holiday traditions with them this season. Knowing your values and boundaries will hopefully make saying “no” to that neighbor’s holiday party invite a lot easier.

Incorporate Self-Care. This will not be possible without the aforementioned boundary setting. Take a look at your calendar right now. Where can you fit in even 5 minutes for yourself? Self-care does not have to be time consuming or expensive. It can be as simple as doing a 5 minute meditation in your car before work or taking a bubble bath instead of a shower, painting your nails, savoring your morning coffee, or reading your favorite book 30 minutes before bed. Whatever you do, add it to your calendar. Set aside specific you time and do not cancel on yourself. Hey, if the Grinch can set aside dinner with himself at 6:30 and refuse to cancel– so can you!

It is important to remember, all of these strategies like anything in life, take time and practice. Maybe this season has already gotten off to a stressful start, but it is not too late to try something new this year. Don’t wait until the new year to prioritize your mental health!

  • Amanda Schofield is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida specializing in a variety of mental health concerns including anxiety and stress in children, adolescents and adults.

6 Reasons Why Mindfulness And Yoga Are Becoming Popular For Kids

I imagine not many of us born before the millennium ever remember a time in school where we stopped doing class work for a meditation break. It has always been acknowledged that children and teens of all ages need time to stretch their bodies, socialize with peers, work off some pent-up energy and take a mental break from the often monotonous tasks of schoolwork. And let’s be honest even as an adult, it gets pretty difficult and boring to sit at a desk and stare at a computer screen for 8 hours all day long. Traditionally recess has been the designated time for socializing and playing, however, kids yoga and mindfulness has now become a popular activity for many schools across the nation. So what is all the hype about and why should you care if your kid learns how to practice yoga, meditation, and mindfulness or not? 

  1. A less chaotic classroom

    Research shows that teachers who incorporate meditation into their lesson plans report the classroom environment becomes more peaceful and that their students are more able to express compassion to one another. While I am not a teacher, I have worked in schools and treatment programs where I have facilitated group counseling to youngsters and can only imagine how much a more peaceful environment helps teachers with behavior management.

  2. An easier bedtime routine

    Yes, it is true! Parents have said that a yoga and meditation practice has helped their kids wind down at bedtime. And if you are wondering they even sell a yoga bedtime storybook called “Good Night Yoga“.  Other options to incorporate yoga and meditation into your new bedtime routine include purchasing the audio cd, “Bedtime Meditations for Kids” or downloading the DreamyKid App which includes affirmations, guided meditations as well as relaxing music, lullabies and nature sounds.

  3. A less stressed kid

    We don’t always remember our childhood as being the most stressful time of our life and so it is easy to forget that children get stressed out too. Perhaps you remember your first bad grade, when your mom told you “no” to that candy bar in the check-out line or when your crush found out you liked them– all of it seemed like the end of the world at the time. These are prime examples of situations that cause children and adolescents to get stressed out. According to the Yoga Alliance, yoga has been shown to reduce the physical effects of stress on our bodies and lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Can you imagine if they had started teaching yoga and meditation in schools “back in our day?”

  4. Fewer temper tantrums in the store

    Alright, I don’t have scientific research to back up this specific claim. However, a study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found that just one session of meditation reduced the physical signs of anger. Wondering how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness help kids and teens regulate their emotions? It is because all of these practices teach them how to become self-aware of their bodies and emotions by simply paying more attention to how they are feeling throughout the day. It is the same with adults, once we are able to catch ourselves getting worked up over something, it is easier for us to control our emotions and behaviors.

  5. Improved academic performance

    When kids and teens practice yoga poses, it teaches them how to focus on their balance and their breathing. In return, kids’ concentration is improved. This is especially helpful for children with ADHD who are hyper, inattentive and impulsive. Additionally, practicing meditation has been shown to help children and adolescents reduce their test anxiety.

  6. Less technology, more confidence

    Lastly, in today’s society where we all have our cell phones attached to our hands, it is important to teach and model for kids and teens that there is more to life than our social media profiles. By practicing mindfulness, children learn to focus on the present moment instead of getting too caught up or worried about their next Instagram post. Yoga builds children’s self-esteem and teaches them that it is okay to make mistakes. Kids need to know that life is not perfect even when it is portrayed that way on the internet. Sometimes in yoga (and life), you fall out of poses, but you can always take a deep breath and try again!

— Amanda Schofield, MA is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern and Certified Kids Yoga Teacher through Kidding Around Yoga with a private practice in Oviedo, FL

Tips To Help Transition Your Kid Into Back-To-School Mode

Change and life transitions can be hard for everyone– children, teens and even adults. Let’s face it whether it was a big move to another city, a divorce, loss of a loved one or break-up we have all struggled to deal with change. If your hope is that your child or teen will grow up to be a successful, well-adjusted adult then it is important to start helping them learn how to not only deal with change but embrace it.

So why wait for a major life transition to occur? A new school year is a great time to start fresh and support your child– especially if they are starting at a new school for the first time. Think back to your first day of kindergarten, elementary, middle, high school, college or even at a new job. What were you feeling? Anxious, excited, vulnerable, nervous, confused, out of place? Those are all the same emotions that your kid might be feeling at this very moment!

So here are 6 strategies to ensure a healthy transition for your kiddo as they embark on a new school year:

Start each day with a healthy breakfast

This first one may seem a little obvious, but it cannot be stressed enough. If your child does not have the proper nutrients in their body they will never have enough energy or brain power to get through the day. So make sure that you keep fruit, yogurt or healthy granola bars (BelVita Breakfast Biscuits are my personal fave when I am on the go) for the mornings when you are running late instead of swinging through the drive-thru or skipping breakfast altogether.

Implement a daily routine (and stick to it)

Hopefully for the past week or so you have been getting the kids to bed at a decent time so they can start getting back into a healthy bedtime routine. If not then this first week back might be a real struggle in the morning. A healthy bedtime routine means going to bed and getting at least 8 hours of sleep. It also means powering off all electronics– tablets, smart phones and even the TV. If you are finding that your child or teen is staying up all night on their phone then it is time to set some boundaries and have them turn their electronics into you before bed. This may mean resorting back to a good ol’ fashioned alarm clock to wake them up in the morning. While this option may sound like an uphill battle especially for parents of tweens or teens– the alternative is a constant battle in the morning waking them up for school.

*I posted a TED talk video last week on the Empowered Wellness Facebook page: Why school should start later for teens if you would like to learn more about the importance of your teen getting enough sleep.

It may be helpful to use a daily or weekly routine chart with your child by using a template found on Google or creating one of your own. Just make sure you set aside specific times for meals including breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner as well as time for homework, chores and recreation. Using a daily schedule and sticking to a routine will also teach your child invaluable time management skills.

Set aside down time

As I mentioned above, it is important to allow your child free time for recreational activities during their afternoon. Just like adults children need time for themselves to engage in activities they enjoy so they can relax and relieve stress. Structured activities such as after-school programs, clubs and sports may be best for kids and teens who would otherwise be unsupervised during afternoon hours. If you are home with your child after school allow them to choose their free time activity (watching television, playing games on the computer or going outside with friends) but set a firm time limit such as an hour to avoid a power struggle.

Reinforce positive behaviors

Although many kids may be excited to head back to school and see their friends, some children especially those who have been bullied, have low self-esteem, anxiety or depression may be struggling to adjust and manage their emotions this week.

You can easily encourage them to keep up the good work and reinforce early on the importance of attending school regularly through rewarding good behavior. Did your kid get sent home with all of their stickers today or a positive note from the teacher? Then swing by the dollar store and let them pick out a new toy or allow them to play on the tablet for 30 extra minutes. The reward does not have to be expensive or time consuming. The key is letting your child know you are proud of them and recognize their efforts!

Empower through positive self-talk

I mentioned in my previous blog post that the first step to empowerment is through daily affirmations. This is especially important for kids and teens as well. The great part is there are lots of ways to make teaching positive self-talk fun for kids through arts and crafts ideas such as a self-talk flower or self-talk cards.

The best way to teach your child to use positive self-talk is to model this behavior for them. If your child sees or hears you using positive self-talk and daily affirmations then they will be more likely to do the same.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself

Last but not least, you cannot be a rockstar parent if you are not taking care of yourself first. The new school year can bring a lot of stress to parents as well with open houses, back to school shopping, after school activities and feeling like you’ve been waiting in the dreaded car line for hours. If you are constantly running on fumes, then you are not your best self and you are putting your health at risk. Take time for yourself, exercise, get enough sleep, eat healthy and stop telling yourself that self-care is selfish.

In sum, life can be overwhelming whether you are 6, 13, 19 or 40 years old. It is important to teach your kids (and maybe re-teach yourself) that the best way to deal with stressful times is to take care of yourself first. Then help them refine the skills they need to feel empowered and ready to take on the world– whether it is coping skills or life skills such as organization and time management. The more empowered your child feels, the more resilient they will become.

— Amanda Schofield, MA, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern