Take an Instant Vacation to Manage Stress
When we think about raising our teens to manage stress, we hope they will have the presence of mind to problem solve, the emotional resolve to withstand challenges, and the physical stamina to stay strong through difficult moments. But our goal is not merely that they weather life’s trials. We hope that they will gain wisdom and emotional strength because of the lessons they have earned through challenges.
When we consider stress, we tend to think about how to navigate a specific challenge. Sometimes it’s just as important to take a “time-out.” At times, the best way to manage stress is to remove yourself entirely from even thinking about it. These “instant vacations” allow us to recharge so we can face the challenge strengthened. While we are “away,” our subconscious minds can mull over solutions, doing the work we may not have been able to accomplish with an unsettled mind. This strategy is about getting far away from our problems as a thoughtful, planned choice.
Find Healthy Ways to Escape
There are several ways to disengage from our thoughts, feelings, and reality. Unfortunately, some of them are dangerous, like drugs. We want to empower young people with healthy escape strategies, so they have no need to turn to dangerous escapes. Their escapes should offer them a healthier reality and a heightened appreciation for life.
Portable Instant Vacations
For this strategy to work, the “vacations” have to be easily accessible. The best answer might be a real vacation where we can escape from all of our worries. But, there are so many barriers to real vacations, like time and money. Our teens need strategies that they can carry with them no matter where they go and that can be used instantly when they need them.
No Room for Intrusion
Within our thoughts lie many solutions to even the most daunting problems. But sometimes, our thoughts themselves can be the source of stress. So, we need to at times choose to (temporarily) avoid our thoughts. To create real opportunities to relax and recharge, we need a refuge that offers both the time and space to escape our thoughts.
A key to a really effective instant vacation is that the mind stays busy and focused. That way there is no room for intrusive thoughts that remind us of the stress we hope to escape. This doesn’t mean to suggest that your teens just stop thinking about what is bothering them. The harder they work to not think about it … the more they will think about it. It’s a bit like saying “Don’t pay any attention to the man in the corner with the bright green shoes.”
Instead, let your teens know it’s good to relax and do something they find enjoyable to manage stress. There are different ways to relax and escape temporarily. Some may require practice more than others. Those that require effort are worth it though. Because they allow for the fullest escapes and block out some of the most intrusive thoughts.
Take a look at the options below and work with your teens to determine what’s most attractive to them. They don’t allow room for intrusive thoughts and some of these strategies are even portable! Just because something isn’t listed here does not mean it doesn’t belong. Each person can self-design their own vacations. Encourage your teens to find what works for them.
Hobbies provide a way to escape for a little while. Support your teens to pursue their interests and focus on activities they enjoy.
2) Creative Expression
Whether it’s art, music, dance, or sculpture, encourage your teens to get lost in the process of creation. They’ll gain pride and satisfaction in what they have produced.
Nature allows us to feel connected to something larger. Whether it is being lost in endlessly changing cloud formations, the sounds of birds, or the variety of plant life … it’s all there, if we pay attention. There is a reason the expression “take time to smell the flowers” exists. That lesson is needed more than ever for teens who pay little attention to their surroundings because their eyes are glued to handheld screens.
Music can reset emotions. It can invigorate us and heighten feelings. A note of caution, it can also stir painful thoughts and feelings. So be sure to encourage your teens to listen to music that makes them feel relaxed and happy. And to avoid music that makes them feel sad or angry.
5) Showers and Baths
There’s something about water. Baths create a perfect space to decompress and learn meditative breathing. Here’s how it works. As you take deep breaths, your lungs fill, and your body gently rises and falls in the water. If you submerge your ears under water (keep the nose above!!), you can hear your rhythmic breathing. Want proof that you are relaxing? Take your pulse and notice it slowing as you continue your deep slow breathing. Encourage your teens to try this simple strategy next time they need a break from it all.
Board games, video games and other gaming activities genuinely allow people to get lost in another world because so much focused attention is required. Games now also allow young people to interact with people a world away. This comes with a list of cautions — the content of some games can normalize inappropriate or undesirable values. Further, they can draw people in to the point of near addiction. Ensure the games your teens play are appropriate and monitor how much time they spend playing. Common Sense Media has an extensive list of age-appropriate games to consider.
7) A Deep Conversation
Deep conversations are needed now more than ever. In the age of personal devices, there is little more valuable than listening to others’ thoughts, feelings, and wisdom as a respite from your own. Be available to your teens when they want to talk. And encourage them to have meaningful conversations with trusted friends and caring adults.
Becoming immersed in making others’ lives better can be nothing short of rejuvenating. Help your teen find ways to give back either through formal volunteer experiences or informal acts of kindness to others.
Being connected to something larger removes us from that which is weighing us down. It can also offer transcendence to something more meaningful.
There’s nothing like laughter to turn a mood around. Enough said.
Reading is so powerful because it utilizes all the senses – the reader must imagine the sounds, sights, and aromas. Most importantly, when we read, we are immersed in the action, feeling the suspense and experiencing the emotions. Our brains are working so hard being filled with imagination, that there is little room for anything else. The fact that reading requires several senses to kick in actively results in a fuller, more engaging escape. This stands in contrast to television or surfing the internet where this is still room for thoughts to intrude because so much is handed to you – the sights, and sounds. When less imagination is needed, it is easier to be brought back from the escape. Books are also portable, whether you read a paperback or a handheld device (just make sure to keep the battery charged!). You can take one anywhere and if you are in the middle of a storyline you can jump in for a chapter or two.
Hopefully your children learned about the power of reading when they were smaller. When you read bedtime stories together they associated it with your time and attention, and that may have kicked off a lifelong love of reading. Make sure to model and encourage reading for pleasure throughout the school years. School includes so much reading that some students forget the pleasure it can bring.
Mindfulness is the act of being so attuned to the present through the power of breath, that you are not “stuck” in either thoughts about the past or worries about the future. Attention to the present allows you to “ride the waves” of stress. You become aware of your thoughts and emotions, without letting them drag you down. It takes courage and self-compassion. It also takes practice. We know from experience that teens (and parents) are more than capable of it!
Consider The Mindful Teen: Powerful Skills to Help You Handle Stress One Moment at a Time by Dr. Dzung Vo as a “How-to” guide for your teen. There are also many Youtube videos made for adults that can get them started.
Mindfulness is the ultimate “mobile app.” You need only yourself, and your breath. Just remember to take yourself wherever you go. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Wherever you go, there you are!”
Close your eyes and imagine yourself elsewhere. For this escape to offer a real refuge, it has to fill your senses. Otherwise, your worries will intrude. To take advantage of visualization you need to plant a memory filled with different sensations into your mind. The memory acts as a memorable mental snapshot to be pulled out whenever needed. It doesn’t have to be a visually astounding place — it could be a place of deep warmth and security, such as a grandmother’s kitchen. Simply close your eyes, and be in the moment. Imagine the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the feelings. Be still, and think of nothing else. Do it yourself. Feel how good it feels. Then, guide your teens to visualize their own place of comfort. Encourage them to call on that place whenever they need to escape for a moment to regain composure.
What Works for Teens … Works for You
In case you ever have stress in your life (just kidding!), know that all of the stress management strategies we suggest you expose your teen to, will likely work for you. And, there really is no better way of teaching your teen about instant vacations than occasionally taking them for yourself.
Peace in Our Homes
We can’t control what happens in the world, but we can make our homes retreats from the world. Families are complicated places. Few have no conflict. But the love and safety within our homes must outweigh external challenges. Just as we have the ability to escalate tension, we also have the ability to turn to the people we most cherish, in the place where we feel most secure, and say, “Time-out. Let’s enjoy each other.” Doing so will help your family thrive during stressful times, and will expose your teen to a lifelong stress-reduction tool.
Call these timeouts when needed the most. But also schedule them regularly. Turn off the screens. Let the grass grow another day. Vacation together … in your homes.
Image by: Aisa Binhashim/Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia