Bringing Awareness To & Regulating Stress

By Justus Bowland Gleason | February 16, 2024

Stress is one of the great mysteries of the universe. With it, our days seem to last forever, and there is always something else to do. Without it, some of us would never finish important projects by their deadline or even get out of bed, for that matter. So, what do we do with this seemingly invincible force that we can’t live with or without? Well, that answer is easy: we learn to understand and regulate it to prevent it from becoming a harmful aspect of our lives. The not-so-easy part is understanding how stress affects our lives and successfully navigating that space. 

The first step is awareness of oneself. Think of going swimming; a typical swimming pool has shallow and deep ends. Suppose someone has no experience swimming before and jumps into the deep end. In that case, they will be in over their head, figuratively and literally. This could be quite a stressful situation that could result in violence and end with very negative consequences. So, what do you do if you don’t know how to swim and want to go swimming? It is recommended that they go with someone who is an expert swimmer or if a lifeguard is available. It is also recommended that they stay on the shallow end with their heads above water until they learn how to swim. These safeguards are key to reducing the stress of a beginner and may not apply to someone who is an expert.

Let’s apply this to a typical situation that we may come across when dealing with kids. Let’s say there is a big test in a few weeks at school, and the child is struggling with the material. That’s a double whammy; the stress that an important test is around the corner, and the anxiety that comes from being stressed.  If the child is struggling to grasp the information that they are learning, that will compound the stress, resulting in an intensified stressful experience. What does this look like for the adult in the situation? The child may show reluctance to go to school, may feel disheartened by the circumstances, act out, or do everything in their power not to have to be present on the exam day, etc. So, what potential steps can we take to help resolve it? 

  1. Being mindful and bringing awareness to one’s abilities.
    • Helping the child ground themselves to the present moment to assess what they know and don’t.
      • This would be similar to playing in the shallow end to get comfortable with being in the water.
  2. Prepare a plan of action for success.
    • Setting time aside in the day to assist the child in what they don’t understand or reaching out to the teacher/tutor for further assistance.
    • Taking pretest and things of that nature to help build confidence
      • This would be similar to learning to doggy paddle and tread water to build confidence in mobility and stability in the water.
  3. Implement said plan for success / Practice
    • This would look like the child consistently following up with the practice test to further improve their understanding of the material.
    • Seeking further resources if the current ones are not adequate.
    • Having the child give themselves self-affirmations to continue to build confidence.
      • This would be similar to learning how to do laps in the pool from the shallow end to the deep end and back.
  4. Overcome the obstacle / Try and try again.
    • This would be the day of the exam and incorporating all the child has learned to overcome it. When the nerves start to hit the kiddo, having built mastery in the information, focusing on their strengths will help absolve fear of the unknown.
    • Even if they fail the exam, continue to praise them for their effort and encourage them to try again because there is typically a retest available depending on the school system.
    • Rinse and repeat.
      • This looks like swimming and having fun in the pool while being safe.

Here is a list of resourceful links that go more in-depth about effective skills.