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Managing Stress in Stressful Times

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow

News of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is everywhere. The outbreak of the Coronavirus, or any critical event of this magnitude, can be stressful for people and communities. For some, the anxiety can be overwhelming. Children may also be experiencing stress and anxiety as news spreads through classrooms and on the playground. Furthermore, they are likely being asked to wash their hands or use sanitizer more frequently than ever before; a constant reminder of the seriousness of the situation, often without a having clear understanding of why these actions are important. As with any critical incident, it is important to maintain open communication with children and provide them with factual information, without going into too much detail, especially when the specifics are changing every minute. With regards to children:

  • Answer any questions they may have honestly and in a way they will understand. You may not know all the answers, but it’s important that they know that they have someone with whom they can share their concerns.
  • Encourage your child/children to share information they may have heard about the coronavirus with you and to share their feelings about it. Correct any misinformation they have heard, also in a way that they can understand.
  • Reassure your child that the risk of COVID-19 infection still remains low, at least at this time, and remind them that children seem to be having milder symptoms.
  • Limit children’s exposure to the news.

When events happen in our world that feel out of control, we often experience high levels of stress. Now is a great time for everyone, including parents and caregivers, to remember to practice self-care and self-compassion. Acknowledge your own feelings of stress and anxiety and accept that they are a natural response to a critical situation and one over which we have no control. With that in mind:

  • Exercise is a great tool for managing stress and anxiety. Try to carve out time to move your body by keeping up with a current exercise regimen or going for a walk.
  • Practice mindful breathing. Deep breathing reminds your brain that you are okay. These exercises can be short, 30-60 seconds of a mindful activity that relieves the pressure that intense periods of stress and anxiety create. They can also be done with children. One technique is breathing in for the count of 4, holding your breath for 7, and exhaling for 8. Do this 3-or-4 times and notice the relief.
  • Try using a grounding technique where you look for 5 things you see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can taste, and 1 thing in the present moment that you are grateful for. This exercise focuses on your senses, which are present moment experiences.
  • Pay attention to your sleep and make sure you are getting enough rest.

For more advice for managing this uncharted territory in which we find ourselves, several helpful websites are listed below.

Keep calm and breathe, and remember, this too shall pass.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/share-facts.html

https://www.cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/helping-children-cope.html

https://childmind.org/article/talking-to-kids-about-the-coronavirus/

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/coping.html

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie and Dr. Jessica Geragosian.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Mindfulness: It’s Not Just for Grown-ups

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow

There has been increasing interest in intervention strategies that target self-regulation in childhood. Self-regulation is the process through which the systems of emotion, attention and behavior are controlled in response to a situation, stimulus or demand. It develops rapidly in the early years of life. Self-regulation is necessary for social development because it supports and enhances peer acceptance and social success. Furthermore, it increases academic performance, particularly in elementary school. Problems with self-regulation and the accompanying executive functioning have been shown to correlate with a number of behavioral and emotional problems, particularly depression and anxiety. Mindfulness is emerging as an effective intervention for children struggling with self-regulation, especially when implemented at a time when children are acquiring these foundational skills.

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, on purpose and non-judgmentally, to the experience of the present moment. Being mindful involves reflecting on the current internal experiences such as thoughts or emotions and the current external environment, such as sights and sounds, both clearly and objectively. This act of purposeful reflection enhances and facilitates self-regulation by promoting control, such as sustained attention and cognitive flexibility. Furthermore, it helps to reduce the incidences of such things as snap judgments, emotional reactivity or distressing thoughts.

Mindfulness-based social-emotional training has been shown to be effective in reducing stress, improving coping skills and building resilience when used with children. Mindfulness teaches children the skills needed to improve focus, calm themselves, plan and organize, and behave in a thoughtful manner. Research on adult populations shows that practicing mindfulness may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and limited number of studies show some of the same benefits in children. Mindfulness is well tolerated by children and has been proven to improve psychological well-being. Introducing mindfulness practices to children has the potential to make a positive impact on a child’s ability to self-regulate, and thus facilitate their social, emotional and educational growth.

There are a number of ways to introduce children to mindfulness. One activity that children have responded positively to is being challenged to sit still and silent for as long as they possibly can. I have used this strategy in classrooms of children from pre-k to high school, as well as individually with children of all ages. Sometimes they are able to sit for 15 seconds, but they embraced the challenge of trying to beat their record by trying it again. Another mindful technique that works well with children is called “grounding.” Grounding techniques use the five senses to bring ourselves into the present moment. One grounding technique is finding five things in the room – they can be 5 things of the same color or any five things; four things the child can feel; three things the child can hear; two things the child can smell; and one thing the child can taste. Mindfulness can be playful and fun for children and families while effectively reducing stress, improving coping skills, improving ability to self-regulate and building resilience in children.

 

Helpful resources for families:

Mindful Games Activity Cards: 55 Fun Ways to Share Mindfulness with Kids and Teens. Susan Kaiser Greenland and Annaka Harris

A Still Quiet Place: A Mindfulness Program for Teaching Children and Adolescents to Ease Stress and Difficult Emotions By Amy Salzman, MD

I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness By Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

Breathe Like a Bear: 30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere By Kira Willey

 

References:

Britton, W. B., Lepp, N. E., Niles, H. F., Rocha, T., Fisher, N. E., & Gold, J. S. (2014). A randomized controlled pilot trial of classroom-based mindfulness meditation compared to an active control condition in sixth-grade children. Journal of School Psychology, 52(3), 263-278.

Masten, A. S., Best, K. M., & Garmezy, N. (1990). Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and psychopathology, 2(4), 425-444.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental psychology, 51(1), 52.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lawlor, M. S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre-and early adolescents’ well-being and social and emotional competence. Mindfulness, 1(3), 137-151.

Sibinga, E. M., Webb, L., Ghazarian, S. R., & Ellen, J. M. (2016). School-based mindfulness instruction: an RCT. Pediatrics, 137(1), e20152532.

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie and Dr. Jessica Geragosian.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.