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When it comes to health, it isn’t always easy for kids and families to navigate the facts. Health’s Up is a podcast that explores health choices through child voices. In a new series all about stress, join our host, pediatric nurse practitioner Kristi Westphaln, and middle schoolers at Mary Bethune School in Cleveland as we explore the science behind stress, easy ways to cope, and how to build a community of support even in these virtual times. Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | Spotify | Feed

How to Feel Better: Finding Success In Tackling Stress | Health's Up

Students in the Circle Scholars after-school program in Cleveland close their eyes and learn a meditation exercise from mental health counselor Robyn Hill (top right) in a virtual session with the Health's Up team. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]
Students in the Circle Scholars after-school program in Cleveland close their eyes and learn a meditation exercise from mental health counselor Robyn Hill (top right) in a virtual session with the Health's Up team. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

When it comes to health, it isn’t always easy for kids and families to navigate the facts. That’s why we created “ Health’s Up ,” a new podcast that explores healthy choices through kids’ voices, hosted by Cleveland pediatric nurse practitioner Kristi Westphaln. This episode is part of a series all about stress and easy ways to cope. Check out the previous episode here. Teachers - find lesson plans  here !

We’ve all had to deal with stress at some point in our lives.

But, not all stress is bad. In fact, stress is your body’s natural response to situations we experience every day.

There are three main types of stress: good, tolerable, and toxic.

Stress can help us respond to tasks we need to get done – like homework – or help us get away from danger.

But if stress seems to be too much for you to handle, there are lots of activities and strategies to help you feel better and deal with what you’re feeling. 

DaKa’la and De'Naria, two middle schoolers at Mary Bethune School in Cleveland, recommend taking a moment to breathe.

“Always stay positive, [and] think of your happy thoughts," said DaKa’la, a sixth-grade student.

“Sit down, close [your] eyes, and imagine something good,” said De'Naria, a seventh grader.

DaKa’la, De’Naria, and some of their Mary Bethune classmates are part of the Circle Scholars after-school program operated by University Circle Inc. in Cleveland.

Mental health counselor Robyn Hill led the Circle Scholars students through a series of exercises that can help them de-stress. Activities should either improve your mood or help distract you from the stress, Hill said.

How to address your stress

The Circle Scholars students talked about some fun activities they use on their own to improve their mood and deal with stress.

“I usually listen to music,” said Ge’Sean, a sixth grader.

“I just watch TV and then I forget about it,” seventh-grade student Channan said.

Listening to music or watching your favorite TV show are wonderful examples of ways to improve your mood, Hill said. They can make you feel better and even relax you. 

DaKa’la has another technique. “I clean or just play on my phone,” she said.

Cleaning and phone games are examples of distractions, Hill said. When you clean your room, you’re focusing on what you are cleaning, rather than your stress.

Playing games on your phone can be helpful too, she said.

Another strategy to cope with stress is mindfulness, Hill said.

“Mindfulness is the ability to focus on one thing and be present in the here and now,” she said.

There are several different ways to practice mindfulness, including meditation, which is an exercise that can help you relax when you’re stressed, Hill said.

Hill led the Circle Scholars students through a meditation skill called a personal relaxation scene. The students envisioned themselves in a place where they felt relaxed and safe.

Hill then asked the students what they saw in this place, and what it smelled and felt like.

“What emotions do you feel in this place? How would you describe what’s going on inside your body?” she asked.

De’Naria imagined herself in her bedroom.

“It smelled like my lotion I had on my birthday: Japanese cherry blossom,” she said. “I see walls, a TV, carpet, shoes.”

Envisioning herself in this place helped her de-stress, she said.

“I was feeling angry at the time, but as I sat down and looked around, I got calmer and I [felt] safe,” she said.

Channan imagined herself in her dining room with her sisters, and Ge’Sean’s happy place was chilling on his couch.

Another great coping tool for dealing with stress is art, such as singing and dancing. They can take your mind off stress and make you feel relaxed.

Painting or drawing are also ways to deal with stress.

De’Naria and her sixth-grade sister Destiny had a blast making lava lamps.

“As we kept flipping them back and forth, the oil [was] coming down and up, and we were watching the oil as it transformed back and forth. Mine is green and blue,” De’Naria said.

You can also go outside and get active. Playing sports or going on walks are great ways to make you feel better, or take your mind off whatever is bothering you.

One of the Mary Bethune teachers, Mrs. McCorvey, has her own special routine for managing stress.

“I love taking walks and during this pandemic, that has been my thing. Taking walks are amazing to me now,” she said.

“In my neighborhood, I love hearing kids outside playing… and then hearing the birds singing," she said.

Talk to a trusted adult

There can be times when stress really starts to overwhelm you, and you just can’t seem to get through it.

“Compare when you feel good versus when you feel stressed. If you’re feeling stressed more days than you’re feeling good, then that might be a time to say, ‘I need to talk to someone because I’m feeling a negative mood more than I’m feeling a positive mood,’” Hill said.

If you recognize that you have more days that you feel stressed than feel good, Hill has some great advice about who to reach out to next.

 “You always want to first go to your parents. You want to let them know when something is wrong because they can quickly get you to some help," Hill said.

If your parents aren’t available, you can also go to your teacher or a school counselor. You can also talk to your physician, or a nurse, like our host, Kristi Westphaln!

There are so many people who are there to help you out. Nobody wants you to feel stressed.

While stress isn’t always bad for you, it can get really overwhelming and tough to deal with at times. There are lots of tools in your toolbox for how to handle it.

You can try to improve your mood by listening to music or watching your favorite movie or distract yourself with chores or playing games on your phone.

You can relax by picturing yourself in your happy place.

Finding a trusted adult to talk to is also important.

And remember…“stressed” is desserts spelled backwards!

From exam room, to classroom, to newsroom, to Zoom rooms –  healthy habits matter.   

Be in the know, stay healthy, and grow!   

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.