Keep a list of stress-reducing activities for your clients to use with their entire family, regardless of whether you treat individuals, couples, or children.
The 2010 American Psychological Association Stress in America study reports that most children are aware when their parents are upset, causing the child to in turn internalize their feelings. “Children who say their parent is always stressed are more likely to report having a great deal of stress themselves than those who say their parents are never stressed (17 percent vs. 2 percent).”
When something traumatic happens, the emotional toll ripples through every member of the family. As much as parents hope to protect their child, there’s no hiding a late-stage miscarriage, the loss of a grandparent, or a house fire. If you’re treating an entire family, or even just one member, realize that every person will heal individually, on his or her own time. That doesn’t mean you can’t recommend stress-reducing activities for the family to participate in outside of your counseling sessions.
There are many ways for children, teenagers, and adults to lower their anxieties, but a family suffering needs to work as one.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” —William James
1. Practice deep breathing
With the busy back-and-forth of everyday life, it’s difficult to find a moment for everyone to connect. Stress-reducing activities are a great way for a family to unwind, but if everyone is too busy to carve time out of their schedule, nothing will get done. Initiating a deep breathing practice is something an entire family can do in a short amount of time. Whether your clients practice breathing exercises over dinner or on the way to school the next morning, breathing is something everyone knows how to do. There’s no learning curve!
While there is, of course, preferred breathing exercises to master, families can start small by monitoring their breath to see what is normal for them. They can then try to align the “beat” of their breaths, with each person in the family taking their turn to lead. Finally, once the family is more comfortable with conscious breathing, they can attempt a pranayama practice of Sama Vritti. Here is a quick one-minute video to recommend to your clients for this activity.
2. Embrace gratitude
Thanksgiving shouldn’t be the only time of year a family shares what makes each member feel grateful. Psychologist Robert Emmons says, “Gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall. Grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.”
Encourage your clients to start a gratitude practice. One way is to create a journal to record one thing each member is thankful for every day. This would be a unique keepsake for years to come. For a low-key option, families can share their appreciation over breakfast or before bedtime.
3. Get Physical
The Mayo Clinic reports that exercise pumps up your endorphins, which in turn improves mood and lowers stress levels. Encourage your clients to sign up for something they already know they’ll enjoy, like an all-ages kickball league, and also to try something new together, such as rock climbing.
Even the least sporty family can participate in and enjoy physical activities. Turn a small untended patch of the yard into a garden. If the children are learning about birds in school, the family could take up bird watching. The family dog deserves a daily walk, and there’s no reason the entire family can’t come along. No option for mild exercise is a bad one.
4. Laugh it off
The family who laughs together stays together. Wait, that’s not how the saying goes, but it should! Laughing is a clinically proven stress-reliever. The Department of Psychiatric Sciences and Psychological Medicine at the University of Rome found that “laughter is able to improve mood directly and to moderate negative consequences of stressful events on psychological well-being.”
If your clients are searching for suggestions, funny movies are a great place to start. Also, a game of Charades is always a crowd pleaser.
5. Join a community
Dr. Roberta Lee, author of The SuperStress Solution notes that, “Research shows that people who are more religious or spiritual use their spirituality to cope with life. They’re better able to cope with stress, they heal faster from illness, and they experience increased benefits to their health and well-being. On an intellectual level, spirituality connects you to the world, which in turn enables you to stop trying to control things all by yourself. When you feel part of a greater whole, it’s easy to understand that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life.”
However, religion isn’t the only option for joining a community. Sports teams, schools, and theater groups are other possibilities for families looking to connect with a larger group on a deeper level. When a family is going through a time of severe stress, the community will be there to provide a hand to hold, meals for dinner, and emotional support.
A great counselor puts together a list of stress-reducing family activities for their clients, but you need to take care of yourself, too. You’re detailed, organized, and always looking for ways to streamline your work. Which is why we think you should consider SimplePractice. Instead of wasting billable hours stressing about billing clients and sending insurance claims, we can handle the hard work for you. Try our 30-day free trial right away, and we’ll take some of the stress out of your life.
What stress-reducing activities do you share with your clients? Do you have a favorite you can share with our community? Let us know in the comments.
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