Finding your 'Blue Sky' - 5 Tips for Teens & Adults!
Finding your 'blue sky', (amongst those clouds).
When you think of that perfect blue sky it usually brings about a sensation of feeling calm, serene and positive. This is a phrase I often use when I am encouraging my clients to find their anxiety or stress free zone.
So how do we encourage teenagers in Hong Kong to slow down and take the time to find their own blue sky? Below are some of the exercises and tools I use to encourage the young people I work with.
1) Incorporate daily meditation into your routine.
This is nothing new, you will have heard this before, maybe many times, but now is your opportunity to start bringing meditation into your daily routine and encouraging your teens to do so as well.
New to meditation? I recommend setting aside a small portion of your day, (5-10 minutes) every day for a week, find a moment when you have the time to put energy into it and not as a last minute thought at the end of a very busy day. If you take the time to practice everyday and find you can meditate when you are relaxed, you can definitely do so in times of crisis. From here you can begin to use meditation when you feel overworked, overwhelmed, panicked, stressed or even when you need a quick breather.
Top tip! Download the app Headspace, it allows you the freedom to meditate anywhere, at any time and features 100's of meditations for all circumstances.
2) Mindfulness activities.
Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular with teenagers and young adults in Hong Kong and it's efficacy is validated by counsellors worldwide. One of my favourite exercises draws attention to the five senses and can be performed at home, in the park or even at your table at school.
Begin by making yourself as comfortable as possible, then start bringing your awareness to your breath, no need to modify this, just be mindful of your breathing pattern.
Then start by bringing attention to your five senses, one at a time, for about a minute in length. Practice being present and draw your attention to how that sense is engaged in that moment.
- HEAR - Focus on any sounds you might be hearing, these might be external or internal, close or far away, you might hear sounds that you recognise or begin to hear sounds that you did not notice before.
- SMELL - Now shift your focus to the smells around you, it can be fun to close your eyes for this one (not recommend if you're in class!). Take a minute and place your awareness on what smells can be picked up in your location.
- SEE - Spend the next minute exploring your surroundings with your sight, pay special attention to parts of your surroundings you might have previously overlooked. Focus on colours, shapes and people that steal your attention.
- TASTE - We often have tastes in our mouth that go unnoticed (unless you're currently eating), run your tongue over your teeth and cheeks to maximise awareness for this sense.
- TOUCH - Your last minute is spent focusing your awareness on what your skin is in contact with and how it interprets those materials. You can make this as simple as sitting still and focusing on temperature, pressure between you and what your contacting with, or you can move about and touch different objects around the room or in front of you.
Once you have finished you can now take the time to rate how you felt before and after this exercise, I often find it easiest to use a scale from 1-10, with 1 being absolutely calm and 10 being overwhelmed. If you have noticed improvement, well done, if not you can keep practising and modifying this activity until it works for you.
3) Muscle Relaxation.
This activity builds upon the concept of mindfulness that you will have just experienced within the previous step.
Muscle relaxation exercises encourage your teen to have a finer awareness of their physiology, as often we can forget how keenly our mind is connected to our bodies. By asking yourself to focus, just on your physical sensations for a while, we enable our cognitive processes to take a break and in doing so, feel a deeper sense of connection with our bodies.
- Lie down on your back, making yourself as comfortable as possible and close your eyes.
- Starting from your toes and working up towards your head, progressively squeeze and release each muscle on the way. Toes, feet, legs, abdomen, arms, face and everything in between!
Be sure to relax in between each squeeze and release, remember what you have learnt from meditating. It is ok to take time that is dedicated just to ourselves and our own self-care regime.
4) Awareness of breath.
A well honed breathing exercise can be your number one tool in times of crisis. When I am developing personalised 'anti-anxiety toolboxes' with my clients, this is one of the first activities we will look at. Try this simple breathing exercise below:
- Breathe in for 7 and out for 11, repeat until you feel calmer. Struggling to count? Then simply focus on breathing out for longer than you breathe in.
Top Tip! Breath from your diaphragm (Abdomen), and not your chest, breathing from your chest will often make you feel more panicked and exacerbate any physical symptoms of anxiety you might be experiencing.
When teaching my clients about symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, I will often ask them how long they feel they have a panic attack for. This is often followed by the response, 'I dunno a long time, maybe like an hour?'.
Excluding pre-attack and post attack decline, panic attacks actually last anywhere from 3-10 minutes in length, however they can often feel like much longer, especially when there is pre-emptive anxiety.
In sessions I will often sit quietly, with a timer on, and colour with my clients for anywhere between 5-10 minutes. My client can then measure how long their panic attacks might be, based on how much of their colouring they have completed. This is a great way of putting their experience into perspective for them, again this is usually met with the response, 'oh that was much shorter than I expected'.
As well as aiding psycho-education, colouring can be one of the most effective therapeutic tools for young people with anxiety and is increasingly popular with adults too. Kerby Rosanes and Johanna Basford have some fantastic books, or you can download this free Mandala template here or this free motivational colouring sheet here.
Everyone's journey to finding their own piece of blue sky can be different, but I hope you enjoy practicing the above exercises. Struggling with these tips or need further support in finding your own 'blue sky', send me an email via the contact form!
Amy Williams is an experienced counsellor working with pre-teens, teenagers and young adults in schools and private practice in Hong Kong, (see about Amy for more info).
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