Here are some great ideas on getting started with a variety of relaxation techniques. You may want to do them with your child — parenting is stressful too!
- Meditation/guided imagery: Guided imagery is a technique that induces relaxation by leading thoughts to a peaceful/happy place, reducing stress and pain. Children can have fun listening to a few different voices and styles (music, nature sounds, silences) choose their favorites. Download a few of the popular apps to try them out. I actually take out my phone, show teens how to use the Insight Timer app and have them download it.
- Breath counting: The simplest and easiest technique to access, and can be done anytime. One method involves breathing in for a count of four, holding it for seven, then breathing out for eight, and then repeating, slowing down as calmness descends. I encourage kids to use this at school when feeling stressed. No one knows what you are doing, you’re just breathing!
- Progressive body scan: Some kids find it uncomfortable to focus on their breathing, so a body scan is a better way to induce relaxation, getting them out of their stressed minds and into their bodies. During this exercise, kids systematically focus their attention on parts of the body, from the feet to the head. They develop a mindful awareness of bodily sensations, relieving muscle tension. They can use an app for guidance at first, and then do it on their own; it’s especially helpful at bedtime.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): If an app doesn’t work, then people can consider working with a trained therapist for six to eight sessions of CBT training. There is often resistance about seeing a therapist; this can be overcome by emphasizing stress-management skills, not talking about their “feelings.” Some schools offer stress management or mindfulness classes for teens and parents.
- Yoga: Yoga is for everyone. It helps to develop flexibility and strength in our bodies and calm, happiness and peace in our minds. Regular yoga practice can improve posture (reducing tension-type headaches) and decrease stress and anxiety (common migraine triggers). Parents and kids can access yoga through a yoga class or on YouTube. Make sure to stay until the end of class for relaxation time!
- Acupuncture/acupressure: Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice, based on the premise that accessing specific points in the body can restore the balance of the body’s energy (“qi”), stimulate healing and promote relaxation. Acupuncture can be quite effective in reducing stress and headaches/migraines. Kids are often wary of “many needles”; acupressure (acupuncture without needles) is an effective alternative.
The more we can get our young people in touch with how stress feels in their bodies, and how to manage it, the less it may affect them. Again, I always say the best strategy is the one a child likes and will actually do. In the end, this will help kids be more resilient and have fewer headaches and migraines.
Victoria Karian is a pediatric nurse practitioner and can be reached at HeadFirst PNP.