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    June 25, 2024

    Building Coping Skills in Middle and High Schools

    Neuro-resilience is a recently developed psychological term. It refers to the brain's ability to adapt and bounce back from stress, adversity, and trauma. This resilience plays a critical role in managing life’s challenges effectively. It encompasses one’s cognitive agility, emotional regulation, problem-solving skills, and the ability to reach out and rely upon healthy social support systems. All of these skills are particularly essential for adolescents navigating the complexities of middle and high school.

    We know adolescence is a formative period marked by significant growth and change. Of course, it is also often fraught with serious mental health challenges. Traumatic events during these years can have a profound impact on a young person's development and well-being. Nothing requires neuro-resilience more than situations which may induce trauma.

    The Impact of Trauma on Adolescents

    Trauma can be defined as any disruptive circumstance that overwhelms a person in a long-term way. It has the power to destabilize someone, making emotional regulation feel impossible. Factors contributing to this for youth may include:

    • Isolation: Feeling disconnected from peers leads to a sense of loneliness and anxiety. When persistent, this can wear on an individual in a way that seems to become unbearable.
    • Pressure to Perform: High expectations can create overwhelming stress, leading to burnout and diminished self-esteem. This is true as it relates to academic performance, sports, music and theater, and even a personal sense of competition within social circles.
    • Abusive Peer Dynamics: Bullying and peer pressure have a way of eroding one’s self-worth. They can further instill chronic fear and anxiety. Kids begin to constantly watch their own backs, and excessively, nervously filter their behavior around others. 

    STOPit’s Student Reporting Systems can offer crucial tools to help with this. These reporting systems offer students secure ways to report incidents of mistreatment confidentially, without fear of reprisal.

    • Hot Button Issues: Political elections, global conflicts or other divisive and debated controversies can create deep-seated uncertainty and stress. This is especially true for students who feel pressure to always “pick a side,” not being equipped to think through nuance and make decisions themselves.
    • Violence and Local Disasters: Exposure to school shootings, community violence and natural disasters can induce serious alarm or emotional breakdowns. For some, memories of these emergency events may haunt them for years.
    • Trouble at Home: Family issues, such as financial instability or domestic violence, can further seem to push someone “over the edge” with anxiety. This is true with both short-term and long-term crises.

    Healthy vs. Harmful Coping Mechanisms

    Young people often resort to various coping mechanisms to handle stress and trauma. However, it's crucial to distinguish between healthy and harmful strategies. Not all coping responses are intrinsically problematic. They may in fact be useful in helping a young person calm down long enough to be able to process their experiences later, with a clearer head. 

    That being said, many coping strategies that kids instinctively resort to may indeed be harmful. It takes discernment to sort through what is optimal and what is not.

    Harmful Coping Mechanisms

    Some behaviors we might discourage children and teens from engaging in include the following.

    • Mere Escapism: Constantly avoiding problems through distractions can delay the development of resilience and problem-solving skills. Youth generally need to be steered toward coping mechanisms that reinforce the idea that they can learn to face and handle reality.
    • Self-Abuse or Mistreatment: Behaviors like self-harm or bullying others can provide a temporary outlet for frustration and pain. Ultimately these are sure to worsen one’s mental health, and obviously break down relationships as well.
    • Avoiding Courage and Independence: A coping mechanism is probably becoming an unhelpful emotional crutch when it begins to impede other areas of personal growth. When appropriate, encourage behaviors to help someone be the bravest version of themselves. Consider inviting them to take gentle, realistic steps out of their fear, their comfort zones and their total reliance upon others.
    • Addictive or Compulsive Behaviors: Students need to be equipped with ways to get relief from the tension and pain they feel without developing compulsive, inescapable patterns. There is a place for retreating and getting temporary relief from pressures. Nevertheless, it’s best that everyone be given tools to maintain a sense of personal agency as well.

    Healthy Coping Mechanisms

    Encouraging adolescents to adopt healthy coping mechanisms can foster their sense of confidence and their ability to face other hardships in the future. Here are some of the most effective strategies we generally recommend:

    • Stress Management Techniques: Teach students techniques for processing and mitigating stress. These include time management skills, proper prioritization of responsibilities, and relaxation exercises. Encourage them to create realistic schedules, take breaks when needed, breathe deeply, and plan constructive activities that help them learn to better relax and enjoy every season of life.
    • Healthy Lifestyle Habits: Emphasize the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle all around. This entails focusing on regular exercise, nutritious eating, adequate sleep, and limiting screen time. Such habits support overall well-being and resilience by promoting physical health and reducing stress. When these practices are already in place, chaotic events tend to feel somewhat more manageable and less unnerving.
    • Social Support Networks: Encourage students to cultivate strong social support networks by connecting with friends, family members, teachers, and counselors. Having supportive, safe, vulnerable relationships can provide a lot. They give a sense of belonging, validation, and emotional encouragement that can carry someone through any challenge. 
    • Problem-Solving Skills: Teach students effective problem-solving skills to help them navigate obstacles and setbacks. Encourage them to break down problems into actionable steps, brainstorm solutions, and seek assistance when needed. Developing these practices empowers students to approach challenges without getting stuck in intimidation or being paralyzed by what the future holds.
    • Healthy Self-Talk: Encourage students to practice more helpful self-talk strategies. Challenging their discouraging, limiting beliefs. Help them recognize their strengths, accomplishments, and abilities, and cultivate a growth mindset that embraces challenges as opportunities for growth. Encourage them to also operate with an abundance mindset, believing the resources and options they need are available in this world in ways they have yet to fully recognize.
    • Seeking Professional Support: Remind students that it's okay to seek support from counselors, therapists, or mental health professionals if they're struggling. Remind them to reach out for help with anything they are facing. Reassure them that asking for support is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

    *Our HELPme platform can facilitate great connections with trusted mental health professionals, and point students towards other resources to help them think through the situations they are facing.

    Building a Healthy Environment

    Creating an environment that promotes neuro-resilience involves the collective effort of educators, parents, and the community. Schools can take steps to implement programs that teach stress management and emotional regulation skills, provide access to mental health resources, and foster a culture of support and inclusivity.

    Parents can support their children by maintaining open lines of communication, providing a stable home environment, and modeling healthy coping behaviors themselves. Community organizations can offer additional resources and support networks to ensure that no child feels alone in their struggles.

    By focusing on building neuroresilience, we can equip adolescents with the tools they need to navigate the challenges of adolescence and emerge stronger and more resilient.

    Again, coping isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When done well, it’s a vital part of growing up and thriving in an increasingly complex world.

    Ready to Learn More?

    Looking for further training and direction as you seek to care well for your students? Consider exploring our "SEL, Safety, & Wellness Training." This comprehensive program is designed to help you…

    • develop social-emotional learning tools
    • provide mental health support
    • and implement proactive safety measures – both for students and faculty. 

    Our training modules offer trauma-informed strategies for fostering neuro-resilience, promoting stronger community networks, and enhancing the overall well-being of everyone within your organization.

    Join us in our mission to prioritize mental wellness as a major cornerstone of school safety. Discover more here!

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