Coping with stress is an important and necessary part of life. There are some strategies that can help us manage our reactions to different life stressors. The steps below are strategies that I use with people with Down syndrome who come to our clinic that you can use, too.
Knowing what situations cause stress can be the first way to help manage it. There are some stressors that we can avoid. For example, if watching a scary movie makes you feel stressed, choose a different movie instead. However, there are some stressors that we cannot always avoid such as bad weather, being stuck in traffic, or going to the doctor. If we know what causes us stress, we can make a plan to cope with it.
2. Notice feelings of stress in your body.
Use our Body Changes visual and notice the signs of stress in your body. Recognizing early signs of stress in yourself can help you use your plan to deescalate before the stress becomes overwhelming.
3. Select activities that help you feel calm.
Try out some of the strategies in our Things I Can Do To Help Me Calm Down and Strategies To Help Me Calm Down visuals. We also have a video called Tips for Dealing with Stress. It is a good idea to have at least a few strategies that you can use when feeling stressed. Breathing techniques are very useful because they can be done anywhere and do not require any supplies.
4. Make a plan.
Use the Plan for Managing My Emotions template. You can make a specific plan for each of your triggers such as, "When I feel stressed about being late, I will take 5 deep breaths and remember that it is not an emergency. What matters is that I get there safely." or "When I feel stressed about going to the doctor, I will make a list of what will happen at the appointment. I will tell the doctor I feel stressed and squeeze a stress ball before the exam. I will remember that the doctor is there to make sure I am healthy."
If there are triggers that you can avoid, you can make a plan for that, too. For example, you could say, "I feel stressed about performing in front of others. I will ask my parents to sign me up for an art class instead of theater."
A note for caregivers: The skill of self-regulation during times of stress is developed by repeated practice with co-regulation. When we are stressed, we often need the support of others to help us access our calming skills until we have enough practice to do it by ourselves. You can help your loved one name the emotion and body sensations and model the appropriate calming strategies. For example, "I noticed that you are clenching your fists. I think you might be feeling stressed about running late. Let's try your plan to take deep breaths and remind ourselves it is not an emergency. I will do it with you."
More resources for people with Down syndrome are available in the Mental Health section of our Resource Library.