By Melinda Johnson, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

We often hear the word “coping” in conversation, but what does it really mean? People often think coping skills are learned in therapy, but we all cope from day to day- some of us are just better than others. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Coping is defined as the thoughts and behaviors mobilized to manage internal and external stressful situations.”

Coping looks different for everyone. Here are a few of my preferred ways of coping with stressful situations in a healthy way. 

  1. Reframing and challenging negative thoughts. Reframing is looking at negative thoughts or situations from a more positive perspective. It’s important to remember that our initial reaction isn’t always the most accurate and that thoughts aren’t facts. For example, maybe you have a big presentation at work approaching or your student has a big test. Instead of saying, “I’m such a nervous wreck, I can’t possibly do this,” try “I’m really nervous right now, but I’m going to be brave and look at what I need to prepare to feel ready.”
  1. Go outside. Studies have shown that being outside has significantly improved both physical and mental health. This doesn’t have to be a strenuous hike through the woods. It can be sitting on your porch for ten minutes, taking a small walk around the block, going to the park to enjoy the swings, digging in the garden, or even taking a few minutes to do some birdwatching. 
  1. Breathing exercises. Breathing is something we often don’t pay attention to because our brain does this automatically. Focusing on your breathing is effective because it helps decrease the flight-or-fight response that your body triggers when it notices increased stress or danger.
  1. Try writing or journaling. Writing can help get out thoughts that otherwise feel jumbled or disorganized. I often hear “I don’t know how to start.” There’s no best formula, but journaling prompts are relatively easy to find online. Writing has also been shown to help express feelings that we otherwise have difficulty articulating. 
  1. Listen to music. Have a favorite band or song? Music easily affects our emotions and is a good way to regulate how you’re feeling. 

Don’t feel connected to any of these? That’s okay. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can build into your day to day to help manage emotions more effectively. Maybe you can draw or paint, read a book, go for a run, lift weights, have a conversation with a friend, put together a puzzle, or snuggle with your pet.

We want to learn how to deal with emotions rather than be scared or ignore them. As adults, it’s important to learn how to manage emotions so our children know it’s okay to experience them and find effective ways to manage them too.

By Jordan Nonte, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

We’ve all felt sad at some point in our lives, we’ve all felt anxious, but at what point do these emotions go from normal to disruptive? You may be wondering why anxiety and depression often get lumped together. How are these two related?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, half of all people diagnosed with depression will also be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent of mental illnesses in the US, affecting 40 million adults, while 17 million suffer from depression. Anxiety and depression are very treatable, but only about a third of people seek treatment.

So when should you seek treatment for anxiety or depression? And what is anxiety and depression? Typically, anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or uneasiness, possibly due to an uncertain event or outcome. This is a completely normal response, especially before participating in events such as a big test, sports game, or public speaking. This feeling becomes an issue when the worry is disproportionate to the situation at hand or is unnecessarily present.

Some affected by anxiety may be obsessively worrying about an event or idea that is utterly unrealistic, such as a loved one being in danger at that very moment. It is then, when the feeling becomes a constant despite the truth about reality, that it is no longer helpful—but problematic to daily living.

Depression, on the other hand, is typically defined as persistent sadness. Symptoms may include decreased mood, difficulty sleeping, lack of energy, loss of interest in hobbies/pleasurable activities, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, irritability, difficulty focusing, or suicidal ideation. Anyone at any age can be depressed, and not everyone will experience all the same symptoms.

Some risk factors of depression include family history of depression, traumatic life events, stress, or a major life change such as giving birth or the passing of a loved one. This feeling of sadness may become problematic when a person feels as though they cannot complete their regular daily tasks at work, school, or home. They may struggle just to take care of themselves every day, and have trouble finding motivation to eat, shower, or brush their teeth to name a few.

If you think you may be suffering from anxiety or depression, what should you do? Do not hesitate to call your family physician. Your doctor will want to assess your physical and mental symptoms before deciding on some treatment options. Some people may also experience physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, heart palpitations, chest pain, and headaches that can be linked to anxiety or depression.

Some treatments may include psychotherapy, medication, relaxation techniques, or self-help practices. It’s important to get help early to decrease the chances of thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Just remember, you are not alone, and there are many options for treatment. Start feeling like you again!

By Megan Shake, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Food. We all need it and can’t live without it. It’s what brings us together whether it’s a family dinner, a holiday, a work pitch-in, or a party. However, for families with food allergies, a shared meal can lead to stress, anxiety, and even fear.

Unless you or someone you know has a food allergy, you may not realize the true impact allergies can have on the child and their family. Statistics show that one in every 13 kids has a food allergy, and every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.

While there are foods known to be top allergens, any food can be an allergen. The one thing that all food allergies have in common is that they all have the potential to be life threatening. There is no way to predict if a reaction will be mild or severe, and how someone reacts once does not predict future reactions.

So, what is it like for a child who has a food allergy? It can look different for everyone. It can mean eating anywhere outside of their home is challenging. Between snacks brought into school and meals served in the cafeteria, the child has to be careful of what is eaten at school. It can also mean eating at home before attending an event or reviewing a menu and calling to ask about ingredients before going to a restaurant.

There are things people can do to help those affected feel safer and more at ease. If someone in your life has an allergy, know what the person is allergic to and remember it.

Read food labels. Not all foods label allergens separately so reading a food label means reading the whole ingredient list to see if an allergen is listed. Also be on the lookout for the “may contain” label. Some people eat foods with these labels while others strictly avoid those foods.

Understand cross contamination. Not only does this include being aware of “may contain” labels, but it also means understanding how to put certain practices into place when preparing a meal or eating. Wiping down counter spaces after using certain ingredients or using separate utensils when cooking are great starting points.

Know potential symptoms of an allergic reaction. This could include hives, nausea, vomiting, coughing, wheezing, itching, and swelling. Also know the plan for the child if any of these symptoms were to occur. For example, an allergic reaction may mean giving Benadryl or could mean administering an Epi Pen and going to the hospital. 

Lastly, go out of your way and prepare food that is considered safe for those with allergies.  Ask questions and double check. It’s such a relief for a family to get to their destination and realize there is food that is allergy-friendly. Yes, it’s a lot of extra work, but I promise the child and their family will appreciate it more than you know!

By Chelsea Pfister, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

In today’s hustle and bustle, our society is keen on focusing on our never-ending to-do lists, as well as the other roles and responsibilities that scatter our lives. With hectic schedules during the school year, inflation at an all-time high, and post-COVID protocols still around, parents might wonder what steps they can take to seize these moments of opportunity with their children and maximize their children’s success.

Below, parents can find several tips on how to strengthen bonds with their children and maximize their children’s success.

  1. Words of affirmation. Getting into the routine of giving words of affirmation to your child is a great way to seize the opportunity for connection. Practice this by saying things such as “I love you” or “You are doing so well.” This is important even on challenging days. In fact, when parent-child disagreements occur, this is a more important time than ever to express your love to your child.
  1. Share values and beliefs. Talk with your children about your values and beliefs. It is important to allow your child to ask questions and to answer them honestly. The more frequently these teachings are reinforced, the deeper the understanding your child will have of expectations within the home. 
  1. Allow children to help you. Sometimes, parents can miss forging these closer relationships with their children by not allowing them to help with household chores and various tasks. Examples of this include helping with organization around the house, cooking meals, and even grocery shopping. Children that experience this autonomy and feel as if their voice is heard can have higher self-esteem and closer relationships.
  1. Eat meals as a family. Families that eat dinner together have closer relationships and better communication with one another. Utilizing mealtime to discuss each other’s day can be a great way to open communication lines and engage in family time. Some parents even make a fun tradition out of it; for example, having each person share one positive thing they accomplished that day. Remember to keep conversations positive and avoid using this time for confrontation or discipline.
  1. Seek out one-on-one opportunities often. Make time for individual experiences with your child (Or, if you have more than one child, make time for individual time with each of them). This does not have to be an extended period of time; rather, taking small moments throughout the week to engage in small tasks with children individually can make them feel important, and can help forge those family connections.
  1. Practice your own self-care. This is perhaps the most important tip on the list. As important as it is to be mindful to optimize positive connections with our children, it’s also incredibly important to take care of yourself as a parent. Take moments of opportunity to nourish yourself by doing things that you enjoy and that fulfill you. Remember, it is a marathon – not a sprint!

Chelsea Pfister, MSW, LSW, is a Youth First Social Worker at North Posey High School and North Posey Jr. High in Posey County. Youth First, Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, providing 83 Master’s level social workers and prevention programs to 117 schools in 13 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First’s school social work and after school programs that promote mental health, prevent substance misuse, and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit or call 812-421-8336.