We know that youth need mental wellness support now more than ever. Even before the pandemic, rates of depression and anxiety among children and teens were reaching all-time highs, and those numbers continued to grow through the challenges of the pandemic and the loneliness of quarantining.
The first question on our minds is “How do I help and support my troop?” The good news is that you already are! Providing a space for Girl Scouts to connect and feel a sense of belonging is so important to combat those feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Building bonds and friendships show youth that they aren’t alone and their feelings aren’t weird or bad.
There are so many strategies and actions to cope with anxiety, and what works for one person may not be the best for another. Read on for some strategies and tips to incorporate into your TROOP!
T—Take a Deep Breath
Anxiety can send our nervous systems into overdrive, making our breath shaky and our minds race. Deep and rhythmic breathing helps us pump the brakes on anxiety and stress. Try 4-7-8 breathing by releasing all of the air from your chest and inhaling through the nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 7 seconds, then exhale out of the mouth for 8 seconds. Box-breathing, or 4-4-4-4 breathing, is known for stress relief and slows the heart rate. Start by releasing all of the air from your chest and hold your breath for 4 seconds, then breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale out of the nose for 4 seconds.
R—Request Space Sometimes
A Girl Scout might need to step away from the stimulation to soothe their anxiety. Make sure you let your troop know that breaks are okay and that they can come back to an activity or conversation later. A great part of Girl Scouts is that they learn to take healthy risks because a challenge only helps us grow if we feel safe and supported while doing it.
O—Observe Your Surroundings
This tip is rooted in helping your Girl Scouts ground themselves. A well-known way to do this is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. When a Girl Scout is feeling anxious or overwhelmed, they can identify 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste. Engaging all five senses helps Girl Scouts focus on the present and leave behind anxious thoughts.
Talking about a trigger might help some Girl Scouts work through their anxiety around a certain subject or activity. Make sure to validate their feelings! While it might seem helpful to reassure them that something isn’t a big deal, that something is still making their palms sweat and heart pound. Anxiety isn’t always rational and anxious teens just want to feel heard. After validating those feelings, highlight their strengths! “This sounds so hard, but I know you can handle it” can go a long way with an anxious Girl Scout.
Fresh air and physical activity are often suggested to help decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. Suggesting a Girl Scouts’ or your troop’s favorite outdoor activity can help distract them from their stress for a bit. You could even revisit a silly game or an old favorite from their younger years! Connecting with their younger self is sure to get the laughter going and lighten their spirits!
We know that as a troop leader, your troop’s emotional and physical well-being is always your priority. These tips are just one place you can start in supporting your troop’s mental health and wellness. For more tips and activities, check out the Resilient, Ready, Strong patch program. In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, thank you for always being a pillar of support for your Girl Scouts!
Sydney Tuttle – Sydney is a Leader Engagement Coordinator at Girl Scout River Valleys, focusing on training and supporting troop leaders. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Minnesota— Twin Cities. In her free time, Sydney enjoys reading, baking, and spending time with her friends. She can talk your ear off about her two cats, Korra and Mabel!