Online tools aim to help teens manage stress

Much has been made over the past two years about the mental health issues facing young people due to the pandemic. With the stress and anxiety plaguing young Canadians, Strong Minds Strong Kids, Psychology Canada (SMSKPC) is on a mission to promote psychological well-being. To support young people aged 13 to 17, this organization has launched two new interactive online tools aimed at helping teenagers manage daily stressors and unexpected crises.

By young people, for young people

The creation of the Zen Garden App was a collaborative effort between seven young Canadians, mindyourmind (an organization that develops interactive tools for young people) and Canadian psychologists. Young people can personalize their garden while learning about the signs and symptoms of stress, creating a coping kit and watching videos. They can alleviate stress with a weeding tool where they write about their stress and then tear it off. The app also explains the differences and similarities between stress and anxiety, as well as the benefits of stress. Guided questions, prompts, management strategies and resources including crisis lines and a provincial resource list can be found along the garden path.

In the quiz on resilience, teens are shown how resilient they are today while providing strategies for tomorrow. While answering questions, users are invited to listen to a podcast on gratitude, participate in guided meditation, and practice self-forgiveness. TED Talks on topics like The power of believing you can improve and Why sleep is your superpower are interspersed with tips and strategies. The quiz ends with a video on how to make a “joy kit”.

The pandemic has been particularly hard on young people. The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that in 2020, nearly one in four hospitalizations among people aged 5 to 24 were related to mental health issues. And in the same year, Kids Help Phone reported twice as many interactions – through phone calls, texts and using self-directed help resources across Canada compared to 2019.

“We believe that our goal of building resilience in children and youth has never been more important and that is why we are working to significantly expand our reach and impact,” said Dr. Mark Smith, President. by Strong Minds Strong Kids, Psychology Canada. The charity’s goal in 2021 was to provide psychological knowledge, expertise, tools and resources to 1,000,000 children in Canada. As the effects of the pandemic continued into 2022, the range of programs has expanded to meet the needs of today’s teens.

The role of parents and guardians

Child psychologist and SMSKPC board member Dr. Robin Alter, who consulted to ensure the integrity of the content of the Zen Garden app, offers parents and caregivers advice on managing stress and anxiety to better help their children. “Children feed off our energy and model our behaviors,” Alter says. “So if parents and caregivers can manage their own anxieties at this time, not only will they be setting a great example for their teenager, but they will be healthier and more resilient to face whatever comes.”

Adults can also use the strategies and resources in the app and quiz. alter’s Five Tips for Parents and Caregivers to Find Their Back to School Zen include forgiving yourself and letting go of the past, talking and sharing your stress, creating a joy kit to use when your mind or mood needs an upgrade, reframing mistakes and fixing achievable goals.

The Zen Garden application and the resilience questionnaire can be downloaded at www.strongmindsstrongkids.org

Supported by leading Canadian psychologists, SMSKPC is part of The Psychology Foundation of Canada, which has focused on harnessing psychology for the benefit of all Canadians since 1974. Today, the national organization supports more than 250,000 families in Canada each year.

Melvin G. Rodriguez