How to Plan and Stay Calm Despite Stress

Interview with Kiran Malpe, clinical director of the Strong Starts Court Initiative in NYC

Planning is really important during stressful times, and there’s a part of our brain that plans, organizes and carries out our tasks. But stress and depression can affect our planning.

The word “stress” minimizes what court-involved families experience, which is “toxic stress.” That’s feeling overwhelmed and having no one to help you.

With toxic stress, parents may have difficulty maintaining routine in their life. It can be harder to get up on time, think ahead about travel times, or plan out transportation. I’ve gotten parents calendars and said, “Let’s fill this out together.”

Professionals just think, “The parent is choosing not to do the right thing.” It’s very important that parents identify what’s going wrong and what’s going to help them.

Trauma is also held in our bodies. A physical response is the first reaction. You might not sleep well, have an increased heart rate, the sweats, nightmares, or negative thoughts in your head.

Parents can come in being aggressive, even threatening or hostile. You’re activated by what’s happening, and once you’re in an activated state, it’s hard to get out of it.

I help parents take a couple deep breaths and pause. “Grounding” exercises are simple things like sitting down, putting your feet on the ground, your back against a chair, and closing your eyes. Saying to yourself, “I’m planted, I’m present, I’m here right now” and feeling your body in the chair.

I’ve given parents laminated pictures of their child to keep in their pocket, or stress balls to hold in court, or crystals. A physical reminder can help you stay focused when you’re overwhelmed.

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