Monday, Feb 26th

Psychologist and Comedian Offers Strategies to Fight Stress

Bellace DeFeoDr. Matt Bellace with Michelle De FeoStress, whether our own or our children’s, is definitely no laughing matter…but Dr. Matt Bellace had his audience chuckling about it as he outlined how adults can foster resilience in teens and help them to make healthy choices. Not only a renowned neuropsychologist and published author, Dr. Bellace is also a stand-up comedian who has appeared in comedy clubs across the country. On Tuesday March 7th, parents were treated to a program with Matt Bellace thanks to the efforts of Scarsdale Advocates for Youth (SAY) and Scarsdale Middle School teachers Michelle De Feo and Cara Forray.

Though Dr. Bellace used humor to connect with parents in the audience, his messages about mental health awareness and how to cope with stress were serious and important. He began his program by recruiting volunteers to take part in an exercise that demonstrated the value of surrounding yourself with people who support you and hold you up. According to Bellace, the teen brain is a novelty seeking missile that searches out excitement. Therefore, he asserts,it is essential for teens to lean on healthy friends who provide positive support and encouragement. To illustrate this point, Dr. Bellace shared a slide highlighting mental health status by social support variables demonstrating that when teens have a high level of social support, they are much less prone to depression, anxiety, self-injury, and suicidality. What's more, when teens are surrounded by positive friends and meaningful relationships they tend to take good and healthy risks as opposed to risks that could negatively impact them or others.

Using narratives from his own family life, Dr. Bellace touched on the stress collectively felt by children and parents alike during the pandemic. He suggested that we all need to give ourselves a big hug for making it through such a hard time. Dr. Bellace described one anecdote from parenting during the pandemic which underscored an essential strategy we can all use to combat stress…movement. Talking about how his kids were sitting inside behind a screen all day, Dr. Bellace asked them to rate their mood. After taking his kids on a bike ride, he asked them to rate their mood again and noted that all noticed a marked improvement. Dr. Bellace extolled other strategies that can be utilized to diminish or even prevent stress and minimize the chances of making unhealthy choices. Some of the strategies include:exercisesExercise to demonstrate importance of leaning on healthy people.

-5 Finger Breathing. Dr. Bellace asked his audience to all participate in this easy exercise to help get control of breathing which in turn can help us control our emotions. He first asked everyone to sit up straight with their feet on the ground. He then raised his hand and with the pointer finger of his opposite hand he began to “trace” each of his fingers inhaling deeply with each upstroke and exhaling on the downstroke.

-Meditation. Dr. Bellace also led the audience in a quick meditation, a practice he describes as a superpower to calm the mind and in turn, makes more room for us to express emotions in a healthy way. For optimal effects, Dr. Bellace suggests that we practice a few minutes of meditation every day around the same time.

-Music. Through more engaging audience participation, Dr. Bellace demonstrated how the purposeful use of music can lift your mood and help improve well-being. He explained that we can also use music to help us cope, get us psyched and change how we are feeling.

-Writing. Whether writing in a journal or writing songs or letters, Dr. Bellace described writing as an incredibly effective tool to help reduce anxiety and stress.

During his presentation, Dr. Bellace described the pitfalls of drug and alcohol use and how these substances adversely affect the developing brain. He explained that “weed” is not the same drug that parents used when they were teens and that THC shrinks the hippocampus and memory capacity. THC use can also thin the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brian responsible for decision making, planning, impulse control, and more. Because of these detrimental effects (and many more), Dr. Bellace advises delaying drug and alcohol use as long as possible, preferably until the brain is done developing in our mid-twenties. Instead of drugs, Dr. Bellace promotes trying to find natural highs that often release the same chemicals in the brain as drugs. Some natural highs he described include:

-LaughingGendelBellace with SAY Co-chairs Wendy Gendel and Amy Rompala

-Cold water plunge

-Yoga, dancing, swimming, hiking, or any other exercise

-Watching a sunset or just being in nature

Another important takeaway from the presentation was Dr. Bellace’s reminder that “storms are going to hit no matter what” but “the most beautiful waves come from the biggest storms.” In other words if we choose to look for it, going through adversity can be good and can inspire growth and flourishment. These are only a few of the impressionable highlights from the program. For more in-depth learning, check out Dr. Bellace’s books: “Life is Disappointing…and Other Inspiring Thoughts” and “A Better High: Laugh, Help, Run, Love...and Other Ways to Get Naturally High!” To learn more about other helpful programs and workshops check out Scarsdale Advocates for Youth.

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