January 2020

Anxiety Goes to the Beach

By Kristi Lombardo and Allison Lopes
At one time, educators and school counselors believed that we could easily locate the anxious student in our classrooms, hallways and school cafeterias. But what about the students that become disruptive or angry? What about the students that are truant or visit the school nurse multiple times in a day? What about the student that doesn’t turn in homework just because of the negative thought “It’s not good enough”? To challenge ourselves even further, let’s think about the children and teens that miss school and show their anxiety at the pediatrician’s office complaining of frequent headaches or stomach aches.

As professionals, we also understand that the teenage years can be rather challenging and complex. Our students may be facing overwhelming feelings and experience strong biological changes in their bodies and brains. While they are at times feeling out of control, they also have a desire to gain their control back. We can teach adolescents to take time and space at “The Beach” with distance and distractions.

Due to anxiety’s constant presence, variations across the lifespan and many types, Allison and I decided that we needed to address all forms of anxiety in an innovative and mindful way. By using guided imagery, coping strategies, starfish breathing and sensory outlets such as beach boxes, teachers and school counselors can empower students to navigate through their own “rough seas” and sail on to a peaceful day after spending time at The Beach. It was also important for us to bring The Beach to our students because so many of them had never experienced the calming effects of an actual beach. Rhode Island, nicknamed “the ocean state,” is known for its large bays, inlets and beautiful sandy shores, yet too many of our students aren’t able to benefit from something most of us take for granted.

We taught our students self-regulation skills so that each student could utilize their coping strategies independently. We provided opportunities to express and experience their emotions to improve their mood, self-awareness and levels of confidence. This was not another item to add to the teacher’s to-do list. The benefits of the self-regulation space were clearly observed when procedures were followed with fidelity. We taught every student in each classroom how to respect The Beach space and materials.

Using teacher and student reported data, we tracked how students felt before and after using The Beach. We asked teachers choosing to participate in our program to record five instances of students using The Beach over a two-week period. Students were also asked to fill out an age appropriate exit slip to evaluate how they were feeling before and after The Beach.

Allison and I were more than pleased to share our findings at the Rhode Island School Counselor Association 2019 fall conference. Students reported that they felt better 82 percent of the time after using The Beach. They reported an escalation in emotions zero percent of the time, and felt unchanged 18 percent of the time. In those cases, they had further conversations with the teacher and support staff. Students recorded, “I felt better,” “I felt calm and cool,” and “felt better at the beach, the beach helped me get better.” Students used the beach box to calm down 73 percent of the time. Students closed their eyes and took deep breaths 27 percent of the time. And teachers noted a de-escalation in students 100 percent of the time after using The Beach.

Allison and I have serious plans to expand “The Beach” so that students across the nation can all experience the benefits. Sit back, relax and ride along with us on our adventure if you’d like! Please let us know if we can assist you with bringing The Beach to your location.

Kristi Lombardo, LMHC, is an Integrated Behavioral Health Clinician at Anchor Pediatrics in Lincoln, and Allison Lopes is a second-grade teacher at The Hope Academy in Providence.