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CanTeen Connect Counsellor Cara's tips

2 Jun, 2021

CanTeen Connect Counsellor Cara's tips


CanTeen Connect Counsellor Cara shares some of her tips for dealing with feelings of anxiety, stress, and isolation.

Focusing on long out-breaths

When we get stressed, sometimes we’re taking short shallow in-breaths, and we don’t focus much on the out-breath. Sometimes, even making our mouths the shape we would when we’re drinking from a straw (I call it milkshake-breathing), and then simply trying for long, slow out-breaths, can help us settle a little. Kids love this too (try blowing away cotton balls/pompoms across a table or bubble mix of course!).

Making something

As we get older, we can get disconnected from the experience of making something with our hands – especially if we are on computers a lot, or waiting in places like hospitals. But most of us will be able to remember some point in our lives, maybe when we were young, where we made a mess with glue, or paint, cut up shapes with scissors, or built a tower. Making really does connect us to the here and now, in a unique way – and you can make things anywhere (including hospital), you just have to get a little creative. Collage is really satisfying, for example, as you don’t have to be a “good draw-er” – grab some junk mail, scissors and glue, and see where it takes you. Cooking, baking, mending/fixing something around the house (maybe with YouTube guidance)… there are lots of options. Just don’t get stuck on it looking perfect – make it more about enjoying the moment (just like in kindy, with the glue!).


Many of us have access to pretty good cameras on our phones these days…and photography can be a really powerful tool for noticing what’s around us in different ways, and perhaps even what we appreciate. You might want to try looking for one opportunity each day, where you can take a photo that says something about what’s happening in your life now; or of something you find beautiful (big or small, think even a leaf you see, or a sentence you read); or something you’re grateful for (again, little things count – maybe a good meal, or a pet’s snuggles!). You could keep these in a folder on your phone to reflect back on, create a specific account on socials, or go old-school and use a polaroid camera and stick them on your wall (including in the hospital)! Visual reminders of what matters to us can be really powerful when we’re stressed out.

Being your own best friend

We’re often slow to acknowledge our wins, and also hard on ourselves about how we’ve dealt with the tough stuff that’s come across our path. Imagining what we’d say to a good friend, in the same situation we find ourselves in, can be a good reset. You could even write a letter of support – to yourself! Could be on paper, or in the Notes section of your phone. This is sometimes called self-compassion…a specialist in this area, Dr Kirsten Neff, has some great exercises for this online.

Care for a plant

There are many reasons why having plants around is good for our headspace…but one of the things I think is remarkable is that through helping them to thrive and be beautiful (a little sun, water, maintenance, and TLC), they can in return perhaps teach us that we might just need the same things! Choose a plant with a care level that you can be successful in (lots of beginner’s options!). There’s also lots of connection to be made in buying a plant and learning how to care for it well, or sharing what you know – online or in real life.

Find safe, supportive places on the internet

We’ve all heard how social media can be a tricky place for our mental health (due to endless comparisons, and the way it can twist reality). But it can also be a wellspring of encouragement, depending on what you look at. Some artists (like Charlie Macksey, and Morgan Harper Nichols) share messages of hope; there are podcasts like the Griefcast (specific to bereavement) that share stories of how people are getting through tough times; or getting good quality info about mental health can help you know what step comes next (try Mental Health Foundation as a starting point). Of course, we think Canteen Connect is pretty awesome for rangatahi living with cancer themselves or in their whānau!

Reach out to someone you can trust

Humans need each other – especially when things are difficult. Chatting about what’s happening for you can be a huge release; or saying it out loud may help you see things in a slightly different way, which changes how you cope. Talk with someone you feel you can trust – a family member, friend, colleague, a GP, or counsellor, or give one of Aotearoa’s wonderful helplines a call.

Join our community on CanTeen Connect.

Chat with rangatahi who get you.
Get time out at our fun events.
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