Month of Giving: YMCA helps teens, young adults cope with anxiety through ‘Y Mind’ program

Click to play video: 'YMCA ‘Y Mind’ program teaches skills to address anxiety'
YMCA ‘Y Mind’ program teaches skills to address anxiety
As part of Global Calgary’s Month of Giving campaign, Blake Lough profiles the YMCA’s 'Y Mind' program, which helps teens and young adults learn how to cope with stress and anxiety – Dec 15, 2021

For the second year in a row, Global Calgary is partnering virtually with four local charities over the holidays – including the YMCA – as part of the Month of Giving Campaign.

This year, the campaign is focused on mental health and food insecurity – two societal issues that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The YMCA program ‘Y Mind’ aims to help teens and young adults in Calgary manage stress and anxiety.

Facilitators lead closed groups of eight to 12 people in sessions that explore strategies in mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to help build healthy coping skills and psychological resiliency.

While many may think of the YMCA as a place to work on your physical health, Kaia Kjar, general manager of health programs, knows a focus on mental wellness is crucial.

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“If you are, for lack of a better term, paralyzed by fear and not able to go and take advantage of these amazing opportunities that are out there, then you miss out on a lot in life,” Kjar said.

Click to play video: 'YMCA focuses on mental well-being as well as physical health'
YMCA focuses on mental well-being as well as physical health

“So learning how to cope with those tough feelings early on, and recognizing that we all experience these things, and how to move through those feelings is really important.”

The program is carried out in two age ranges: teens aged 13 to 18 and young adults aged 18 to 30, and is targeted to those who are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety and stress.

Y Mind is free to participants and those who take part also receive a free YMCA membership for the duration of their time in the program.

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13-year-old participant Sofia Diaz Wels said Y Mind has helped her manage her stress and anxiety.

“I struggled to make friends and to talk to people because I always thought about negative thoughts like, ‘Oh, they’re not going to like me,’ or ‘I’m going to say something wrong and then no one’s going to talk to me.’”

Diaz Wels said having the same group over the course of seven weeks helped her feel more at ease and willing to share.

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“I felt comfortable because I knew [the group] felt the same thing, like what I was feeling. Like when you struggle to get some words out. They understood. So I felt like ‘Oh, I belong here’.”

Facilitators Adriana Fernandez and Melia Wiley said an important lesson that participants learn is that everyone deals with anxiety, but there are practical ways of addressing it.

“They learn more about acceptance and acknowledging those uncomfortable emotions and thoughts and physical sensations,” Fernandez said.

Click to play video: 'YMCA offers free mental health program for teens and young adults'
YMCA offers free mental health program for teens and young adults

“And rather than avoiding situations that kind of flare up those symptoms of anxiety, they learn strategies, to move through them, so that they can still do the things that are very important to them and can live according to their values.”

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“[There is] a lot of information around starting to understand, okay, so this is normal for everybody,” added Wylie.

“It’s not just this group of people joining this program that deals with these elements of stress and anxiety. It’s actually a collective feeling, and especially over COVID, I think a lot of people have endured that and are starting to accept that more.”

According to statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue any given year.

Kjar said the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, making programs like Y Mind that much more important for young people.

“There’s definitely a need out there,” Kjar said.

“The idea behind the YMCA program is prevention and teaching teens and young adults these skills early on so it doesn’t reach that critical point of needing to go for hospital care, because they’re able to implement these tools and strategies sooner than at the point of crisis.”

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Funds raised through this year’s Month of Giving campaign will help YMCA continue to make its programming – like the Y Mind program — available and accessible to Calgarians.

Click here to donate to the YMCA as part of Global Calgary’s Month of Giving.

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