May is Mental Health Month, which is a great reason to discuss some of the ways that Girl Scouting can cultivate mental health for girls and the adults they grow up to be. It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has been incredibly disruptive to people’s lives, and the prioritization of physical health needs through social distancing and isolation has often come at the cost of mental health for folks of all genders and ages. Young girls however, have been particularly hard hit by this, and it’s more important than ever to help girls develop and maintain their mental health resources and coping strategies. The good news is that Girl Scouts is built around ideas, values, and activities that support girls’ mental health and resilience.  

Spending Time in Nature Reduces Stress 

One of the best (and quickest!) ways to reduce stress is to find ways to connect with nature like going for a nature walk. Spending time outside hiking through forests, exploring deserts, and gazing up at stars around a campfire is a key component of Girl Scouting and the foundation of many fond memories. Many studies have confirmed the connection between time spent in nature and improved mental health. One even found that just 40 seconds of looking out a window at a gardened rooftop can improve our focus and attention to detail, so you can imagine what a stroll through the park or a weekend in the woods can do. When Girl Scouts go camping, they’re doing more than learning key wilderness skills, they’re also gaining the mental health benefits of being outside such as reduced anxiety, a sense of awe for the natural world, and a break from screen time.  

Strong Supportive Friendships are Golden 

Humans are social creatures, and strong friendships are a key component of our mental wellbeing. For girls, building lifelong friendships are especially beneficial and can often start in childhood and young adulthood with organizations like Girl Scouts. As 15-year-old Lizzie put it, “I’ve felt the stress of uncertainty most days this year, but I’m also more thankful than ever for Girl Scouts. Having a sisterhood I can depend on to share serious thoughts and silly photos with and a community that nurtures my confidence has made such a difference.” Whether it’s building a rocket together at a STEM event, horseback riding on a trail, or collaborating on cookie booth design and sales strategy, Girl Scouts gives girls opportunities to make friendships that can be lifelong support systems.  

Learning New Things Helps Build Resilient Brains 

Growth Mindset is all the rage in education these days and with good reason. Carol Dweck’s original research on how our views on whether skills are inherent (a fixed mindset) or developed (a growth mindset) impacts our willingness to try new things, has helped parents, educators, and learners of all ages understand and increase resiliency. Studies have shown that when girls hold a growth mindset, they are less scared of failure and more willing to take educational and entrepreneurial risks that can lead to great rewards. Girl Scouts helps to develop a growth mindset by giving girls safe spaces to try new things, develop new skills, and fail gracefully.  

By helping her develop resiliency, Girl Scouts teaches girls that they have all the tools they need to make the world a better place and that they can trust themselves to work hard to make their dreams a reality. Rather than being scared to try new things, or worried that learning something new will be scary or embarrassing, Girl Scouts learn that it’s ok (even necessary!) to be bad at something before getting good at it, or to keep working out solutions to tough problems.  

Cultivating Self-Reliance Lowers Anxiety 

When a girl first starts to recognize constellations, takes that first jump from the high ropes course, or can navigate a trail through the wilderness with her troop, her self-confidence soars. And she’ll need that self-confidence for the rest of her life. In a world filled with stressors big and small, and the constant challenges of “unprecedented” historical moments such as the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s easy for anyone to feel anxious. But when girls learn that they can rely on themselves and each other to respond to problems with empathy, creativity, and enthusiasm, they know they can take on whatever the world throws their way. 

Of course, self-reliance is about more than learning to take care of herself in the woods, it’s also about learning that she can make new friends at camp, dream big about projects, and use her voice to speak up about issues that are important to her. Boosting self-confidence is a lifelong task, but it’s one of the best ways to protect against generalized anxiety as well as social anxiety and can help protect her mental health throughout her life.  

Something to Look Forward To 

Positive anticipation can be a powerful mood booster and motivator. Whether it’s an upcoming camping trip, a fascinating guest speaker, or a chance to connect with friends in person or over zoom, brains are happier and healthier when we can imagine good things happening. As therapist Kimberly Diggles notes, “We know anticipating something positive actually helps to maintain dopamine levels in your brain. Just the very idea of anticipating something good can physically change your brain chemistry so you feel happy.” 

The past few years of canceled plans and missed connections have been incredibly challenging and can make it difficult to trust that good things will happen even when they’re meticulously prepared for, The good news is that organizations like Girl Scouts are committed to making sure that girls have opportunities to connect with each other and engage with their communities no matter the circumstances.  

When girls learn that canceled plans can be just another opportunity to use their creativity and make new ones, they learn that not only do they have a supportive network of caring adults and peers to help when things get tough, but they also don’t need to wait for someone else to solve the problem. Girls Scouts are great at showing initiative and reaching their goals, and with so many adventures ahead, she’ll always have something to look forward to! 

What’s next: 

  • Give your troop something fun to look forward to and sign up for a cool program for their age-level! 

Molly Conway—Molly Conway is a writer living in rural Kentucky. She has been published by (Man) Repeller, The Forward, Sojourners, Grateful, and USA Today. When she’s not writing, Molly can usually be found fixing up an old farmhouse with her husband, working in the garden, or exploring the woods with her canine sidekick, Bialy.

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