(CNN)During these turbulent times, the stress on families is palpable. Parents and children alike are feeling understandably anxious about their futures.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health concerns in the United States. And because long-term exposure to stressful events contributes to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder, it's important to avoid letting anxiety persist unchecked, especially in children.
Thankfully, families can proactively leverage science-backed ways to ease anxiousness and restore a sense of connection and joyfulness at home. When family members spend time together, actively engaged in the anxiety-relieving activities mentioned below, they also strengthen their bonds, create opportunities for open dialogue, increase feelings of joy and generate a sense of consistency, all much-needed benefits during this time of heightened stress and uncertainty.
Here are four ways to get started.
Start a daily gratitude practice
Studies abound on the stress-busting, mood-boosting, and, even, sleep-improving benefits of practicing gratitude. Research shows that people who participate in activities that foster a sense of gratitude experience an immediate increase in feelings of happiness and decrease in negative emotions; however, without consistency, the positive effects dissipate over time.
Families can cultivate a consistent attitude of gratitude by incorporating giving thanks into shared daily routines. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, like family members verbally expressing something they're grateful for during family meals or using some form of communal gratitude jar, whiteboard or journal.
In our family, we recently established a shared gratitude chalkboard wall, where we each write one thing we're grateful for daily. It's a feel-good activity that not only reminds us of all the positives in our lives, but, as a parent, I find it provides insight into my son's focus and values, enabling me to relate to him in a more meaningful manner.
Practicing gratitude also offers a means for parents to strengthen their bonds with each other. A 2010 study of couples in committed relationships found that gratitude for everyday gestures increased their relationship connection and satisfaction.
As I mentioned many years ago in a piece I did specifically on everyday gratitude practices, my husband and I keep our own gratitude white board in our master bathroom. Nightly, we each write things we're grateful for relative to one another.
Break out the crayons and art supplies
There's a reason child psychologists encourage children to express their feelings through drawings, teachers use coloring activities to conquer pre-test jitters and some dentists use coloring before appointments to ease dental anxiety. The anxiety-busting benefits of artistic expression are undeniable.
You've likely witnessed a child's care-free concentration when coloring, and the pride they exude when showing off their completed works of art. Maybe you remember that relaxed, confidence-building feeling from your own childhood.
But coloring isn't just for kids!
Over the past decade, emerging research supports art-making's therapeutic value for people of all ages, showing that it can significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and has the potential to alleviate anxiousness, facilitate focus, and increase mindfulness.
Although much of the latest research focuses on coloring, therapeutic benefits have been shown with many types of art making, so don't limit yourself to crayons or colored pencils. Experiment with other mediums—and don't stress over your artistic ability! It's about the creative expression, not expertise. Whether you've got skills like Rembrandt or can barely draw a stick figure, pick up your preferred art tool and start creating alongside your kids.
Foster fantasy play
Playing pretend is a natur