Stress, anxiousness, depression and loneliness are now even more prevalent under teens and young adults than ever before.
No one really knows the root cause, but it seems to be a perfect storm of several factors. Some experts believe teens now are being raised with unrealistic expectations. Modern media — and social media — also tells teens they should always feel good and show the “perfect” aspects of their lives. As a result, parents neglect teaching their teens the kind of coping skills they need to survive during chaotic and pressure-filled times.
Adding to these complexities is that the adolescent brain is still developing, which means a large centre of functionality within the brain has not fully matured. The parts of the brain responsible for emotion and reward develop first.
Anna Sidis, a clinical child psychologist, talks about why self-care is critical for adolescents. “The parts of the brain responsible for understanding the consequences of your behaviour – like the frontal lobes – develop much later, possibly not until 20 or 25,” she explains. “So what that means for adolescents is they’re struggling with really big emotions they haven’t had before. They might be sensitive to emotional stimuli and to nonverbal communication, and have difficulty making decisions because their frontal lobes aren’t yet developed.”
This results in teenagers making decisions that don’t make sense, or being overly impulsive and not thinking of long-term consequences of their actions. Suffice it to say, this is why making self-care activities a habit or cultivating an actual self-care practice for teenagers is so important to their overall health and well-being.
Tools for Self-Care
1. Carve out time. This is the basic pre-requisite for just about all the ways to take of yourself. You need time, and it has to be part of a daily routine. It’s not always easy to set time aside with everything going on in life, but learning to carve it into your schedule is necessary.
2. Meditation. We’ve come a long way from meditation being considered hocus pocus. Mindful meditation has proven to change the structure and function of the brain, and it’s a fabulous way to promote relaxation while reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. It can be learned in-person with an expert, or online (there are plenty of YouTube instructional videos or smartphone apps). This is something you can do anytime in any place, whenever you need it!
3. Yoga. Yoga and other types of Eastern methods of activity involve stretching, improving flexibility, connecting mind and body – all of which are helpful for stress reduction and wellness, and have been used extensively for thousands of years. The best way to learn Yoga is through a studio, but you can also do so from videos online.
4. Exercise. Working out comes in many forms. There’s training for strength, endurance, and aerobic activity (getting your heart beat up). But simply walking 3 km a day is great exercise – plus it gets you outside! Exercise not only gets you physically fit, but it’s a natural way to help decrease depression and anxiety.
5. Get some sleep. Easier said than done, but sleep deprivation is detrimental to a person’s thinking, and their physical and emotional state. Most young people need eight to nine hours of restful sleep to function at their best. It’s not easy fitting this into a schedule filled with academic, social and recreational activities, but it sure has a big payoff. Try to have as regular a sleep schedule as possible, and you’ll generally find that your “biological clock” will remember when to fall asleep and wake up.
6. Creative expression. Choose a creative outlet to convey your thoughts and feelings. This could be journaling, writing poetry, painting or drawing, doing photography, dancing, or playing music. The key here is channelling your emotional state through an art form. And, don’t strive for perfection! Simply immersing yourself in creative arts can ward off adverse thoughts and feelings.
7. Play with a pet. If you are lucky and can have a pet, there may be few better ways to foster self-care. If you have one, you know what I mean. Cuddling with a pet, taking care of them, and feeling their unconditional love is something we rarely experience on such a consistent basis.
8. Meet and communicate with friends. Research has found that meeting with peers and talking about what’s going on with you — including past events you’re still processing — prevents burnout and promotes well-being. Group connections are so important for fostering resilience and releasing chemicals in the brain that support well-being. And the activities don’t have to be just talking. Things like doing art projects together or gaming all work. And despite the pressure to have huge numbers of “friends” or “followers,” it only takes a few special friends to make a big difference in your life.
9. Appreciate nature. Research has repeatedly shown a link between being outdoors and lower levels of stress, depression and anxiety. Time in nature also helps counteract the mood disturbance caused by too much screen time.
10. Turn off smart phones (at least for part of the day). It’s hard. But really, you don’t need it on constantly, as if it’s stitched to your side. You can take a break, even for just part of the day. There may be some withdrawal or anxiety about not being right there for what you think is critical, but just stop and think. How many texts, Instagram stories or other digital communications do you need to see immediately? Very few! Once you try it, you may actually find it refreshing to have a break from the constant notifications.
11. Do something for someone else. Our brains are wired for giving. In fact, the chemicals released by the brain during the process of giving is far more rewarding than when we receive gifts.
12. Have a DIY Spa Day at Home. Teens with a busy schedule can stop and indulge in self-love by having a DIY spa day at home. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy a spa day, either. All you need are some face masks, bath bombs, bubble bath, your favourite music, diffuser with your favourite oils and voila!
Bottom line: In all times, we need ways to help maintain our ability to cope. Self-care techniques are fundamental for preventing stress before it strikes, and are fundamental for sustaining our equilibrium during hard times.
“At Wingu Academy we are a big advocate for taking the necessary self-care steps. In fact, our Wellness Hub can provide counselling and advice to both students and parents in need of encouragement and guidance,” says Ian Strydom, MD of Wingu Academy.
The content of this blog has been adapted from blogs first published at: