Who among us couldn’t use a little help to deal with our stress levels?

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image credit http://www.ashsummer.com

When I’ve asked young people what they want help with, their number one request is how to cope with daily stress. In the past handful of years I’ve personally mentored 22 teens and 16 young college-age adults in in-depth leadership programs. Teens have been asking me for help with breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness training, and time organization to deal with the pressure that they’re experiencing. Teens, like many of us, want to know how to handle life without becoming overwhelmed.

Social pressure is also, of course, a source of stress for teens since time immemorial, with new issues arising from our reliance on technology.

 

Teens want social lives and to connect with their family, yet they’ve confided in me that their communication struggles with family, friends, and in relationships have had some questioning whether they have time and energy to be close with the people into their lives- some are choosing only to see friends at school or in sports, not wanting to add more stress. Training in communication skills will help- stay tuned for the next blog post. And with teenage screen time on the rise, a growing number of teens in my life have expressed wanting help managing the screen gadgets in their lives, with rave reviews about the relief and greater human connection they felt during gadget-free weeks that we offered in our summer camp leadership experiences.

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The young people I’ve been close to have confided in me that their school lives and schedules – in high school AND college – have them stressed out nearly every single day of their lives. What is so concerning? They’re concerned about time, pressure for grades and project completion, and teen social anxiety seems to be on the rise (or perhaps we’re just learning to talk about it more). Many of the students I worked with were juniors in high school, when the pressure is on to achieve high grade point averages for college admission, on top of maintaining active portfolios of extracurricular activities that display a variety of interests and leadership potential. Although many of the teens in our camp leadership program were in the top of their classes, they were therefore competing for some of the top colleges in the country – and students in the wealthiest and highest achieving demographics can experience extra pressure from their families and schools, sometimes dangerously high.

Social pressure is also, of course, a source of stress for teens since time immemorial, with new issues arising from our reliance on technology. While the Internet has increased our access to information and instant communication, social media has added a whole new realm of stressors that most parents of teens didn’t have to deal with when they were young; the adult generation is learning alongside the youth about how to handle things like cyber bullying, sexting, feelings of exclusion from events or knowledge, online popularity (who among us doesn’t desire to be ‘liked’), and digital citizenship identity concerns about the permanency of posts associated online with your name, words, and picture. Can you imagine, as a parent or teacher, the kinds of things you said and did when you were 14 or 17 and goofing off with friends? Can you imagine if all your teenage friends had cameras and were immediately posting your pictures and quoting you? And if your parents were posting your most embarrassing pictures, too? And writing about their struggles with you in their online parenting blog for all the world to see??? It’s a new world for today’s teens, one we’re all learning how to deal with in a balanced way. Most parents and teachers are experiencing time management issues and some stress related to their screen time as well. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t say they’re “busy” when we get into a real conversation about how they’re doing, and there are whole blogs and books dedicated to simplifying, and de-glorifying ‘the culture of busy.’  

So we know that stress is a problem for teens, but what is the solution when you’re both over your head?

Adults in teens' lives need to remember that our own nutrition, exercise, self care, and screen habits are modeling appropriate behavior for the next generation...

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We need to teach teens stress-busting strategies, and healthy methods for self-soothing and coping with stress, as well as modeling these practices as adults in their lives. Far too often we can get down on teens, and develop fear about their future, if we learn that teens have turned to unhealthy strategies such as substance abuse, self injury, or overuse of screens – while the adults in their lives may be doing some of these same things. Adults in teens’ lives need to remember that our own nutrition, exercise, self care, and screen habits are modeling appropriate behavior for the next generation, and question ourselves as to whether we are feeling balanced in our relationship to stress on the daily. Mindfulness has been shown to be particularly helpful, and parents can help their teens learn and practice mindfulness. Physical exercise, mindfulness, breathing, affirmations, journaling, reading, friends, family, and time in nature were all among the top strategies that my students brainstormed as healthy strategies to alleviate stress in our middle school leadership class this past week.

In my personal experience, teens are particularly asking for meditation practices to reduce their stress. In schools, due to the secular nature of the establishment, these are being taught under the label ‘mindfulness’ in order to emphasize that the practices are not ‘spiritual’ in nature. If mindfulness is taught at your kid’s school, encourage your teen to focus and learn those exercises and to practice them at home, at school, and in any moment that they’re feeling stressed. Mindfulness trainings would be helpful, as would meditation practices, which most commonly involve breathing exercises, focus words, and visualizations. In my upcoming Teen Leadership Courses, we’ll focus the first week of every month on stress-busting meditations. Because we’re not a school organization, we’re allowed to use the term meditation and to discuss the diverse cultural and spiritual background of meditation. We are also, in our online discussion groups, able to allow teens the freedom to address the spiritual side of such an activity – I’ve found that some teens who have a religious or spiritual background like to reflect on how meditation relates to their spiritual life, and that would be an optional discussion in our private membership group. We’ll also have discussions about screens, exercise, nature, and other strategies to cope with stress. Discussing these topics with other teens is helpful for integration, and they can use the forum to support each other in challenges designed to take place out in nature, off-screen, in real life. shakti-shasta-dance-453-x-604

Our meditation teachings in the TLC program won’t be overtly spiritual or religious, as I am sensitive to the needs of non-religious families (I was raised in an atheist family myself). However, I will reference and give credit to my teachers and their philosophies in the Iyengar Yoga, Advaita Vedanta, Zen Buddhist, Reiki, and Egyptian Alchemy traditions, as well as Native American ways of life. There are rich cultural backgrounds behind the authentic roots of meditation and mindfulness practices, and I have been grateful to experience unique teachings and have powerful personal stories to share.

Share with teens about your travels, initiations, and the mentors who changed your life.

If you have a background in meditation in a particular tradition, share your stories! Share with teens about your travels, initiations, and the mentors who changed your life. Teens in my life have given me feedback that they’ve enjoyed and want to hear more of my stories to get to know me, and that these have helped inspire some of their choices as well. I also think it’s fruitful to reference the history and tradition of where practices come from in case students are interested in pursuing more teachings. In addition, we will look at modern scientific-based studies, which show increased mood, lowered stress hormone levels, and increased productivity with as little as ten minutes of simple breathing practice a day. In the TLC monthly membership program, we’ll cover stress in the first week’s video every month. Teens will be encouraged to exercise 20 minutes daily, learn a 10 minute meditation to practice daily, and have the opportunity to discuss their favorite exercises, meditations, and brainstorm strategies with other teens in the membership. Sign up for our TLC email list to stay in the loop! 

What are YOUR favorite ways to cope with stress? Feel free to share in the comments section!