Why are Teens so Stressed?
We've all seen the stats. Teens are under more stress than ever before. But why? What are the factors? And how can we help?
According to CAMHEE The Child and Mental Health in Europe report of 2009, 1 in 5 teens are suffering from developmental/emotional or behavioural problems; this doesn't include those who are suffering from day to day chronic stress or anxiety and who haven't yet developed a mental health disorder.
So what is the cause of all this stress? The youth of today cannot escape the barrage of commercial, academic and peer pressure. Screentime seems to be the default when teens don't have anything to do for a few minutes. It is so easy to rack up the hours to an astonishing number of hours a day, especially in the holidays. The problem with that is that any time spent on a screen is time receiving mental inputs. The brain has to filter and process all information that comes its way.
Consider how many more hours of brain homework there is to do since the invention of smartphones. “Always on” (Turkle, 2012) means always under stress.
Screentime comes at a cost to physical activity, creativity and mood regulation. Teens get used to getting what they want immediately, perhaps while barking commands at Siri. They never give themselves time to daydream and let their thoughts wander. It's addictive because it's designed to be that way. So what happens when they have to be patient? Did you know that the opposite of patience is anger? Are these the type of citizens we wish to create? Or could we create individuals who are practised in the art of conscious decision-making.
During the adolescent years, there is significant and accelerated neurological, emotional and physical change. This alone produces stress. The level of stress hormone cortisol is higher, and this affects the surge in dopamine, the "risk and reward" hormone. The level of dopamine is designed to peak during teenage years in order to open the door to independence, and to challenge the way things are done - finding new perspectives and new solutions in our world.
Chronic stress and other related issues inhibit the functioning (and indeed the development) of the prefrontal cortex which is fundamental for learning and social interaction. It also inhibits the capacity to focus on activities and decision-making.
At school, stress in girls manifests in anxiety and negative, critical self talk, while stressed boys act up, causing low level disruption in the classroom. A chronic low level of stress affects academic performance and happiness levels at school. We need to find ways to create healthy classroom environments where students respect their teachers, peers and themselves. The only way to do this is to reduce the level of cortisol, the stress hormone.
My Guidelines for Health
1. Create the expectation of daily activity and stick to it - walking, jogging, cycling, tennis, swing ball, badminton, table tennis, trampolining, yoga etc
2. Restrict screen time during the bulk of the daytime, and 2hrs before bedtime (exceptions for watching a TV episode or film together). 1 screen at a time rule; no to simultaneous laptop + smartphone activity
3. Encourage conscious screen time - do what you set out to do, not getting drawn into scrolling or spending hours on mindless watching of YouTube or boxsets. Notice the effect on your mood of different channels/YouTubers etc and watch what makes you laugh and feel good about yourself
4. Take regular brain breaks - do some art, play an instrument, help in the garden, cook a meal, see a friend, make something with your hands
5. Eat healthily* and don't diet; don't skip meals as you're more likely to crave sugar later/following day. If you want to bake, bake n share with friends/family/neighbours and get a kindness hit. *Unprocessed, tasty meals with lots of fruit, veg and water.
As a Teen Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher, I am very aware of the benefits of a regular yoga practice. If you practice yoga just once a week, your baseline level of cortisol is lower so you're better equipped to cope with whatever life throws at you. Girls who practice yoga enjoy a more positive body image and are less worried about peer pressure; I'm sure the same goes for boys. Mood regulation is enhanced, meaning you don't get angry so often and you feel more in control. Sounds good, right?
To be specific, what yoga techniques do is shift the body and mind from the “fight or flight” state of stress, to the “rest and digest” state of calm, with attendant decreases in cortisol levels and heartbeat. Neuroimaging research shows that these practices (also found to some degree in mindfulness) lead to changes in the areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and perspective taking. Moreover, the physical postures, breath regulation and relaxation techniques practised in yoga are especially relevant and effective in young people.
Weekly Teen Yoga & Mindfulness Classes start on Sat 14 September 1015-1115 in Claygate. Expect to have fun, learn new tricks and feel super relaxed. (Ideal for Duke of Edinburgh).
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.