January is Mental Health Awareness Month. Taking care of ourselves and attending to mental wellness is important for everyone. In our fast-paced, social medial based global society, adolescents appear to be greatly impacted. Globally, nearly 15% of young people ages 10-19 experience a mental health disorder, accounting for 13% of the global burden of disease in this age group. Mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people even before the COVID-19 public health emergency, with up to 20% of children ages 3 to 17 in the United States having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder.
It is important to begin a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle to maintain mental wellness for adolescents. Here are some suggestions for creating a mindful life practice.
—Stay connected to your hobbies and passions. It is a great way to express your emotions and thoughts when your young person just doesn’t feel like talking. Paint, sculpt, write lyrics, poetry, amazing rap songs, or create beautiful mosaics with magazine pictures or broken plates from Goodwill. Give them some spray paint and challenge them to create their own tag. You may even want to try gardening. When you master all of these, pick up a crochet hook and crochet an emotional support pickle.
—Get off the couch, off your phones and tablets (or at least take them with you)! Get outside. Enjoy some vitamin D fresh from the sun. Go for a walk, a bike ride, or a run. Park a distance from where you are going and walk. Play a pick-up game of basketball. Soccer is great fun and wonderful exercise. Swimming is not only a great way to cool off but it keeps us active. You can get some sun, catch up with your friends and maybe even make some new ones. Consider joining a local league of some kind, or volunteering to help coach little siblings, nieces, nephews, or cousins. You can volunteer to help a neighbor do some yard work that can’t do on their own. Try the “1,2,3 let’s go” method. Motivation can be hard. We have to strike as soon as the thought enters our mind and not give it time to pass. When a thought to do something enters your mind, say “1,2,3 let’s go” and act on it immediately. Do something to keep your body moving and active for at least 20 minutes per day.
SIT WITH UNCOMFORTABLE FEELINGS
—Most people avoid feelings that are not pleasant. They push them away, numb them out, ignore them, or mask them with other things. When teens do this, those feelings get stronger and harder to deal with. Sometimes we tend to let them out in inappropriate ways. If we sit with those feelings, allow ourselves to experience them, and deal with them, they pass more quickly. We get better at using our coping skills to deal with them too. All feelings are valid and healthily expressing them is good. Sometimes a good cry, or even a yell to the Heavens is healthy and helps us move to something more productive.
MANAGE YOUR TIME
—You are in charge of how spend your time as you age. You may not have total control yet, but you will feel much less stress if you begin to take control of what you can. Much of what causes us stress is being out of control. So use calendars, reminders in your phone, visual reminders like sticky notes, etc. to help. Create a schedule for you so you have a routine that makes things predictable. Stick to your schedule and budget your time like you would money. Time is an asset when we are trying to reduce stress, increase mental well-being, and feel in control.
—It is important that you have people in your life that will bring you or your teen up. They need to increase their interpersonal communication skills to use with family, and with professionals such as teachers, clergy, neighbors, counselors, mentors, and others. Many of the young people today are struggling with bad decisions and need to make changes in their lives. This means adding new people to the ones they surround themselves with as well. They need a lot of informal pro-social, healthy support people in their lives and not just professionals. This is another time when being involved with groups, clubs, and teams can be a lot of help. Work can be a chance to increase this support network for some people, however, challenges are present everywhere, so be vigilant.
INCREASE YOUR PRO-SOCIAL SUPPORT NETWORK
—A healthy lifestyle is key for everyone. Up your veggie intake. Drink more water, and decrease your caffeine and energy drink intake. Snack healthier. Gain strength and stretch. Keep active, remember to do something active at least 20 minutes daily.
TIME FOR TIME OUT
—Listen to your body. Check-in regularly. It is a great idea to use the reminders on smartwatches to take breaks to stretch, drink water, etc. Those moments are self-care gold. Recenter with quick breathing. Use the 4 square breathing. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts.
Protect your peace. Turn your phone to silent or turn it off for a mental break. Take a social media holiday for 24-48 hours.
Use some simple grounding techniques to help get you focused in the present moment rather than regretting the past or worrying about the what-ifs of the future. Try the 5,4,3,2,1 grounding with the senses.