Urgent need to transform stress for teens
With so much at stake in the final years of high school it is understandable that our teens are feeling heightened levels of anxiety and are very stressed. If we don’t urgently help them to transform their stress, catastrophic events could be the unexpected result.
I have been doing some reading about the stress our teens experience and especially matrics, and am really saddened by what I found. Some of the low lights include:
“I could barely breathe, I expected so much of myself and had so much external pressure to perform well that I sometimes wondered how I was going to get through each day.”
“I was so stressed I knew I wasn’t functioning properly. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate, and my eating was terrible”From SADAG
Rise in teen suicide attributed to bullying (SABC news, 21/10/2016)
At a recent teachers principal and teachers gathering, the ramifications of bullying came in to the spotlight. Children and Teen Life Skills Coach Tracey-Leigh Kinsey stated that victims of bullying become depressed. She said that every part of their life is impacted: they don’t want to learn, they don’t have energy to put in any effort and don’t want to go to school. This results in them doing badly at school and then feeling that they are not good enough. As a result: “A lot of kids lately have actually turned to suicide and have taken their own lives as a result of bullying. We’ve seen a huge increase in depression rates particularly in teens and specifically as a result of bullying.”
Nearly 10% of teenage deaths in SA are by suicide (ENCA, 9/11/ 2015)
There is a misconceived idea that Matric exam results increase teen suicides, the fact is that there are suicides all year long, not only spiking after results are released. Nearly 1 in 5 South African teens have attempted suicide. The most common contributing factors include family problems, relationship issues, depression, learning difficulties or death of a loved one.
SADAG have noted that the suicide rate for children aged 10-14 years old has more than doubled over the last 15 years. While some suicides may occur without any outward warning, most do not.
It’s not all Doom and Gloom
Yes, these stories are scary, but parents or friends of teens who may be having a rough time, can help make a difference.
SADAG operations director Cassey Chambers has urged parents and guardians to “act immediately” if they suspect a child may be contemplating suicide. The most effective way to prevent suicide is to learn to recognise the signs of someone at risk, take these signs seriously and know how to adequately respond to them.
Common Warning Signs
- Sudden behaviour change
- change in eating patterns
- change in sleeping patterns
- unusual preoccupation with death and moodiness
Self Awareness and Self Regulation
If we pay more attention to how we feel about things. Weather it be bullies, exams or relationships that is causing the overwhelm, if we understand how our emotions impact us and if we learn how to self regulate and build resilience, we can avoid reaching that breaking point.
We all experience anxiety from time to time, it is normal. But chronic anxiety can negatively impact our quality of life. It is a mental health disorder that can also have serious consequences for physical health.
Below are physical symptoms of anxiety which are all reactions the majority of teens may be experiencing during many major events in their lives, especially exams or being bullied. If a teen is experiencing anxiety from a factor outside of school, then it will more than likely be impacting their ability to perform within school as well.
- a pounding heartbeat
- breathing faster and shallower
- heart palpitations (irregular heartbeat)
- feeling nauseous
- chest pains
- loss of appetite
- feeling faint
- “butterflies” in your tummy
These are all reactions the majority of teens will be experiencing during many major events in their lives, especially exams. If a teen is experiencing anxiety from a factor outside of school, then it will more than likely be impacting their ability to perform within school.
Transforming Stress for Teens
I truly believe that if we learn to be more in control of our anxieties, then we will be able to feel more positive about the events around us, we will be able to operate better and just feel great in general. I have seen it first hand for myself.
Below is the very first simple technique that HeartMath teaches when helping to transform any feelings of anxiety, anger, frustration or disengagement that are causing stress.
Doing this technique when you feeling any of the physical responses above (which are all related to some overwhelming emotion) can transform your response emotionally, physically and mentally in a big way.
Heart Focused Breathing ®
The very first step to help calm down the body’s nervous system and to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety is to do conscious focused breathing, such as Heart Focused Breathing ®.
This technique is very effective as it calms down our automatic stress reaction to an event. It does this by interrupting your body’s mechanical stress response by consciously getting your nervous system in sync. When our nervous system is in sync, we have more coherent heart rhythms which significantly improves our mental capacity, we feel less angst and more in control.
It is a simple technique, combining the simple act of focusing on the heart area with a deeper level of breathing. This helps draw energy away from your distressed thoughts and feelings.
Focus your attention in the area of the heart.
Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area,
breathing a little slower and deeper than usual.
Suggestion: Inhale 5 seconds, exhale 5 seconds (or whatever rhythm is comfortable).
After reading this, stop for a moment and genuinely try it for a full minute.
You should be feeling a sense of calm and focus (if you feel a little sleepy, then try make sure that you get a good nights sleep tonight as your body is asking for it!!).
If you are a parent reading this, try this technique and see the difference it makes to your day. Especially in the events that cause you the most “stress”.
Also, make sure you print this out for your children and let them try. It will make a big difference to their day at school, while in class, studying and writing exams.
If you are a student reading this, don’t take this information lightly, it is a skill that could really help you more than you know. Self regulation is a skill that can take you from ok to brilliant!
Heart-Focused Breathing is an on-the-go technique, meaning you don’t have to stop what you’re doing and close your eyes to do it. Practice doing it with your eyes open! Also, try doing Heart-Focused Breathing at different times during the day and see what you notice.
Self Regulation and Heart Focused Breathing can help you go…
Resources & other interesting reading (alphabetical)
- Do 23 teenagers commit suicide every day in South Africa?
- FACTS about Teen Suicide
- Matric pupil commits suicide
- Matric teenage suicides a myth (interesting title, as the article goes on to say teen suicides still occur)
- Matrics urged not to stress about results
- Mom finds matric daughter hanged in classroom
- Must Matric be so Miserable – Press Release
- Nearly 10% of teenage deaths in SA are by suicide
- Rise in teen suicide attributed to bullying
- Rise in teen suicide attributed to bullying
- SADAG decries high teen suicide rate
- Stress of matric exams takes its toll – on moms
- Stress, anxiety and depression
- Teenager commits suicide after failing matric
- Top 10 Facts about Teen Suicide in South Africa
Thank you to Alan Strydom for your assistance in collecting the resources.