By Ashley Paige
Here’s something you already know: Adolescence is hard. There are the outward changes that are tough to grapple with, like a body changing at a head-spinning pace. And then there are the intricacies of a teenager’s psyche — which, until recently, was depicted by the mass media as being eye-rollingly incomprehensible.
Paradoxically, the “ugh, teens are SO elusive” stereotype was traditionally paired with variants of a watered down version of puberty. Seriously, check out just about any teen movie from the previous century. Lots of them feature cliques of an all-too familiar tune, including the middle-of-the-road 16-year-old who’s rebellious, moody, obsessed with boys, and hates her parents just because.
But, alas, times have changed — and just in time for the back-to-school season. We’re now keenly aware of the issues adolescents are jockeying in their everyday lives. Thanks to fresh media like the film Eighth Grade, we’re ready to give up the tropes and work on understanding the nuances of modern adolescence. Because in the age of the internet, teens are aware, resourceful, and yes — complicated.
“I think a lot of what anxiety is, is it overwhelms you, but once you put a name to it, you can start learning how to fix it,” she says. Fisher now has a few different methods to ease her anxiety, including using the Stop, Breathe & Think app, which “helps you identify the emotions you’re feeling” with mindfulness and mediation. Read more about Elsie Fisher & Stop, Breathe & Think on people.com
“By puberty, your child is undergoing rapid physical changes as well as changes in cognitive development,” says Dr. Lea Lis, a child psychiatrist based in New York and author of the upcoming book The New Normal.
“During this phase of adolescence, [kids] are figuring out what kind of adult they want to become,” she says. “In middle school, social networks become even more important to the child’s life and can have intense emotional impact. Your child may develop ‘crushes’ or show increased interest in romantic situations. Some kids begin using social media and form tighter, more exclusionary groups.”
Lis says the competition to be in and maintain peer groups is intensely felt. Even a milder form of bullying — think “mean girl drama” — can be soul-crushing. This along with pressure from social media to appear as the best version of themselves can lead to feelings of inadequacy in teens. And it’s not the only burden they’re confronting.
“The pressure to get into a good college with increasing applicant pools due to a growing population and greater competition from international candidates have left high school students feeling the squeeze,” says Lis. “They need to maintain great grades, great SAT scores, AP classes, and being all around good at everything. I have seen the amount of sleep that teens get plummet in favor of other pursuits, and this has led to a large spike in anxiety and depression. Their bodies are growing and changing; they need sleep.”
So how do we tackle the issues? Individually, mindfulness techniques may prove life-saving. These activities are designed to assist teens in managing their emotions, facing adversities, and developing the type of positive self-image that underlies a healthy adult life. This boils down to understanding the inner voice that lives inside all of us.
“The first step is becoming aware of and naming the emotions you feel” says Jamie Price, wellness expert and co-founder of the award winning app Stop, Breathe & Think. “Often, naming an emotion can create a little space and perspective, lessening it’s intensity. Then you can start to work with the counterproductive storylines around those emotions.”
Over the past eighteen years of teaching mindfulness, Price says that one of the most common issues among teens is that think they think they’re alone in their feelings. “I often hear things like ‘No one will understand,’ and ‘If I talk about what I’m going through I will be judged.’ For this, Price recommends compassion based exercises that foster a sense of connection. For example “Just Like Me,” and “Be Your Inner Ally” which can be found within our app, Stop, Breathe & Think. They’re excellent for helping teens overcome feelings of isolation and the development of positive self-image.
As teens head back to school, mindfulness can be of great help as they navigate the academic and social landscapes ahead. These 4 mindfulness techniques can be particularly useful.
1. Check-in. Developing self-awareness is one of the first steps toward managing tough emotions, and checking in regularly with how you feel will help you do that. In the Stop, Breathe & think app, you can select up to 5 emotions and the app will recommend a list of activities tailored whatever you’re feeling.
2. Breathe. When faced with anxiety-provoking situations like taking a test, performing, or competitive sports, try a controlled breathing technique like Square Breathing to quickly calm your body and mind. It’s easy. Just breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, and repeat for at least 10 breaths. For more help with this, take a crack at the “Focus” setting in the Breathing Timer section of our app.
3. Take a Chill Pill. When you want to de-stress and re-charge “Chill Pill Two” will help to shift your nervous system into rest mode. By relaxing each muscle in your body and allowing yourself to let go and just be, you’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief.
4. Listen to a guided meditation for sleep. The “Falling Asleep” meditation is the most popular in our app. It will help you step out of the swirl of thoughts that can keep you awake and relax into warm feelings as you drift into sleep.