This week I thought it time I wrote about emotional health, not only because it is national child mental health week and safer internet day this week, but also as our young people seem to have found themselves in a highly pressured and changing education system. I also don’t think there are many of us parents out there not concerned about our children’s emotional wellbeing. In my role as an educator, I attend and participate in mental health conferences, prepare resources and talk to pupils. Schools want to help young people and staff, we see the students switching off due to overwhelm or breaking down into tears as the anxiety takes over. It is essential we are all prepared and that we have tools to enable us to be resilient.
Why are schools concerned?
In an average of 30 15-year-old pupils:
- 3 could have a mental disorder
- 10 are likely to have witnessed their parents separate
- 1 could have experienced the death of a parent
- 7 are likely to have been bullied
- 6 may be self-harming
links to obesity and perception of body image?
Many experts say that we are in the midst of a mental health crisis, and both obesity and mental health disorders account for a large proportion of world disease statistics. We know that poor mental health is strongly associated with obesity in teenagers and adults, and maybe more importantly, it is a problem in those who perceive themselves to overweight and obese whether they are or not (NOO, 2011). Of course there multiple factors in poor mental health and in this article I am appealing to general emotional wellbeing and resilience. Although, this particular evidence indicates that we need to be focusing on improving body image, self-esteem and supporting healthy nutritious eating from a young age.
What do we do?
The truth is fear, stress, anxiety it is all part of life and always has been. However, so many things contribute to poor emotional health the major one being low self-worth, as well as a lack of sleep, isolation from friends and peers and poor diet contributing greatly to exacerbating the feelings of not being able to cope. And so what do we do?
I have been asked to prepare an assembly for the year 11 cohort, the same year group as my own daughter, who is coping pretty well I might add, although she has had her moments. What will I say to these students who have already displayed symptoms of great anxiety and some actually breaking down in tears after they didn’t achieve the perfection they wanted from their mock results? Bless them, some are really feeling the pressure! Firstly, I will tell them that stress is a normal human experience. I think that sometimes young people are having these new sensations and feel that they are alone, and the only one to have gone through these uncomfortable or painful experiences. I will also share with them evidence and case studies to show that learning and reaching out of your comfort zone is scary, but is the only way to grow and experience real joy, fulfilment and happiness. We will then discuss how it is essential to build in strategies that work for each of them.
Stoicism, meaning and resilience
If you have ever read anything from the stoics ‘meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius or Ryan Holidays book ‘The obstacle is the way’ or even Victor Frankle’s ‘Mans search for meaning’. These are unbelievable stories of harrowing experiences and how having hope, faith and belief is essential in developing resilience. Of course, what most of us and our children are going through is nowhere near what was going on in these true life situations from the past. But we can learn so much from these writings. We can also understand that our mental health is something we have to action on, it is not something that just happens.
“No-one can give wellbeing to you. It’s you who has to take action,”
We can do this ourselves, many of us have been taught by own parents, friends or even from our own studies to understand some or all of the steps to wellbeing. Being the role models and taking care of our own emotional health and cultivating resilience can flow over and help us support our children. If you are prone to feelings of sadness or melancholy, have an action plan and eat nutrient dense foods. The following are the 5 steps to wellbeing as provided by the NHS:
We know that when we spend time with friends and family, laughing, bonding and having fun, this promotes our feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Encourage time at least once a week where you spend time as a family, this could be walking together, participating in an activity, cooking a meal together and sitting down to talk. There is evidence that children are better communicators and are generally happier when they have the opportunity to sit sown and share a meal with one or two parents. Connecting is one thing that teenagers can start to resist when feeling under stress and so having a planned activity that happens each week can help.
It is very common now for a doctor to prescribe exercise for those feeling depressed or anxious and for very good reason. The best remedy for feelings of overwhelm or when the black cloud starts to descend is to get out and do something, this could be walking, jogging, swimming, cycling or whatever activity work for you. My daughters and I exercise together a few times a week which helps us all and supports connection at the same time.
Learning new skills and reaching out of one’s comfort zone promotes confidence and so it may be that you start a new hobby, learn a language, cooking or a musical instrument or anything that appeals. Young people are constantly learning, however usually in year 11 they are constantly going over the same material to hone their memories in order to pass a test, and so the joy of learning something new can be lost and also learning can become something to be despised. It may be that they become involved in an activity such as yoga or cooking which doesn’t take up a large amount of time but means they can learn or practise something they enjoy. Alternatively encourage them to keep up a hobby they already enjoy, as sometimes the pressure to keep working and ignore something they enjoy (e.g. musical instrument or sport) can be detrimental to their wellbeing.
4.Give to others
Giving always helps you feel good and establishes a feeling that we matter to society, that we have ‘meaning’. I find that if I am feeling down or being too much in my own head and worrying, doing something for someone else or giving a gift helps. Smiling at others and saying thank you, helping a neighbour or colleague or giving to charity. Whatever the act, showing that contribution promotes emotional health and wellbeing will rub off on your children.
Being in the present moments means you are not worrying about past or future, you are thinking about and enjoying right now. I love to meditate and listen to a guided meditation each morning as well as breathing techniques, these I see as essential to my own health and wellbeing. These to me are strategies that help keep me in a positive state of mind. I also use journalling and affirmations as part of my daily routine to stay positive and mindful. Your mind is so powerful it can convince you of anything. Being aware of this is very powerful. Many local authorities provide subsidised mindfulness courses, or you can learn to meditate through courses online or Buddhist centres or join a yoga class. Yoga is a wonderfully mindful activity, in which you will learn breaking techniques and guided meditations. Guided meditations are good for young people (You tube), or take them through a few deep breaths in times of anxiety, it always works to calm.
I hope this post has helped you see things in a more positive light if you have any questions or I can help you further please contact me or comment below.
much love and light,
References and links
National Obesity Observatory, NHS, 2011 Obesity and Health
NHS, 5 steps to wellbeing