Remember your high school years?
THINK BACK to high school and a time when you were feeling pressured or stressed. Perhaps it was the end-of-year finals, a sporting match that mattered or your driving test. How we handled that situation is probably the same way we deal with stressful situations today. The way we managed our emotions and minds, and ultimately our stress levels at high school, set the blueprint for how we operate throughout the rest of our lives. That is, unless we learn how to reset our way of behaving and operating under pressure. For teens, this is important because if we can teach them how to deal with stress early on, not only will they sail through one of the most challenging times in their lives, but they will have a strong mechanism in place for facing anything that life brings.
How teens handle stress
Most teens handle stress in one of two ways: either the pressure and stress builds up to the point where it impacts their ability to think and act on a day-to-day basis, or they learn how to handle the stress and keep going and performing with the stress.
Stress isn’t necessarily bad, because you can channel it into performance and produce results. It’s chronic stress or constant stress, combined with a lack of tools to deal with it, that leads to problems and illness.
Take Leylah, a 15-year-old ballet dancer who reached the British dancing finals. Did she feel stressed leading up to the big day? Did she feel pressured to perform well? Yes, she did, but over years of practice, Leylah had learned how to perform and function well under stress. When she walked on to the stage, she had complete control over the stress and any reactions it may cause. She danced flawlessly and wowed the judges and her audience.
On the other hand, Henry, a 17-year-old boy taking his HSC exam was feeling so stressed after months of tests, revision and the pressure to get a good grade, that he didn’t sleep well, had anxiety and easily got upset and angry. When exam time arrived, the pressure was high and he had trouble concentrating. This impacted his ability to think clearly and as a result, he didn’t do his best. In an extreme case, Henry may even walk out.
Teens are being bombarded with pressure, and ‘stress’ is a common word in teenage language. It is a part of life for many teens and, for some, will stop them from performing well and being the best they can be. Tools for how to handle school and social pressure are essential. But what if there was a way to perform and operate without being stressed at all? What if there was a third option for learning how to perform without holding onto any stress?
What we are not teaching our teens is how to perform under pressure without getting stressed. This is a new option that will lead to clear thinking, good judgment and success while remaining calm and happy. Imagine if every teen lived their final school year being happy, calm and successful.
Practical tools to reduce stress
One of the best techniques is the STRESS method. Teach it to the teens in your life and, even better, practice it with them to eliminate stress while leading a highly rewarding and happy life.
STOP STRESS IN ITS TRACKS
As soon as you notice you are getting stressed, immediately stop what you are doing. You may notice you are having an emotional reaction such as getting upset or angry. Some teens will shout to release pressure and others cry it out. Physical symptoms are also a good clue: headaches, shaking, tense necks and shoulders, tummy upsets or anxiety are all common.
2. Time out
Take a breath and hit the pause button. A calming breathing exercise is helpful at this stage to create a moment to allow yourself to separate from the thought or feeling that has arisen. Square breathing is very effective for this and can be done anywhere, anytime.
Rethink or relook at the situation from a proactive, logical approach, rather than from the automatic reaction that has probably triggered the stress.
Have some compassion for yourself and don’t beat yourself up. Tell yourself you are doing great.
Alter your physical state, and your mental and emotional state will follow.
6. Start again
Restart the activity stress-free and with a happy, calm, clear mind.
Let’s see how this works in practice. Your teacher says, “Maths pop quiz!” and your automatic reaction is, “I’m not ready, I will fail, I don’t know enough.” Your tummy and jaw tightens and you feel sick. As soon as you notice your stress levels have risen, instantly press the stop button, sit back in your chair, close your eyes if you need to, and breathe. Imagine a square in front of you and breathe in to the count of four up one side of the square, hold the breath in to the count of four across, breathe out to the count of four down the other side and hold the breath out to the count of four across. Then, take another look at the situation. This is the moment to realise that you’ve come to a conclusion before you even know what is on the test. Look logically at what you do know, how much work you’ve done, and understand that you are making up conclusions that are not real. Tell yourself, “No matter what happens on the test, I’ll be fine.” Put a big smile on your face, let the stress go, and pick up your pen ready to go.
Next time you are feeling stressed think, “Stop.” Take timeout to rethink, empathise with yourself and how you are feeling, put a big smile on your face and start again. Then teach the teens in your life this simple, mindful practice to relieve stress and anxiety and move forward with ease and grace.
About the author:
With 20 years of experience, Loraine Rushton is a leading authority on yoga for children and teens. Worldwide, she has trained thousands of people how to teach children’s yoga in a way that is educational, meaningful and fun. For more about Loraine and her offerings, see www.zenergyyoga.com