“Where’s Your Head At?” - Stress Awareness Month
Chances are, if there’s a young person in your life - and by that, I mean someone in the age range of 13 to 25ish - you’ll have heard the word ‘stressed’ recently.
But what exactly is stress?
Well Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, designed stress as our body’s response to a threatening situation. Imagine the scene: you’re walking through a dark, deserted street when you hear someone behind you. Your heart races, you become super-alert to every sound, your body tenses. Then the footsteps pass - you’re safe. But if they hadn’t, you’d have been primed for action - those tensed muscles would have sprung into action and your escape would have been aided by the extra oxygen being pumped around your body by a heart and set of lungs in overdrive. Believe it or not, stress has a useful side - getting you out of danger.
However, if your body is constantly telling you that you’re under threat when you’re not - so, in other words, your heart is pounding erratically at all hours of the day, you’re finding it difficult to concentrate, you can’t make decisions, you’re anxious and tearful, the list goes on - then stress has turned from friend to foe. The key word here is ‘constant’ - so, you often feel this way, or you feel this way when there’s no logical reason to do so.
Young people are more prone to stress than any other age group and the stats are, quite frankly, pretty depressing. Conservative studies have shown that 1 in 10 young people will experience a clinically diagnosable mental health issue. In 2017, the Guardian reported that the number of girls admitted to hospital because of self-harm had risen by 68% over the last decade. Boys aren’t immune either - although fewer boys are diagnosed with stress, anxiety and depression than girls, deaths due to suicide are overwhelmingly a male phenomenon (78% male as opposed to 22% female). Everyone from Zoella to Prince Harry has spoken out about anxiety and depression - those close pals of stress - and it appears the stigma is changing - finally! - but our old pal Stress himself is here to stay, it seems - at least for the forseeable.
So with April designated as Stress Awareness Month and exam season approaching, it seems timely to offer a few tips for keeping the young person or people in your life calm and collected:
Make sure they feel in control. Space out their learning with a thoughtfully-compiled revision timetable and maximise opportunities to ‘mix up’ revision activities and make the process fun - so weaving in watching YouTube videos, making colourful cue cards and writing quizzes and testing their friends along with more conventional activities such as completing past papers is a great idea.
Encourage downtime, and make sure they get enough sleep. All work and no play...you know you the rest. Build downtime into their revision timetable - it’s just as important as study time - and make sure they don’t have access to their phone at night. You’re not being a killjoy - artificial light from a phone disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, so ‘just replying quickly’ to a friend’s text or social media post can actually stop them dropping off to sleep for an hour or more. The Headspace app offers great 10 minute meditations to help soothe anxious feelings and provide a bit of a break from study - during the day and early evening only, though!
Similarly to the above, try to get them to exercise during exam season - even a brief, pacy walk each day will do wonders for their concentration and frame of mind.
Talk to them. Try to encourage them to talk about their concerns and listens. Offer advice if needed, or just be a sounding board. Emphasise how normal it is to feel stressed about exams, and point out some facts that may help to contradict some of their negative feelings, so for example the hours they’ve spent studying or the number of sample questions they’ve completed on a tricky topic.
Rewards. No, don’t promise a tenner for every A grade, but small, meaningful rewards such as cooking their favourite dinner, giving them control over the TV remote or working towards a bigger reward e.g. a Friday night cinema trip if they’ve met all of their targets, can work wonders.
Here at The Happy Place Project, we’re working hard to combat the negative effects of mental health issues by providing young people with a creative outlet for their emotions.
Thank you for all the support for The Happy Place Project, standing up against bullying and raising awareness of mental health issues.
You can pledge your support here: https://www.gofundme.com/TheHappyPlaceProject