Teens are an incredibly stressed lot. They tell me so on surveys after school assemblies and in stress management workshops I conduct. When asked how many of them go to bed at night and lay a busy, worried and anxious head on their pillows, a good 95% say yes. Teens worry may be a product of their age. There is significant cortical brain development between 12 and the mid 20s. Perhaps their expanding capacity to see consequences and related fears comes with the price of worry. Some worry, however, is learned. I learned a thing or two about worry by watching my parents. My parents seemed to worry religiously about money and the needs of four growing daughters in spite of the fact that they were good with money and my dad was a good provider. Nonetheless, worry just seemed like the thing to do. Worry over unexpected problems or ailments; over family, friends and relatives; worry over the future; worry over the “what if’s.” I came to regard worry as a sign of concern and caring, and a guarantee I would not forget something important. If I didn’t worry about deadlines in my high school classes, or my future, my career, or what my friends thought of me, well, I felt it was downright irresponsible and lacking in compassion and sensitivity! Today, I have learned a thing or two about “worry”. It never solves a thing. It only depletes our energy and creates a heavy burden on our hearts and in our minds. Instead, I learned that teens (and adults) can benefit from a bit of Worry First Aid. This is a technique school counselors may consider for helping anxious students. [caption id="attachment_668" align="alignleft" width="172" caption="Teenage girl absorbed in worry"][/caption] Worry First Aid is giving oneself permission to worry for a solid half-hour at a set time each day. For teens, maybe 3:30pm to 4:00pm works well or how about 6:30pm to 7:00pm before doing homework so that they are better prepared to relax at bed time. For me, 6:00am to 6:30am upon waking works well to confront the niggly-piggly worries I’ve woken up with. Address them right away and put them to rest for the entire day. Three Steps of Worry First Aid for teens to follow 1. Spend your set half hour each day allowing every worry that is tucked away in the crevasses of your mind to surface and loom as large as necessary. 2. As they come in to your conscious mind, write them down in detail. Keep a tablet of paper handy so you can capture them all. 3. At the end of the half hour, tell yourself THAT’S IT, TIME’S UP! Do NOT allow your mind to: • Rehash the details of a worry • Analyze repeatedly all the potentially bad outcomes • Obsess on blaming yourself or others over a worry Why does this work for teens? For teens to put their worries down on paper gives their brain permission to let it go until the next day’s scheduled half hour worry-fest. Once on paper, their brain no longer has to worry about forgetting an important worry! It’s there on paper to remind them. Teens greatly appreciate this approach. • It acknowledges that they do have concerns and that they are not bad for worrying, just human. • It gives them some control over an anxious mind. • Worry First Aid can help teens as well as adults to practice mental discipline without ignoring the real feelings and or invalidating a legitimate concern. An example of teens with a serious worry: After a recent school assembly, two high school girls approached me at and shared that they were very worried about a girlfriend choosing to drink, do drugs and sleep with adult men. These two teenage girls were deeply concerned over how to stop their friend from her dangerous and destructive choices. I acknowledged their legitimate concern and gave them credit for being such caring friends. Then we looked at how to deal with the problem in a way that would relieve the worry. For these teens, it helped to understand that they were dealing with more than a friend with a bad attitude. Their friend was also mired in issues around alcohol and drug abuse, problems over which they were powerless. We discussed options for sharing with her that they care about her very much and are concerned about her behaviors, though her likely response would be to brush them off. I suggested that real friends would let her know that they care very much about her but choose not to hang with her when she is drunk or loaded; letting her know that it is too disturbing to them. These two teens grasped that they would be enabling their friend to drink and do drugs without facing the consequences if continued to look after her when she was on a rampage. Naturally, they should keep her from driving if drunk or loaded and, as true friends, call the police to stop her should she succeed in getting behind the wheel of a car while drunk or high. They were relieved to hear that they do not cause their friend to drink, they cannot control it, and they do not have the power to cure it. They can pray for her, encourage her to get help, even offer to go with her to see the counselor. Unfortunately, part of the girl’s problems came from living with a mother and father who were both problem drinkers and drug users, as well. Their friend was living what she’d learned and acting out the family legacy of fear, loss and genetic propensity for addiction. Finally, I gave the two caring friends a prescription for Worry First Aid to cope with their own fears for their friend in the future: “When you see her negative behaviors, your fear and worry will more than likely return. When it does: 1. Write down the fears and sadness that grab at your heart. 2. Remind yourself repeatedly that you are powerless over her choices. 3. Instruct your mind to set aside the worries until later in the day when you will allow yourself a full half hour to write about it, pray about it, then let it go. Both appreciated adding a spiritual approach of “letting go and letting God” handle their fears until tomorrow’s Worry First Aid session or some later date when the fears and feelings reappear. Worry does not have to claim the lives of our children or our own. Put it where it belongs, into “a mustard seed of faith” and out of sight on paper so it can be put out of mind… at least until tomorrow’s Worry First Aid. (Susie Vanderlip and husband Dr. Ken Vanderlip specialize in stress management resources and workshops for youth and adults -- de-stressforsuccess.com)
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