Written by Ivette Moutzouris
We are living in a time which has many pressures for youth and young adults. In fact Australian statistics show that Anxiety and Depression and other related mental health conditions are at an all time high for this age group. The big question then is why is this the case especially considering that we are supposedly living in the safest time ever recorded in history.
A few theories that have been proposed relate to the changes in the way that we live, predominately the changes that have occurred because of technology. If you are an adult who grew up in the 80’s or prior you can appreciate the differences between life back then compared to now. For instance when I was a teenage I could go home after school and basically relax, be more engaged with family members and even had time for homework! When I wanted to switch off I could quite easily because I didn’t have a laptop or phone to constantly distract me and/or entertain me. I basically was able to leave school at school and work at work and didn’t feel the need to constantly socialise because there was only one phone in the house which was in a common area. The lack of privacy was definitely a deterrent!
Unfortunately youth and young adults don’t really know of life without technology and they have learnt to be connected or as I call it be ‘on call’ 24/7. This has undoubtedly affected many areas in a young person’s life and has changed simple and necessary activities that maybe we used to take for granted. A few areas where I believe we have seen significant change include Sleep, coping strategies, expectations, addictions, socialising, motivation, concentration/focus.
The outcome of a negative turn in all of these areas is that teenagers and young adults are struggling to keep up and cope with life’s challenges and unfortunately may also turn to unhealthy means to ease this stress.
I believe that we need to help our youth to develop healthy lifestyle habits that include understanding how constant busyness and high expectations affect our physical and mental health as well as developing boundaries to ensure that we have a better balance in how we live.
Some immediate and basic changes that we can include in this Mental Health First Aid include monitoring Sleep patterns, exercise routine, time spent on internet, how we socialise and expectations.
SLEEP – Getting enough sleep is essential for your brain and for your mental health. When we sleep we enter into different phases of the sleep cycle and our deepest phase, which is called REM sleep has the important function of consolidating information from that day as well as processing emotional memories. This means that for us to feel alert and refreshed we need to have enough REM sleep. Studies also show that lack of sleep can make us more prone to feeling emotional because it directly impacts that emotional part of our brain, that is the AMYGDALA, and makes it essentially more reactive.
EXERCISE – Exercise plays a very important role in mental health because regular active exercise releases important chemicals into your system such as endorphins, which helps you to feel good and calmer, and exercise also increases your Serotonin levels which we also need to prevent symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is essentially why people say that exercise acts as a natural antidepressant. Another function of exercise is that it releases muscle tension that builds up over time in your body. Releasing this tension helps you to feel more relaxed and less stressed/anxious. In fact you can feel the benefits of exercise for hours after exercising and with regularity it can reduce overall anxiety levels.
EATING HABITS – cutting down on high levels of sugary foods and caffeine is also important. Caffeine and sugar stimulates the brain and the body and if you are experiencing stress and anxiety you don’t need more stimulants in your system. Cutting this down can help you to feel calm and in control which also has a positive affect on concentration and focus.
INTERNET USE – it is really important to ask yourself how much leisure time do I spend on my phone or computer. A Deloitte Mobile Consumer Survey found 18- to 24-year-old Australians check their phones up to 56 times a day and some check it more than 200 times daily,” More than 80 per cent of Australians can’t last an hour after waking before checking their phones, according to the survey of 2,000 Australians aged between 18 and 75. And half of 18 to 24-year-olds check theirs within five minutes of waking.” Clearly we have a problem. We need to switch off from our phones more often so that we are more engaged with life. Living life through screens isn’t healthy on many levels including time wasted, changing our expectations so that we are learning to get things instantly as well as the social messages we get from social media. That is that our lives need to look a certain, polished way. Another issue is of course increased access and use of pornographic sites which can affect the way that you think about others and relate to them. Technology isn’t bad but it does need to be used wisely, appropriately and not continuously.
Taking care of ourselves is important so that we can feel good and when life isn’t perfect we have the capacity to cope and become resilient. If we make some of these changes and make them a priority it affects our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Ed. Dr Ramesh Manocha, 2017, Mental Wellbeing in The Digital Age: Nurturing Young Minds. Hachette Australia.
Ed. Dr Ramesh Manocha, 2017, Growing Happy, Healthy Young Minds. Hachette Australia