Start 2021 Right: Mental Health Milestones

December 31, 2020

2020 has been wrought with challenges. Nine months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in our nation and nothing has been the same since. Adolescents and teens across the United States have missed out on fundamental milestones in their development. Many missed out on graduations, prom, first dances, and perhaps most importantly, time spent in a face-to-face setting with peers. Many teens watched as high school came to a close, and they had to say goodbye to lifelong friends via zoom or FaceTime. Understandably, these unpleasant changes to their day-to-day activities and their general way of functioning has resulted in significant mental health challenges for many. The rates of depression and anxiety in teens have been rapidly rising over the course of the last year. While this is not necessarily 100% related to COVID, the restrictions in challenges imposed by the pandemic have not been helpful.

Soon, the year will come to a close and adults and teens alike will begin to make resolutions for the new year. for some, resolutions will involve things like getting more exercise or eating better. For others, they will involve essential self-care habits like trying a new hobby or spending more time with family and loved ones. Unfortunately, many resolutions are doomed to failure. Studies have shown that most (over eighty percent) of resolutions fail before the first days of February, mostly because people are either not ready to make changes or because their resolutions are too broad. Changes that teens vow to make often fail for many of the same reasons so how can your teen start 2021 off on the right foot? Caring for mental health and focusing on self-care are vital to adolescents, teens and adults alike. Our programs at Hillcrest are focused on teen mental health and teaching teens how to overcome mental health concerns while learning to practice self-care and cope with triggers and stressors. Outside of the treatment environment, there are several things your teen can do to promote mental health.

Resolve to Focus on Personal Time

Today’s teen often has a very busy schedule. Aside from academic requirements and pressure to maintain grades for future learning, many have jobs, extracurricular activities, sports, family responsibilities and social expectations. All of these expectations often combine to vastly increase stress and anxiety for many and mental health or and self-care quickly become afterthoughts. For your teen to successfully focus on mental health in the new year, it is essential to carve out a few essential minutes from their day to focus on caring for themselves. It is also important to ensure they do this on a regular basis. Randomly allowing time for self-care does not help ensure it becomes a habit. Self-care can improve physical health, mental health and overall well-being.

Resolve to Try Something New

Self-care comes in many forms. For some, it may be something as simple as listening to music or reading a book. For others, it may be taking up a new hobby or learning a new skill. Regardless of how your teen approaches self-care, it can be highly beneficial to reducing mental health difficulties in the new year.  Below are a few common self-care practices you can encourage your teen to try.

Resolve to Introduce Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness practices have been used in stress reduction for centuries. Beginning with Buddhist traditions and leading up to the developing of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) by Job Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness practices are proven self-care techniques that work for people of all ages. Yoga and meditation are two common mindfulness exercises used in various settings. Studies on mindful meditation practices have shown the technique alters the structure and function of the brain. Meditation practices also help the individual to relax, reduce anxiety and increase the connections between the body and mind. All of the above can reduce mental fatigue and help fight common teen mental health ailments including depression, stress and anxiety disorders. It is essential to note that self-care, while highly beneficial, is not a substitute for professional mental health treatment at a teen mental health facility like Hillcrest.

At Hillcrest, we can provide your teen with ways to utilize self-care in recovery from pre-existing mental health conditions. To use meditation for self-care, one does not need to attend a class or hide away in a dark room with candles and incense. A quick google search will provide multiple guided meditation videos your teen can use to experiment with the mindfulness benefits of meditation. Most of the online videos are between five and 30 minutes in length and are very easy to follow.

Another mindfulness practice that helps with not only mental but physical health is yoga. Yoga is a relaxation technique that helps reduce stress and anxiety, but it also promotes physical health by increasing flexibility and promoting stretching and exercise. While performing yoga poses, a participant considers their breath and focuses on recentering their thoughts. Like meditation, several online videos and apps are available to guide your teen through basic yoga poses.

Resolve to Exercise and Get Outside

Many teens participate in athletics in and outside of school during the “normal” school year. Because 2020 has been anything but normal, many athletics programs have been reduced or cancelled entirely leading teens who are normally quite active to struggle with maintain fitness and the mental health benefits associated with exercise and team sports. Fortunately, exercise and activity come in many forms. Even low-impact exercises like walking are highly beneficial to your teen’s mental and physical health. Creating and sticking to a regular exercise routine is an excellent self-care habit that not only promotes long-term physical health but also gets your teen outside in nature which is an excellent way to naturally reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Resolve to Disconnect and Get Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation, especially to the level which most teens experience, is detrimental to one’s physical health, mental health and cognitive abilities. Simply resolving to get a good night’s sleep is likely easier said than done for most teens today, however it is essential for adolescents and teens to get at least eight (or more) hours of sleep each night. If possible, help your teen by promoting a regular sleep schedule where they disconnect from technology and follow the same sleep/wake schedule each day. Eventually, there internal clock will help reinforce this schedule as well.

Starting the new year off right may also require disconnecting from technology. This is not to say a permanent disconnection is necessary but a few hours each day is essential to improving mental health. Smartphones and mobile technology have become essential fixtures in the lives of American’s of all ages. Teens use smartphones, iPads and laptops to complete and submit academic assignments, maintain their schedules and to keep in touch with family and friends. During 2020, likely more than ever before, online communication has become a fixture in teens lives.

However, specific elements of the online community can be detrimental to your teen’s mental health. Online apps and video communities sometimes promote negative self-image concerns and propagate other mental health issues for teens of any gender.  It is hard to disconnect however, turning off the phone (laptop, tablet or television), even for a short time can help your teen focus on something other than returning text messages, answering emails or scrolling through Snapchat. Encourage your teen to start the new year by promoting their mental health through disconnecting from the online community for a few hours each day.

Resolve to Seek Help

Pretending feelings like anger, anxiety and sadness do not exist will not make them go away. If your teen is struggling with emotions or pre-existing mental health conditions, it is essential to encourage them to seek help if they need it. If they do not feel comfortable opening up to a parent or family member, offer to arrange an appointment with their primary care provider or a mental health counselor here at Hillcrest. A counselor (or their primary care provider) is a non-biased and objective person who can listen to your teens concerns or fears and provide guidance on the best ways to address them. Therapy can provide your teen a safe space to explore their mental health while learning healthy coping strategies (such as self-care) they can use to manage stress and other mental health triggers.

One in six teens (ages ten to sixteen) lives with a mental health condition and suicide resulting from unaddressed mental health conditions is the third leading cause of death for teens between ages fifteen and nineteen. While it can be difficult to discuss caring for one’s mental health, it is an essential conversation as the consequences of ignoring it are far too steep.  As the year comes to a close and your teen begins to look towards the new year, there are many ways you as a parent or caregiver can help them focus on self-care and mental health in the months to come. If you are concerned about their mental health, or they indicate they want to talk to someone, reach out to the staff at Hillcrest. Our caring, compassionate, teen-focused staff will work with you and your teen to create a plan that addresses their mental health needs. Using traditional and alternative therapy models, your teen will learn how self-care and mindfulness can improve their mental, physical and spiritual health. They will also learn how to integrate essential coping skills such as self-care into their day-to-day routine to help cope with triggers and inevitable stressors. With the help of the team at Hillcrest, your teen can start 2021 off feeling physically healthy and mentally strong. If you would like to learn more about how the programs at Hillcrest can help your teen, contact us today.