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All About Town – Teenage Anxiety is Off the Charts

By Theresa Puskar

Westmont, IL – 2018-201

“Anxiety is the aspect of our fear that looks to the future, anticipating potential problems and dangers.” — Jessica Moore

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I have been teaching as a substitute for over a year now, and I am troubled by the anxiety that our teens are experiencing. Thus, this month’s All About Town column will not be a review of a local consciousness-raising event, but an exploration of this issue and potential solutions. Many of today’s teens feel overwhelmed and stressed to a breaking point. I have spoken to several who have been institutionalized for nervous breakdowns, addiction recovery or self-harming intervention. What creates promise is how honest and open they are about their history, their feelings and their experiences.

As I reflect back to my teen years, I see very little parallel with the issues they currently face. While social matters like bullying and alienation existed, we had so much more personal space. Without cellphones, laptops and the constant barrage of media interference in our psyches, there was downtime; alone time. We did not have to be “turned on and tapped in” 24/7, and ultra-responsive to all that was going on around us. For example, when a fellow student had a party that I wasn’t invited to, I was not inundated with nonstop photos, videos and texts extolling how much fun I was missing. I just did my own thing, checked in with friends who attended, griped and groaned a little, and that was that!

I also note that they are exposed to ongoing media coverage that fills their minds with repeated images of falling towers, school shootings and angry mobs. Add to that the partisan verbiage that encourages extreme positioning, violence, anger and hatred, then you see how their fear and sense of hopelessness sets in.

“Emotional Intelligence can be learned. Try it on for the size always fits, needs no return, and never wears out.” — Deborah Bravandt

While there is so much emphasis on academics in our current school system, I believe that not enough attention is given to two areas of their personal development: EQ (emotional intelligence), and creativity. So often the schools pull creative classes from the curriculum in favor of more academic subjects.

I recently took a long 10-hour drive to Toronto, Canada. As I glanced out the windows of my car, I felt deep appreciation for the changing foliage, especially the vibrant yellows, oranges and reds of the maple trees. As I was driving, I listened to an audio program that I had worked on with Dan Strutzel and the late enlightened teacher, Dr. David Hawkins. At one point in the audio, Dr. Hawkins spoke about how we could best assist our children in raising their consciousness. David said that the best thing we can do for our children is to surround them with aesthetic beauty: Read Shakespeare to them, expose them to classical music and opera, and take them for long walks in nature. As I heard this, my heart filled with deep gratitude for my parents. My mind was flooded with memories of playing in nature at the family cottage in Northern Ontario—piano, ballet and gymnastics lessons, and annual outings to the Nutcracker ballet every Christmas. Then I got a flash of our youth—an image of teens staring into their laptops while sitting in nature or sneaking glimpses of their cellphones throughout the ballet.

“All emotional intelligence begins with awareness. When we fail to notice what we’re feeling, our responses to that feeling will be habitual and automatic. But, when we identify our emotions, we can consciously choose to act on them in healthy and intelligent ways.” — Jessica Moore

So, how can this state of unrest among our youth be remedied? I believe the cure starts with awareness. Cellphone over-usage has become habitual and automatic. Our children eat, sleep and often drive with their phones wired to them. I started a calming and meditation program during school lunches that gave them a taste of the world without technology. I provided the students with some fun, introspective videos and concurrent discussions, followed by short visualizations or meditations. Several of the students showed appreciation, noting how the meditation break gave them a chance to recharge in the middle of their busy school day.

“Most meditative practices focus on the mind and becoming aware of our thoughts. By bringing this same awareness to our emotions—and then going further by consciously engaging them and uncovering the wisdom they hold—we can gain an even greater level of self-mastery. Emotional mastery comes not just from detachment, but from also allowing our emotions to fully flow, and receiving all that they have to offer us.” — Jessica Moore

There is a misconception that has been programmed into our teens that asserts, “If I work harder (i.e. I am stressed,) I will be more successful. If I am more successful, I will be happier.” However, once one goal is met, one is faced with another. With this model, the cycle of stressful success-seeking never ends. If we can assist students in functioning less through stress and more from a place of calm, focus and positivity, then their brains will experience the benefits that ultimately come from relaxation and re-framing. Statistics show that students who practice calming techniques are 31% more productive, achieve much higher grades, have better ability to memorize and are healthier both physically and mentally. Along with gaining greater peace of mind, their intelligence, creativity, ability to memorize and sense of wellbeing all improve. On average, after incorporating meditation into their regimen, sales staff note a 37% increase in their sales, and doctors are known to be 19% more accurate in their diagnoses. As most of you are likely aware, it takes at least 28 days to change a pattern. As the negative patterns decrease, the dopamine within the brain increases. Ultimately, this will assist them in quieting their minds, focusing inward and leaving the stressors associated with technology alone, even if for only 20 minutes each week.

“The truth is, there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it’s your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can’t package stress, touch it or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking.— Wayne Dyer

The students and I had many candid conversations about their struggles with anger, parental disagreements and seeing both sides of the bullying paradigm. By creating a safe place where they can enter into honest, forthright and non-judgmental dialogue is imperative. To do so, we must release our agendas and open to the wisdo

Theresa Puskar is an author, performer, speaker, minister and motivational audiobook producer. With over 25 years of experience in media and communications, she has worn many hats in the industry. She is the author of the “Terri” children’s book series, which focus on a variety of emotional and social development issues for children, ages 5 to 9. She has received accolades for her autobiographical solo show, Beauty, Bollywood and Beyond and looks forward to performing it in New York in November. A powerful inspirational speaker and transition leader, Theresa edu-tains her audiences, by touching hearts and minds in a way that is engaging, joyful and life-affirming. For more information, you can visit her website at www.TheresaPuskar.com.

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