Exams, assignment submissions, work stress and parental conflicts are some of the external challenges experienced during youth and adolescent phases in life. While some may look at it as a matter of being organised, living the life of a youth is much more than these involvements. It is that stage in life where you feel the urge to explore the world, read a good book, take time off to nap and eat as much as you want. But in a changing, competitive world these behaviours have been replaced with formalities. Hence with underlying traits of depression, stress and other issues in adolescence, this year’s World Mental Health Day focuses on ‘Youth and mental health in a changing world.’ In view of this significant day, the Mirror Health Capsule spoke to Licensed Clinical Psychologist Chrishara Paranawithana who shed light on a few areas that the youth need to adjust in the long-run.
“If we are to look at the mental health of youth, we also need to look at the societal, psychological, physical and in particular the kind of brain changes that happen during adolescence,” Paranavithana said in her opening remarks. “The adolescent phase manifests traits such as impulsivity and risk-taking behaviours. Psychologists consider that adolescence is quite a tricky phase in the mental health cycle due to the
following reasons :
- Identity crisis : Here you have a tendency to question about so many things about yourself in comparison to the world. This could be about the convictions you have about sexuality, personal identities etc. This is the nature of development.
- Milestones : Facing high school exams and other milestones during this phase brings a lot of stress
- Dynamics of peers : During this phase the brain is extra-sensitive to how others view you; particularly people of the same age, whether you belong to a particular group, whether you’re considered an outlier, whether the superiors such as parents and teachers respect and accept you for who you are. Peer dynamics play an important role in elements pertaining to depression and anxiety during adolescence . One could also feel he or she is at the centre of attraction. Due to changes in physical features one may also be more conscious about the physical appearance and how the world sees you.
- Neurophysiological changes in the brain : During adolescence the emotional centres of the brain are very sensitive. This is why they feel more of the emotions and become impulsive, but your reasoning centres mature a bit later. Therefore they predominate against the reasoning and thinking process of the brain.
Improving coping skills
According to the Psychologist, when considering most adolescents who visit her clinics, she feels that it is important to develop and enhance the coping skills in youth. “With the changed dynamics of sociocultural factors and with technology taking a front seat in the life of youth, there is de-individuation from connections and relationships and also the sheer lack of time and space for personnel self -reflections ,” she added. “Therefore this will be the habituated pattern in the brain. This means that the youth may also have a tendency to lose out on the intra-personal reflection – your relationship with yourself. On the other hand you lose out on interpersonal relationships as well. So we need to encourage the youth to focus on their inner strengths and deal with situations. This is also a stage where many hormonal changes will take place and one may also develop attractions towards those of the same sex or opposite sex. At a stage like this if the youth come across various stresses, they should know their strengths as well as weaknesses. They should have an idea about their own coping mechanisms and they should also have an idea about any maladaptive coping mechanisms. We commonly find things like addiction which could be anything from addiction to technology, substance abuse, food or even pornography. Different neurodevelopmental models indicate why youth are prone to experimenting with drugs and other risk - taking behaviours. Research reflects a developmental imbalance between “top-down” cognitive control (mental control) systems and “bottom-up” incentive-reward systems. The capacity to resist temptation and urge in favour of long-term goal -directed behaviour is one major form of cognitive control. Being reflective about your own patterns is important at this stage. In addition to that, the caregivers or parents should also understand the limitations as well as the emotional dynamics the youth are experiencing. This is where self-awareness begins and you start to divert the track towards positive health behaviour change,”she added.
Exams vs. deadlines
In terms of exams and deadlines, there seems to be a lack of organization. “But we need to look at disciplining and training our brain to be more organised,” the psychologist added. “When it comes to exams and facing practical situations I see that people are not organized. People need to look at new pathways to identify their patterns and then adopt a positive routine. There is also a challenge that you get from your brain. In the brain you get the basal ganglia which is involved in procedural conditioning initially observing your patterns, consistencies, how you respond to the world, your habits etc. After some time the brain takes over and this gets habituated and conditioned. If you have a habit of doing things at the last minute or doing things in an impulsive way, getting ready one or two days before exams, you will continue this pattern. What happens is after some time your brain takes over and these behaviours become automatised as the brain creates pathways. Once you reach this stage it is difficult and challenging to break the cycle. Thus, it is important to be self-reflective and understand your own patterns. Then you need to check on the areas you need to change. Here you need to start a routine change to bring about a positive behavioural pattern where you continue doing it every day at least for one or two months.
Are you socially depressed?
Global research suggests that high levels of online activity on social media could be that a person maybe going through social depression or trying to gain acceptance. Therefore the youth needs to know whether they are utilising social media to inflate their self-concept and if so why? Is it related to esteem or is it because your friends haven’t accepted you into their circle? In turn you need to be compassionate about your own self to identify these patterns. Maybe it’s a fear of being ashamed, abundant or it could be a belief to the effect that you are useless.
The message is to focus on enhancing your inner-dynamics for well-being and training yourself to be happy within your own skin . Because the true feeling of happiness, contentment, joy, and the ability to be at ease with yourself comes from within.
“Ego says, “Once everything falls into place, I’ll feel peace”; Spirit says, “Find your peace, Then everything will fall into place”.