Category Archives: Teen

Healthy work-life balance for teens

My thoughts published in my quarterly advice column for a community magazine.

My mum says it’s important to eat healthily and to exercise and to keep a healthy work/life balance so I don’t get stressed. I however find this very challenging as there never seem to be enough time in the day to get it all in. Can you please give me some tools to help me with managing my time better so that my life will be more balanced and I can live in a healthier way.

The life of a teenager is very busy and can feel stressful.  In this case your mum is 100% right.  Eating healthily and learning how to manage your time so that you get enough sleep and exercise are life skills that you will benefit from throughout adulthood.  It is far easier to establish good habits and routines when you are young. Good time management can help you find extra time for the things that really matter.

Firstly let me explain why sleep, diet and exercise are so important for your physical and mental health. These 3 factors keep your operating system on top form.

Sleep

There is a very clear link between feeling stressed and lack of sleep. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is the seat of emotions and anxiety.  When it senses a threat it goes into fight, flight or freeze mode and when it’s tired the brain struggles to tell the difference between threat and non-threat.

During adolescence the natural sleep hormone (melatonin) is released later than in children or adults, which is why teenagers often struggle to fall asleep. Ideally you should be getting 9 hours a night.  School starts early so you really need to force yourself to get into bed at a decent time. This can be hard when there’s lots of homework and other activities happening.

Be aware that the light from screens delays the release of melatonin, so try switching to a book, music or mindfulness at least an hour before bedtime.

Diet

The gut and the brain are very closely connected and the gut is like our ‘second brain’. When the gut is unbalanced it affects your mood and stress levels. Teenagers tend to prefer fast foods but eating healthily (fruit, vegetables and less processed food) will lower stress levels.  Don’t forget that drinking water also improves your memory and helps you to think clearly. Try to avoid caffeine after 2pm.

Exercise

Any form of physical activity helps you rest and de-stress. It gives you more energy but at the same time improves the quality of your sleep.  Even 20 minutes of walking can have a real impact on your well-being, so try to incorporate extra walking into your daily routine, such as getting off 1 bus stop earlier than usual or always committing to walking up escalators and not using lifts.

How can you manage time better?

  • We often start with very good intentions but after a few days lose momentum. Positive habits are how you create real change, so start small with tiny changes and targets.  Getting into the daily routine of doing things in a certain way or order helps you work on auto pilot so you don’t have to waste time thinking what to do next.
  • Take some time (Sundays are usually best) to think about the coming week and make a list of your goals. 

Put these goals into 3 categories:

What really needs to get done (homework or revision)

What you would like to get done (less urgent)

What you want to do (perhaps exercise or seeing friends)

Try to have a real sense of how long each task takes and be a time realist as opposed to time optimist. Your overall productivity will really improve when you begin to understand how long things really take rather than how long you think they will take.

  • Use a planner, wall calendar or app to map out your weekly schedule of what you are doing when and how long for. There are so many available but it’s about finding one that works for you. Set aside time after school for homework, extracurricular activities, exercise and unstructured down time. Being organised saves a lot of time and stress. 
  • Set limits on your screen for things like social media or playing games as these activities can steal huge amounts of time without you realising it. Constant screen interruptions strain your brain and contaminate your time.  Use a timer in 30 minute intervals for any task, which prevents time passing away without too much thought.
  • It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. Break large tasks down into manageable chunks with deadlines and they won’t feel as daunting. Small steps make something big seem possible to get the ball rolling and help with procrastination.
  • Know yourself and which times of the day you function best.  Everyone goes through phases and there are times when you are really in flow and fully focused, times when attention is quite active and times when you are feeling tired. Think about all the tasks you have to do which require full focus and what you can do that’s quite easy and repetitive to complete in the time when your attention is flagging, so you can switch tasks and make use of all the different times.
  • Chunk your time to minimise constant multitasking and create periods of uninterrupted time to be with friends, family or exercise.

Time management is something that many adults struggle with and needs to be learnt. The best time to start is right now.

It’s hard but so valuable to try to spend more time on things that are not urgent but still very important. What matters more than what we are doing is how we feel about it.

Our perception of time is our reality. cked0

Teenage happiness

Dear Rachel

“I’m struggling with depression and feeling happy in my day to day life.  Please give me some helpful hints on how to create a more happy life for myself.”

For my daily work supporting parents in corporates, I have spent a lot of time reading up on the psychology of happiness be that for adults or teens.

Sadly there appears to be an ‘unhappiness’ epidemic going on and depression rates are ten times higher than they were in 1960.  The age threshold of unhappiness is also getting lower. Fifty years ago the average age for the onset of depression was 29.5 years old.  Today it is almost half at 14 years old.

The first thing teens should do is try to define and understand what ‘happiness’ means to them, as it is incredibly personal. With the pressures of school work and social expectations (worrying about what others think of you and FOMO) teens often have the mistaken belief that if you work really hard, get good grades, are in the right social crowd, have the material possessions you desire, only then will you be happy.  In fact spending your life trying to achieve in all areas, often results in us feeling stressed and sad.

It actually works the other way round.  We become more successful in all areas of life when we are happier and more positive, as opposed to thinking we will be happy once we are successful.

Some top tips to nurture happiness.

  1. I have read countless studies which conclude that social interaction is the best prescription for happiness. One of the longest running psychological studies of all times is the ‘Harvard Men Study’ following Harvard students from the late 1930s through to the present day. 70 years of evidence concluded that our relationships with people matter more than anything else in the world. In a ‘Very Happy People’ study again the one characteristic amongst the happiest 10% was the strength of their social relationships.
  2. The thing to really stress here is that social interaction means being present, making eye contact and interpreting each other’s non-verbal cues.  This is entirely different to having 1000+ followers on Instagram, 185 likes for one post or keeping up 40 daily streaks on Snapchat.  The trouble is that time with family and friends may be the first thing to go. When you are unhappy, you are far more likely to withdraw and not feel like making an effort socially.  The more social support you have, the happier you will feel.
  3. Practice gratitude. Every day write in a diary or share with your family, 3 things you are grateful for.  It could be as simple as the sun was shining, there was no fish for lunch at school or you finally grasped a hard concept in maths. The more gratitude you feel and verbalise, the more you will get into the habit of noticing what there is to be grateful for and the happier you will feel.
  4. Be aware that you and only you are responsible for your own happiness. You can’t blame others for “making” you unhappy or rely on other people or things to make you happy.  Whilst you can’t obviously control everything that happens to you, you can choose what you think and feel about the things that happen.  It is your deep thoughts that drive your feelings and in turn your actions.  If a person is pessimistic when bad things happen, they feel bad and permanently negative. Optimists see negative events as only temporary and due to outside factors.
  5. How we feel is totally dependent on our mindset. Each person’s reality is based on their perception and understanding of the world. Practice positivity.
  6. Pursue things that you really enjoy, that you are good at and are meaningful to give your life purpose.  Everyone whatever age they are needs to try and find a strength or something they are passionate about and can feel truly engaged and lose track of time.  That may be a sport, playing an instrument, volunteering, reading, cooking, doing magic tricks. Anything that gives you real pleasure.
  7. Even at difficult times with lots going on, schedule something in your diary that you can really look forward to.
  8. Any form of exercise releases endorphins and helps to improve your mood.
  9. Meditation is very popular at the moment and to be honest not something I have much experience of but I know it works for others and helps to develop the pre -frontal cortex which is the part of the brain most responsible for happiness.
  10. I love this concept of a ‘Healthy mind platter’ from Dr Dan Siegel.

Balance in all these areas is key for a healthy mind.

What is Going on in a Teenager’s Brain?

Changes in a Teenager’s Brain

Practically every book I have read recently about teenagers seems to have the word ‘brain’ somewhere in the title. Of course as a parent coach I have to be up to date on the latest research but as a mother of 2 teenagers I also have a vested interest in trying to understand the teens I am living with.

In the past, most of the changes in adolescent teens were blamed on hormones and it was thought that by the teenage years, the brain was fully developed.  90% of our understanding of how the teenage brain works has been discovered in the last 15 years since neurological scanning has been developing at an incredibly fast pace.  Science certainly wasn’t my strongest subject at school so I’m not going to get too technical but I have read some fascinating material on this subject which I will attempt to summarise.

Developments in neurological scans show that the main changes in teens are primarily due to changes in the development of the brain.  During this period, the teenage brain undergoes huge re-modelling mainly in the pre- frontal cortex/frontal lobe.

teen-brain

As a result of this re-wring phase, teens don’t always see the consequences of their actions or think ahead.

The pre frontal cortex is responsible for some major things:

teen-frontal-cortex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….and it is not fully mature until the age of 25!!!!

Other fascinating research shows that teens experience major changes in their levels of dopamine which peak and then decline when they reach adult hood. This explains an expected increase in risk-taking behaviour and why teens focus so much on seeking pleasure and reward over thinking through the consequences of their actions.

Teenagers also secrete melatonin (natural sleep hormone) up to two hours later than when they were younger so they naturally stay up later. There is often a considerable disconnection between the sleep they really need and what they actually get. A few secondary schools are beginning to acknowledge this by starting school later.  They realise teens probably function better when they don’t have to get up so early.

I know this information doesn’t actually help parents know how to handle their teens (would need to write quite a few more articles about that) but hopefully it will help parents to be a bit more understanding and dare I say it more forgiving.  Adolescents aren’t just lazy, out of control and unfocused!!!  It is a key period when they are developing their core character traits and moving from needing to be looked after to becoming more independent from their parents and perhaps leaning more on their peers.  I know it’s a scary thought!

Teenagers do often feel misunderstood by their parents, even angry and detached. As parents we want the best for them, for them to be safe and to make the right decision.  It certainly helps parents to understand what is going on under the surface.

The top books I recommend on teenagers are:

teen-book-1

 

 

 

teen-book-2

 

 

 

 

 

teen-book-3