BOOSTING OUR YOUNG PEOPLE’S WELLBEING BY PROMOTING SELF CARE
Knowing how to manage emotions and comfort ourselves when we are unhappy or distressed is a skill that can take a long time to learn. It takes self-perception and perseverance to find strategies that truly work, because we are always growing and evolving as human beings.
Self-care refers to activities undertaken with the intention of enhancing energy, restoring health and reducing stress. There are many ways to do this and self-care is something that can be personalised for every individual. Self-care can also be about processing emotional reactions to our life and doing things that we might find difficult, like asking for help.
Being mentally healthy and living well is important to every single one of us. It’s about enjoying life and fulfilling our potential. It’s having the ability to cope with stresses and sadness, and it’s about being connected to friends, family, community and culture.
Young people are prone to looking externally instead of looking internally, they often copy the self-care strategies of others. They may look at what their peers do, family members, other respected adults, admired celebrities and/or Instagram influencers. They can lament, wishing they were someone else, or somewhere else, instead of truly nurturing themselves and being honest about who they are and what fills them with joy.
How we self-care changes according to the stage of life that we are in. That means that self-care for a two-year-old is very different to self-care for a 12-year-old and a 30-year-old. Renegotiating what self-care looks like in each stage of your life requires a reassessment of what is working and what is not working.
As parents we can get stuck seeing our teenagers like children and not allowing them the opportunity to explore self-care strategies for themselves. We might offer them the self-care strategies that used to work for them when they were younger, like staying home to rest or going out as a family. However, dictated methods of self-care are often meet with resistance. Learning self-care strategies works better, because self-directed actions bring reward or perceived reward.
Part of our WEL (Wellbeing Engagement & Learning) program at Woodleigh, is to provide students with self-care tools to manage their daily stress and anxiety, and that complements their academic potential and goals.
At the end of last term in our Year 9 WEL program, students engaged in an afternoon of sampling different forms of “mindfulness” activities, to add to their Self-care Toolkit. This included African Drumming, Martial Art Therapy, Environmental Art Making, and Strength Postcards to their Future Self.
During adolescence, young people have to experiment and find new ways of coping.
As parents we have to be flexible in allowing this process to happen. Sometimes we are too rigid and hold on to what worked for us when they were young. We can be working with the old game book even when they have written several updated editions.
I see great value in young people participating in self-care strategies that they may not currently identify with. Families may deliberately work self-care into their family’s daily routine for everyone’s benefit. For example, setting aside time to talk, share music, cooking healthy food or exercising together. Adding self-care strategies into a family routine enables them to broaden their self-care skills and adopt strategies that may be different than their own.
The basic premise to teach young people about self-care is that our emotions and thoughts move our mind and body in all sorts of ways. By practising self-care, we can influence where they move us. The trick is pre-determining where we want to move!
Some of the benefits of self-care include:
- greater capacity to manage stress
- increased resilience
- reduced symptoms of mental health problems
Here are some strategies that young people may see benefit from intentionally trying next time they need to self-care:
Comforting – Stroking a pet, playing with a stress ball, cuddling into a soft blanket, candlelight and taking a warm bath are all things that engage the sensors and calm us down.
Creating – Colouring in, drawing, making things, writing or playing music all provide a way to regulate emotions. For some, a daily creative practice is central to their daily self-care.
Socialising – Going to the movies, helping someone else, going to a public place and hanging with people you care about.
Constructive Thinking – Balancing out the emotional brain with some logic can be really powerful.
Organising – Reorganising your room, clothes, books, photos or even building something can be so soothing for some.
Moving – The benefits of movement can’t be ignored. Exercise will help relieve stress and clear the mind if practised regularly.
Quiet Time - Young people need ‘tech free’ quiet time, just to let their mind relax, refresh and get some time out. Social media detoxes, when they chose to put their phone away for a set amount of time, are always hard for young people but life changing once they have experienced them.
Meditation - Meditation is a practised skill that can benefit young people greatly. Some people use relaxation music to purposefully empty their minds. Yoga and mindfulness are all tools that young people can use to focus their energy. Check out the Smiling Mind and Breathe apps to get going.
Central to the long-term success of our individual and collective wellbeing is continuing to move towards normalising help-seeking behaviours for ourselves and towards others. A key challenge is getting our young people, especially young men, to practise and use the wellbeing strategies in their everyday life.
Research clearly supports that teaching wellbeing improves students’ learning experiences, and I am optimistic that it contributes to shaping a new generation of young people who know how to be resilient, motivated, focused and calm.
Yours in supporting and promoting positive student wellbeing,
Director of Counselling
Acknowledgements and further reading/resources: