Out of the Darkness

I read in my son’s high school news publication that stress and anxiety are a reality that today’s students have to face.

Admittedly, it’s been a “few years” since I was in high school. But I remember that time in my life fairly well. I remember feeling “stressed out” on occasion when Judy Lebryk slammed us with a paper, or when my chem experiment had 98% error Again, or when I’d prep for Mr Ellis’ Algebra tests (math was hard!). I remember my brother’s Commodore 64 crashing at Midnight while he was finishing a paper and the drama that followed. And I recall a LOT of homework and hours spent studying — as well as some frustration over grades and general High School angst. But … I don’t remember “Anxiety.”

Furthermore, I don’t recall discussing “Anxiety” with my friends. Heck, if I’m honest, I don’t think I heard the word “Anxiety” until about 10 years ago when I ran smack dab into it. And, I definitely wasn’t in high school at that time.

So, it more than concerns me to learn that according to the American Psychological Association, 48.7% of college students around the country seeks counseling from anxiety-related mental health concerns. In fact, the American Institute of Stress (heck, I didn’t even know there was such a thing) reports that 3 out of 4 doctor visits are stress related.

This article informed me that high school counselors have noted an escalation in stress and anxiety in recent years. And that got me wondering … why IS that? Why is Anxiety running rampant in our high school students … and in our world?

I have my theories, most of them related to the intensifying pace we accept as “normal” and the constant technological and informational bombardment we experience.

We go go go. I go pretty fast myself, from my day job to schlepping a kid somewhere to making dinner to a meeting for my second job to grabbing time with a friend. I juggle house work with work work and emails and messages and keeping track of my kids’ schedules and projects. At times my heart races. And I don’t have to worry about my “future” or which college will let me in. Today’s teens manage a lot more than I ever did.

I’ll date myself when I say I remember the 1 a.m. playing of the Star Spangled Banner and the “white noise” that followed. At that time, TV and all electronic stimuli turned Off. Something that few can say happens anymore. We are perpetually bombarded with light and sound from our cell phones. We spend our days not writing paper memos but starring at a flashing cursor and furiously typing.

I organize events in my “day job.” And I organize my kids events … and my personal activities in my “off hours.” I run between my Chamber job and my Water Works job as well as yoga classes and rehearsal schedules. I have a Google Calendar on-line so I can keep up with not only what I have planned but my son’s film projects and social outings, my husband’s social, Scout and theatre commitments, as well as my daughter’s ballet classes, student council and girl scout meetings and choir practices. Plus, I have a paper calendar to back it up, just in case.

This past weekend, I ran a big event. It’s honestly not a stressful experience — I’m very organized.  Just have lists of things to do to make it happen and run it the day of, a few fires to put out when things don’t go as planned and long, long hours. (Did I say LONG hours?) Anyway, I have to remind myself to do the “normal things” like eat 3 meals and drink water. I’ve paid the price when I didn’t take care of myself. And even when I do, I find that PTED sets in and sends me straight into the darkness.

PTED … Post Traumatic Event Disorder syndrome … is what happens after the stress of an event. I struggle with sleep and find more than a bit of Anxiety surging through my skin.  The only thing I can do is keep perspective …breathe deep, drink milk, eat Peach yogurt and bananas and — when I’m too keyed up to sleep — either read a book or watch TV til fatigue takes over and I come out of the darkness. Two days post event, I’m fine. Like nothing happened. Explaining that I’m in the throws of PTED is hard for those unafflicted.

So … Anxiety. Where is it coming from? Why are our teens so affected by it? How do we stop it? Perhaps it can’t be stopped. So … how do we Manage it?

For me … I do yoga. A lot of yoga. And Barre3. I walk and take deep breaths — and I don’t scroll Twitter, Text Messages or Facebook during that time. I drink less caffeine. I diffuse and use Young Living essential oils that support natural relief. I have a playlist to wind down with. I generally put my phone away when I get home and I spend very little time on my computer after work hours. Instead I hang out and read or binge watch episodes of Charmed or Ghost Whisperer with my daughter as we snuggle on the couch. Or I play with my cat. Some days, I meet a friend for a drink or just to hang out. Other days, I color. Or, I write … using paper and a pencil.

I unplug. And it helps. Most of the time. Sometimes the only solution is to lay low until I can come out of the darkness. Hide from the noise or demands of others. Other times it helps to talk to someone — a friend or even a therapist — about the surge of emotion and the anxiety it whips into a frenzy.  To feel the touch of a hand or the warmth of someone holding onto you until you can stop vibrating.

Sometimes there are prescriptions or medications necessary — and as Kristen Bell recently stated — there should be no stigma associated with self-care. Anxiety and the panic or depression it elicits can be paralyzing and it’s difficult to cope alone.

Our world Buzzes. And Anxiety is the pollution from that Buzzing. Breathe deep and know that you aren’t alone.

— Jenni




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