I’m sitting here listening to a client share with me that their teenager is hurting themselves. We are only 31 days into a new year, and already I’ve heard several stories of teens struggling with anxiety, depression, and self-harm. I’m concerned. And I’m angry.
Increasingly over the last five years, I’ve heard adults and teenagers telling me that they are more anxious and depressed.
In the 10 years leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness among teens — as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors—increased by about 40% among young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. In 2019-2020, 20.78% of adults were experiencing a mental illness. .
There are many reasons why this is a growing trend, including a pandemic, lack of access to high-quality and affordable mental health services, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, bullying (online and in person), abuse, trauma, and more.
As a psychotherapist, one of my jobs is to listen. Listen to what a client says and doesn’t say. Listen beneath the story. And listen to the larger macro reality at play that impacts our individual well-being.
As a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and psychotherapist, I listen to the story of a person’s nervous system and to the story of our “collective nervous system.” And this is what I am hearing:
We do not know how to rest.
Our nervous systems – and our teens’ — our constantly pinged and dinged. We “go, go, go” — overriding our body’s signal to disengage and recharge throughout the day — and then we crash…numbing out on Netflix, TikTok, Youtube shorts, food, a glass (or two or three) of wine, or drugs.
We do not know how to rest. We do not give our nervous systems time to decompress after a rough morning with our teens, a busy day filled with one Zoom meeting right after the other, an evening of multi-tasking with still checking work email and running our kids to activities, and then a late night of numbing out on our phones in bed.
Then we try and get to sleep, which, of course, many of us can’t. Even before the pandemic, more than 50 million Americans suffered from a sleep disorder, most commonly insomnia, which can involve trouble falling or staying asleep, waking early or throughout the night, or poor sleep quality (“Sleep and Sleep Disorder Statistics,” American Sleep Association).
Do I think technology is the culprit and the single cause of our anxiety, depression, and sleep issues? No, but It plays a huge role in how wired, rested, and resourced our nervous systems are.
Simply put, our nervous systems were not designed to process the amount of input, the flashes that pull on our attention, the pings that disrupt us, the pop ups that interrupt us, and the dings that invade our space.
We weren’t meant to go go go. We were meant to go along with the rhythms of nature – honoring the invitation of each season. Human beings existed without devices for millions of years. The light bulb wasn’t even invented until the late 1800s. And handheld devices – these didn’t come onto the seen and be really prevalent until 20 some years ago. In the history of humanity – that’s not so long ago.
Technology and digital devices aren’t going anywhere. Our digital devices are a part of our daily lives. We have to live with them. How can we live with our devices in a way that is mindful and with boundaries so that our nervous systems aren’t chronically fatigued?
We learn how to rest.
Like, micro rests throughout the day – giving our nervous systems, bodies, minds, and hearts the much needed break from the constant stimulation, pulls on our attention, and distractions.
As a mindfulness & meditation teacher, psychotherapist, and integrative coach, I have been helping clients for decades build their capacity to rest and nourish their nervous systems through practices that are doable, boundaries that are necessary, and rituals that protect our peace.
I recorded a podcast episode about the superpower of rest (and sleep):39: Rest is the New Superpower so that everyone can have access to these practices and approaches to learning how to rest and get good sleep.
At the end, there is a nourishing meditation that you can listen to when you need a rest in the middle of your day or at night to help you fall asleep. Yes, you are using your device, but you can put your device down and just listen to it (and I’ve been told that my voice is super soothing).
I have a longer version, Deep Sleep Meditation, that I’m giving to my community of Delightful Divas. Come join us on Buy Me a Coffee.
We are not machines. We cannot be “on” 24/7. Our bodies need nourishing, consistent, frequent care. Our senses need a break. Our nervous systems need time to integrate our experiences. Our brains need “do nothing time.”
I’ve seen it with my clients and with their children – when we learn how to rest, have boundaries that support our well-being, and mindfully and compassionately give ourselves the care we need, we grow our capacity to deal with the stress of being human. We deepen our sense of resiliency. We shift out of the “go, go, go — numb” pattern that we are so addicted to, and we learn to tend to and honor what our bodies, minds, and spirits need. We grow our capacity to meet difficult or uncomfortable emotions with mindfulness and compassion.
And….we advocate for changes within our families, workplaces, and society — changes that choose connection over inhumane productivity, people over profits, care and regard over seeing people as machines, and rest over constantly going, going, and going.
Not only can we impact our own lives and mental health, but also the cultures in which we work and live. I see this with senior leaders who are opting out of the “always on, always available” expectation, and implementing practices that regard their well-being — and instituting better boundaries for their direct reports or for the whole organization. Wise CEOs know that a healthier, more rested employee is going to be make better, more creative decisions.
Imagine when our schools, after-school activities, and workplaces are spaces that understand the nervous systems, stress, and trauma. Imagine when they build in micro rests and advocate for healthy practices that nourish our bodies, brains, emotions, and spirits. I am working toward that with every client I meet, leader I coach, poem I write, and meditation I lead. Come join me.
Your advice is so valid and your analysis of our go-go-go world is spot on! The best thing is you don’t just sit back and point fingers. You offer solutions. God bless you!