Unavoidable teen pressures? Problem solved.
Have you ever noticed some people love to race, while others avoid competition like the plague? We all perceive thrill-seeking differently. One’s tolerance for pressure is very subjective, manifesting at an early age and continuing to develop as a result of both nature and nurture. Thankfully, not all pressure is bad. Certain stresses can actually help us grow stronger. Yet, rapidly increasing societal pressures are currently being blamed for the high rates of anxiety and depression blanketing our teen generation. But speak to some high level athletes, and this assumption might change.
Meet Amy, a high level homeschooled gymnast. Amy is mature enough to be an adult, but smart enough to hold onto her youth; possibly the perfect balance in a brutally fast social media stricken world. Before Amy was strapping on uneven parallel bar grips, she was a normal toddler in footed pajamas. Saturday mornings were filled with pancakes and cartoons, then trips to Home Depot with Dad. Yet, a lot has changed in Amy’s world in the past twelve years. Now Amy is dropped off early Saturday morning, for a rigorous 4-5 hour workout, one of the 7th or 8th of the week. Little did her parents know that Amy’s “mommy and me” gymnastics class, would develop into a childhood career.
I love it and hate it all at the same time. Ask me if I want to quit and I will say yes every day. But that will never happen.
Thus, the love hate relationship birthed by a sport that requires a youthful physique, but a mature soul.
Many people ask if I am missing my childhood and I will answer, sometimes. Many of my peers are overwhelmed by different (youth) pressures than I face. So in reality, it is all relative.
Amy feels pressure stemming from a more defined purpose than many teens feel today. She has set and achieved high level goals from a very young age. Yes, it is stressful, but she knows it will accumulate to a worthy end result. The way her focus is placed on the end result, may be an important key factor in coping with pressure at any age.
Even if I do not win or make the exact team I want to, I am establishing connections and life experiences. I have a very close bond with my teammates. On bad days, we try and remind each other it is all part of the process. A lot of my friends outside of sport, do not have the same bond because they are part of so many different groups. It is easy for them to just go home and feel unnoticed.
Thanks to social media, intensely training athletes are able to keep in touch with their friends despite many hours at “work.” But according to a recent TIME magazine article, the average teen is finding it more and more difficult to shut-down social media influences in their mind – and this is creating a new self-inflicted pressure. Teens were formerly concerned with happenings at school, or a planned social event such as a party. But now, the social media “gatherings” and conversations happen 24-7; even among teens that have never met.
Because of my sport, I am forced to focus on action items. I have to re-evaluate whether or not something (social) is worth my time. I often find myself thinking my goal is elite level gymnastics and workout or rest is more important than a “stream” or “like” from someone that I do not even know. My friends have more free time I guess, but it seems to cause trouble.
Somehow with Amy’s rigorous schedule, she has still found a way to be very socially mature, avoiding some common pulls that tend to distract teenagers during the developing-adult stages. Amy’s parents credit her social maturity to both gymnastics training and their push to keep her social scene as normal as possible. Early-on in Amy’s training they agreed upon the importance of bringing her to gatherings that even her friends might assume she is too busy to attend.
When the social-scene involves something that I am not comfortable with, like drinking or smoking, my desire is to get out; not because I am scared, but because I know this will not help me with what I am working towards. I am thankful my parents have pushed a social life outside the gym. In just a few years I will be facing it on my own in college.
So with many of our developing-adults suffering from anxiety and depression, how does someone like Amy see that her experiences could be of value to share?
It is all about pursuit towards the right things. Often we want to live a better, more exciting, or even easier life. This is why pictures on our phone or streams, seem so much better than what we have. But they are not. It is like watching a show on TV. Things are cut, edited or highlighted. My friends would benefit from living more in the present moment and using the techniques we use in sport (such as visualization and relaxation). Keep it simple; brain storm about something you want, then form it into a goal and have steps to work towards it.
When asked, Amy highlighted seven items in particular to maintain while working towards a goal:
Every Monday when we get to the gym, our daily assignments for the week are posted. We have to be mentally prepared for what is on the schedule. The higher level groups definitely come into the gym taking their mental game plan into consideration. We plan key thoughts to either psych-up or calm-down accordingly, throughout practice. It even enables us to plan when we are going to stay up a little later to get homework done, or get to bed earlier because a hard workout is ahead. I have started to use the schedule to help with performance anxiety; it enables me to mentally prepare, but also look back and see all the work I have done to get ready for competition.
Research has shown anxious thoughts stem from a feeling of uncertainty. The average teen may have a lot more un-knowns in between the knowns in comparison to a weekly schedule like Amy’s. Simply setting goals may shed new light and give hope to a teen in question of their future.
It is a given that we have to be smart with what we eat. Not only for energy purposes, but repairing tissue between workouts. We also need to maintain a safe weight, both strong and a healthy lean, because we do attempt to defy gravity – it is hard to get up in the air when you are not in shape! We focus on healthy foods that we like. There is so much (sometimes too much) information available so, we have a team nutritionist to guide us through the grey areas. Our parents help us a lot too.
Mental health was formerly thought to be a separate entity of wellness. Thankfully today, we are embracing the idea that balanced bacteria in the gut may aid in balancing brain chemistry. Of course helpful in athletics, but brain-gut connection research could be a game changer for balancing the fluctuating hormones within a teen system too.
It is obvious when we overload our schedule and do not get enough sleep. One important thing I have learned with rest, is to keep it as consistent as possible. The early nights definitely make morning workouts easier, but it also makes a big difference towards the end of the week. Saturday workouts can be so difficult if I have not had a good week of sleep. My parents also taught me to keep my phone out of my room. I actually have never brought it into my bedroom. My bedroom is a completely calm place; no phone, no homework and no schedule…it is all about resting and sleep.
Several sleep studies emphasize restful sanctuaries and the importance of sleep on long-term health. Not only does rest make us more productive, it adds to our longevity.
I like to do things outside. My parents push the idea of “fresh-air.” They say I need “outside nutrients” …and now that I am older, I agree. My friends like to play basketball and soccer; sometimes I will play at the park with them or go for a long walk with my family on Sundays.
Not only do we receive far more beneficial amounts of Vitamin D from the sun than supplements, many bio-philia believers think intimacy with nature is a human necessity.
My parents say our house rules are the most important. They are the guidelines that I have been taught to follow. We discuss a lot too. I feel if I question something that either my coaches, tutors or even parents tell me, I can talk to my parents and they will listen. Coaches do not always understand what we go through as individuals because they have so many athletes to handle. My parents help me navigate the difficult pressures too.
Creating clear family guidelines is a way for children to understand and stay true to morality. If parents remain consistent with their beliefs and guidelines, youth have a base from which to judge right and wrong. This goes a long way when it comes to developing confidence and handling big decisions for delicate minds.
I have always kept in touch with friends outside of the gym. It brings me to another world for a while – I see what challenges they face and it makes me feel like my workouts are not always that big of a deal. I have learned to put things into perspective when I become overwhelmed; I see that both athletes and regular people go through many hard times in life.
The idea of developing and maintaining friendships/partnerships is continuously being confirmed as a true portion of well-living. This is often overlooked as a teachable element of life. Making friends does not always come easy for people. Some are attracted to an introverted lifestyle. But from a wellness standpoint, it is beneficial for our youth to willingly work in group settings and seek time with others with common interests. In life, wellness for the individual, truly takes a village.
Everyone should know their list of favorites. It boosts your goal setting and focusing abilities. You have to know your favorites to prioritize things in life. I was not able to write my list all at once, nor is it finished. It is actually something I add to weekly; music, colors designs, sports and so forth. When I become over whelmed, reading my list of favorites reminds me gymnastics is something that I do – not who I am.
Amy’s take away message: Self-confidence is boosted by what you do – commonly on a sliding scale dependent on your interactions through the day. Self-worth is who you are; best thought of as indestructible.