The events of the past few years have exacerbated the mental-health crisis faced by our youth and simultaneously brought more awareness to it. Depression and anxiety were becoming increasingly prevalent among teens long before the pandemic, in part because it’s hard for many adults to comprehend the enormity of what young people are dealing with. Although negative news is hardly a new thing, we were not always bombarded with it in real time, around the clock. This heavy energy, in addition to the personal challenges we experience at every stage of our their lives, can be especially overwhelming for young people who do not have the experience or skills to deal with it. Moreover, adolescents have endless opportunities to distract themselves from their feelings—be it social-media scrolling, online gaming, or purchasing pretty much anything they want in just a couple of clicks.
The problem is, the rush they get from these things lasts only so long. Sometimes it’s a week, sometimes it’s as little as a day or even an hour—and then, they’re left facing those feelings once again (and looking for the next shiny thing). It becomes a slippery slope when you continue to reach for something in the external world to soothe an internal feeling of emptiness or suffering.
To help the current and future generations, we must take a broader, proactive approach to well-being, rather than merely reacting to depression and unhealthy behaviors. Soulbriety provides adolescents with tools to fill their tanks and bring them a sustainable sense of peace and joy. Ideally, this includes a combination of solitary and group activities that allow them to engage with the world and themselves in empowering ways, such as:
- Walking on the beach or in a park: Connecting with nature is deeply healing—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Nature is also a great teacher, showing kids that our world is actually an abundant place, that change is a constant and necessary part of life, and that each season much come to an end so a new one can begin.
- Spending time with friends and family: Most of us remember people who made us feel great whenever we were around them. Maybe they listened without judgment when we were going through something, or maybe we laughed together over silly things. For kids, such interactions also teaches them to check in with their feelings and discern the difference between those who are healthy to be around and those who are not.
- Getting physical: Moving our bodies through sports or other forms of exercise is integral to good health on every level. Not only does it release naturally mood-enhancing hormones such as serotonin and endorphins—it also gives us an outlet for frustration and teaches us about healthy competition.
- Getting creative: Writing, painting and drawing, sculpting, and other creative activities are fun and highly effective ways of excavating and expressing painful emotions—including the ones we don’t even know we have—and rediscovering a sense of joy.
Adolescents should be encouraged to discover what speaks to them, with the understanding that the activity itself is not as important as the positive feelings it evokes. Even more important is that they cultivate the ability to find that still point within that knows all is well, even when a storm is raging around them. To begin doing this, they should ask questions like: When do I feel most like myself? What do I do that fills me with joy and makes me say, “That was awesome”?
Bottom line: Soulbriety is not a quick fix, but a way of living. Teaching our kids these tools lays the foundation so that, rather than turning away from dark feelings, they can face and work through them while remaining curious about the life that awaits on the other side.