Amongst the research of mental health lies an evolving concept of self-compassion. This element may be key to helping resolve the developing state of youth mental health and suicide prevention – after all, we are our own harshest critics. Self-compassion needs further investigation into relieving our emerging generations of the burdens that they have inherited from the machine learning age of technology and the very devices that both prevent and propel them into the storm of the 21st Century Learner (Simon Sinek, 2018). It is also vital for the education of Generation X and Y to ensure that our children are presented with opportunities for success and failure, without the preconceived ideals of parents and teachers and their subsequent normalised pressure that can be counter-productive.
For the most part, habit and routine may be the second half of the key to ensuring success, reducing anxiety and limiting the stronghold of depression. As part of this challenge, it is suggested that writing our own ‘recipe for success’ (Dr Joann Lukins, 2019) in order to become an autonomous decision-maker through effective habit could pay dividends if boys are to eliminate some of the choices that they are required to make daily. It is estimated that the average person makes approximately 40,000 decisions a day. By creating positive habits, this can eliminate unnecessary choices that create anxiety, therefore ensuring that the higher order decisions are met with the appropriate attention.
There are eight steps to the most effective preparation of habit for each day ahead – achieved before 8am.
1. Seven-plus hours of sleep.
2. Meditation, prayer or mindfulness practice.
3. Hard physical activity.
4. 30 grams of protein.
5. Cold shower.
6. Listen to uplifting content – podcasts or reading.
7. Review your life vision.
8. Do at least one thing towards long-term goals.
It is constantly difficult to ‘tick the boxes’ with this list but there are some resounding inferences that can be made from several of the outlined above.
1. Sleep – has been found to regenerate neurotransmitter functionality. What this means is that as the body rests at a basal or subconscious state (when asleep), neural pathways re-energise (like a football player having half-time, a Powerade and a seat on the sideline, along with a quick pep-talk from the coach). What this does is allow a person increased cognitive function and memory retention, improved higher-order processing and the ability to make measured decisions about worries/stress/challenges faced.
2. Mindfulness – is simple but incredibly underrated. There are many who integrate mindfulness into their work programs and daily routine. Research shows that as little as five minutes each day, enables one to focus, recalibrate their bodies to a balanced relaxation point and attempt learning at an improved rate (Meditation Studio APP). According to a recent study, a control group of people undertook meditation/mindfulness throughout a three-month period. With continued Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) analysis, it was found that grey matter increased significantly, and the Amygdala reduced in size. The Amygdala is responsible for the emotional regulation in the brain. With meditation, the Prefrontal Cortex (measured decision-making centre) was consulted without the irrationality of the Amygdala. In short, patients experienced better self-regulation, improved decision-making abilities, improved relaxation and increased self-awareness which allowed for reduced anxiety and stress. Imagine the brain as another muscle and like all muscles, it can be trained for optimum performance toward a desired activity. In this case, reducing anxiety and stress and improving brain performance.
3. Physical Activity – this is nothing new. Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that send messages to the body to indicate that we are feeling good and are ready to challenge ourselves when opportunity is presented. Regular physical activity has proven to change the balance of optimism and pessimism and encourage a ‘challenge’ mindset rather than a ‘stressful’ mindset. A change in mindset elevates an individual to succeed, rather than concede. We can insert the concepts of growth verse fixed mindset here, but this would also be nothing new.
4. Diet – Science has branded the stomach as the ‘second brain’ and the intestines as the largest serotonin producer in the body. It can be found that the consumption of a handful of cashews can have the representative qualities of anti-depressant (ATP Project Podcast). What this means is that our diet and ‘feel-good epicentre’ (the stomach), can control the production and release of serotonin to the body. Serotonin is our mood stabiliser and subsequently our anti-depressant for improved mental health. This is the neurotransmitter that enables us to be happy and enable self-regulation. ‘There is evidence that a healthy gut can curb inflammation and cortisol levels, lower your reaction to stress, improve memory, and even reduce neuroticism and social anxiety’ (Psychology Today, 2017: para 5).
We could dissect the remaining components, however, it would be more pertinent to outline the ‘what’ in the process. What can we do as parents, teachers and adolescents? Making lists and writing our thoughts down relieve our cortisol (stress) levels. When boys enter my office with anxiety, I show them my ‘to-do’ list. This makes them feel sick for a moment until I challenge them to do the same in the following format:
Write all concerns in the left column. Tick whether it is inside or outside your control. If outside; compartmentalise (easier said than done) – find your own recipe for this. If inside; structure a plan to overcome. This may include several options to move forward with – trialling the most realistic of these can produce the desired outcome By writing down concerns, cortisol levels balance and one feels more in control of the ‘to-do’ lists and the daily grind.
Work-life balance and the notion of self-compassion, if focused on correctly, could alleviate the pressure we place on ourselves with each component of our life. Understanding that we are hard on ourselves – whether it be with relationships, study, self-perception, personal ability or other. Coming to terms with the fact that our best is all we can ask of ourselves and if we can create our own mantra which resonates with us personally in times of anxiety over self-identified underperformance, this could be the step in the direction of self-compassion. One that I often share with students is ‘I believe there is always a way’. This mantra allows for revaluation of current concerns and helps to design a road map of possible solutions to move forward with. I would encourage all people to create their own mantra and ‘recipe for success’ and during this process find your own balance point between your ideals and reality.
Mental Health stigmatically portrays a negative connotation but it does not need to be this way. Everyone is different and therefore manages their mental health with a different recipe. Find your own recipe, write it down, remain true to this process and find peace and comfort in knowing that ‘you will always be enough’ if you do your best, especially if you can be self-compassionate with your ideals and reality. Below are some resources to utilise and opportunities that are approaching in the College Calendar. Hopefully these may be useful for you to begin your own recipes.
Useful Podcasts and APPs to download
1. Meditation Studio APP
2. Do Life Better Podcast
3. ATP Project Podcast
4. Smiling Mind APP
5. Mindfulness Coach APP
6. Mindful APP
7. Relax Meditation APP
Tomorrow, Year 9 will have Batyr Mental Health present to them throughout the day, followed by a presentation to parents in the evening. This is an opportunity for boys and parents to further their understanding of the current concerns of mental health and develop some strategies to identifying and overcoming mental illness.
In the interests of self-compassion, one takeaway is all that I ever aim for when reading resources or listening to speakers and that is enough.
I hope that you have found at least one takeaway from my article that resonates with you, any more and it is a bonus! Have a great week in your endeavours to find your recipes.
Assistant Dean of Formation