As part of our month of posts around the topic of social justice, today we’re rounding up some tips and resources to help teens practice good self-care. I am using the term “self-care” to mean general actions that an individual can take to maintain or improve their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Engaging with issues of social justice can bring up many difficult emotions, trigger or exacerbate mental health concerns, and otherwise prompt symptoms of distress. Stories and coverage of injustice, violence, and violations of civil and human rights are inherently troubling to encounter. Learning to acknowledge and manage this distress can help teens – and adults! – to not feel entirely overwhelmed when confronting issues of social justice. Learning to recognize our individual limits and needs, and developing ways to meet them, are critical tools against feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or consumed by anger, despair, or helplessness. I am not a health care professional, and self-care strategies and choices are highly personal; your ideas and feedback are encouraged and appreciated in the comments!
One critical level of self-care is taking care of our immediate physical needs: eating nutritious foods, staying hydrated, and, in an era of constant access to the media and the ability to binge on screen-time, taking time away from devices to shower, get dressed, and make sure we’re spending time off the internet.
Taking a few deep breaths, perhaps in sync with this viral and effective GIF, is also a first-line self-care action. These could all be considered self-care strategies to implement right-this-minute in the face of feeling overwhelmed. It’s just a little easier to face the enormity of social justice issues when you’re freshly shampooed and you’ve got going-out-in-public clothes on. Some resources to encourage good habits for these immediate needs: basic health guides (especially those directly addressing the teen years), cookbooks, etc.
The next level of self-care involves building in or learning activities and practices to help us feel centered, calm, and positive. These could include:
Exercise – Do you have great exercise DVDs or manuals in your collection? Perhaps you could highlight some magazines (print or digital) that include ready-made workouts. If you routinely have back-issues to purge, perhaps this could even be a program or project for teens to find and tear out workouts they like from to-be-recycled titles. You could even curate a page of YouTube video workouts.
Getting Outside – Does your collection have local walking or hiking guides? What about local parks, gardens, or other public spaces that might have maps, brochures, or other materials you could draw attention to? What about local plant and wildlife guides to foster an awareness and appreciation for what teens can encounter when they head outside in your area?
Yoga – Yoga is already popular with many teens, and can act as a form of both mindfulness and exercise, depending on the intensity. Does your collection include introductory DVDs and manuals? Does your local community center offer free or low-cost classes for teens that you could highlight?
Meditation – Learning to meditate (or even simply practicing intentional breathing exercises) can have a substantial impact on stress levels, and increase feelings of centeredness and resilience in the face of conflict or obstacles. Books on meditation CAN certainly be useful, but for many, learning to meditate and sticking with it really means having someone talk them through sitting in silence, especially for the first few sessions. Headspace is just one of many meditation apps, and like the other top-rated meditation apps right now, it offers limited free content and then encourages a subscription. But the free content (a 10-day intro with recordings to meditate along to) is a really user-friendly introduction. Do you have favorite meditation-starter resources?
Setting limits – The internet is an amazing and unwieldy place, and teens – and adults! – can benefit from setting clear limits around time spent connected online. RescueTime is a desktop and mobile program that will track how much time is spent on specific sites and apps, and includes the ability to send users an alert when their pre-determined allotted time is up. It’s just one example of how to get a handle on device connectivity. Whether the source of stress is homework piling up or a nonstop flood of negative headlines, setting limits around online activity can help teens reclaim time to disconnect and recenter themselves.
This is just a starter round-up, and we’d love to hear your favorite resources to encourage and support self-care for teens in the comments.
— Carly Pansulla, currently reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith