As a mother of teenagers, Shaye Molendyke, a retired Air Force officer and current director of education for YogaFit, witnessed the detrimental effects of isolation on teens during the COVID-19 pandemic. Motivated to help her son cope with overwhelming anxiety in a locked-down college environment, Molendyke tapped into her yoga teacher resources and discovered a powerful solution.
According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention titled “Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011-2021,” teen mental health has regressed over the past decade. In 2021, a significantly higher proportion of teenagers reported persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, poor mental health, and even thoughts of suicide, compared to previous years.
Recognizing the importance of early intervention, it is crucial for parents and caregivers to be vigilant for signs of mental health struggles in teenagers. While Molendyke’s son expressed his anxiety openly, her daughter’s depression manifested in physical symptoms, such as hair loss. Other warning signs include changes in sleeping and eating patterns, intense emotions, mood swings, and especially in military teens, coping with the aftermath of significant life events and persistent stress.
Seeking professional mental health resources, such as talk therapy, can be challenging due to high demand and limited availability. However, alternative solutions do exist. When faced with this predicament, Molendyke took the initiative to create a one-day workshop on teen mental health, offered through YogaFit. The workshop addresses the lack of education surrounding mental health, the development of the teenage brain, the impact of dopamine, and equips participants with practical tools and skills to navigate mental health challenges effectively.
The workshop welcomes both teenagers and parents, utilizing calming techniques derived from yoga and mindfulness practices. Through yoga, individuals learn to be attuned to subtle changes within their bodies. Molendyke emphasizes the significance of mindfulness, teaching participants to acknowledge uncomfortable sensations and emotions before they escalate. This proactive approach is akin to brushing one’s teeth regularly to prevent cavities, encouraging teens and young adults to prioritize their mental well-being.
In addition to yoga and mindfulness, other stress-relieving resources, such as tapping and breathwork, are introduced. Molendyke recommended tapping as a calming technique for her son, guiding him through the process of applying repetitive light pressure to specific areas of the body, activating the ventral vagal pathway. This technique provided him with much-needed relief. Breathwork, another effective tool, involves regulating one’s breathing pattern to achieve desired outcomes. For instance, pranayama, a vocal breath at the back of the throat, can be practiced for a set amount of time, such as a count of four.
Molendyke emphasizes the importance of modeling for children, especially when parents have experienced trauma and stress. By demonstrating effective strategies for managing discomfort, parents can guide their malleable children towards healthier coping mechanisms. It is essential to recognize that regulating the nervous system and emotions are as important as fulfilling basic needs like eating, seeking comfort, and getting adequate sleep.
By embracing yoga, mindfulness, tapping, and breathwork, teenagers and their families can gain valuable tools to support their mental health. These practices empower young individuals to navigate the challenges of adolescence proactively, fostering resilience and emotional well-being. Through education, awareness, and accessible resources, we can collectively enhance support for teenage mental health in our communities.