Finding a Strategy for Mental Wellness
By Natalie Croitoru | Contributor
In high school, I was a stressed-out teenager. I fixated on grades. I resented criticism. I invested in the wrong relationships. I was over-extended, and my stress eventually began to manifest itself in physical reactions and forgetfulness. Mental health was not on my radar.
Then, a meaningful conversation with my dad set me on a course to think intentionally about my mental wellness.
We were playing soccer when he shared an observation. He told me I seemed hyper-focused on controlling the movement of the ball and was forgetting to look up. “How does it feel to be so focused on just one thing, especially when it’s beyond your control?”
My dad asked if he could coach me through changing my focus. As we talked, I realized that self-doubt had been interfering with not only my game but also my life. Over the course of a year, we practiced strategies to manage stress until I found my footing.
It’s easy to persuade people of the need to know “stop, drop and roll” in the event of a fire. Convincing people to have a plan for a mental health crisis is much harder. Yet statistically, three in four Texans have a friend or family member who has experienced a mental health issue—making the odds far greater for mental illness than for a fire emergency. It makes sense to have a plan of action in the event of a mental health crisis.
Winning teams have good game plans. They understand the rules, prepare for winning and losing scenarios and develop the patience and resilience to overcome obstacles. When it comes to your teen’s mental health, you’re the coach. It’s important to learn the signs, make a plan and maintain a coaching mindset.
Whether your teen is effectively coping with life stressors or struggling with more deep-seated issues, their mental wellness should be a priority. The choice to either push mental health to the sidelines or approach it head-on is up to you. The ball is in your court.
Put Together a Team
In the healthiest families, everyone’s on the same team. When teens feels connected, cared for and loved, it makes all the difference in how they navigate the ups and downs of life. Your team may include family members, friends or professionals. Just make sure everyone’s informed and supportive.
Make a game plan. Talk openly with your teens about their emotional and mental health. Choose a time that is relatively calm and free of distractions. Pay attention to what they’re saying and not saying. Are they focusing on the negative? Do you sense stress or anxiety in their voice? Ask short, open-ended questions. Offer observations like, “It concerns me that you spend so much time alone. Are you okay?”
Practice good form. Remember that you set the standard as the parent. Stay up-to-date on mental health tools and resources. Consistently model best practices for healthy coping skills, such as:
• Devoting time to hobbies like music, reading or physical activity
• Engaging in selfless acts like volunteering, worship or doing
special things for family or friends
• Investing in creative outlets like writing, drawing or crafting
Get in the Game
Know the signs of emotional or mental distress, so you can take appropriate steps in a timely manner.
Yellow Flags: Signs of Stress
• Inability to concentrate or make simple decisions
• Memory lapses
• Easily distracted
• Less intuitive or creative
• Negative thinking
• Extra sensitive to criticism
• Lack of motivation
• Low self-esteem
• No time for relaxation or pleasurable activities
Red Flags: Signs of Depression or Anxiety
• Sense of hopelessness about the future
• Drastic changes in behavior or personality
• Withdrawal from friends, family and society
• Weight loss or weight gain
• Persistent depressed or irritable mood
• Feelings of worthlessness
• Inability to think or concentrate
• Insomnia or hypersomnia
Cool down if things get heated. Use the following techniques to de-escalate tension:
• Keep your voice calm
• Don’t argue or try to reason with a teen in an agitated state
• Express support and concern
• Give your teen space
• Listen and be patient
End the conversation on a positive note. Ask how you can help or what is needed from you in that moment.
If it’s out of your league, refer to a professional. Find a mental health professional who both you and your teen trust. Ask the professional how you can be involved. While your teen builds a relationship with the provider, seek out resources to further educate yourself, so you can help support and implement treatment recommendations.
Stay the Course
Be part of the process. A mental health condition can be short- or long-term. Stay engaged, check in often, be patient and remember that it’s not your fault. Know the triggers and effective coping strategies, so you can offer proper guidance and care.
It’s about progress, not perfection. Reflect on the ground you’ve gained. What situations or triggers led to a point of distress? What worked to reduce tension? Celebrate large and small victories to remind your teens of the feelings of relief, hope or positivity that they stand to gain.
Editor’s Note: Natalie Croitoru is a student at Rice University and a summer intern at Grant Halliburton Foundation, a Dallas nonprofit committed to teen and young adult mental health and suicide prevention. GrantHalliburton.org