by Dr.Moira Borg MD Gestalt Psychotherapist
Looking back, most of us would fervently insist that our adolescence was the best time of our lives, a time where our joints did not protest at every move, a time where we could smile and not have the skin of our face crack like dry mud, a time where we did not have a care in the world and our days were full of fun, laughter and good times. But that is looking back. Looking at their lives in the here-and-now, most adolescents would assert that the main experience governing their existence is stress.
Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances”. From my experience working with adolescents these ‘demanding circumstances’ can be classified in two categories namely those coming from the world outside and those coming from internal issues within the young individual. The most common external stressing circumstances described by young people are society in general, family issues, school and situations with peers.
Family, society and education form the core of the world of a young person. As a result, any factors that challenge the balance in these factions can bring about a great deal of existential turmoil in an adolescent. Family issues can range from the usual parent-adolescent conflict to wider family conflict, domestic violence, chronic disease, financial crises and loss. On a larger scale, the dynamics of our society nowadays, primarily the ‘liquid’ nature of our relationships (Bauman, 2000) and the narcissistic perspective where the focus is on the self and where we are made to feel we are never enough, is causing a major strain on our capacity to relate to each other resulting in inherent experiences of loneliness and lack of belonging which is pushing many of our young to a variety of addictions mostly alcohol, drugs, sex and social media. The pervasive aura of ‘never being enough’ has also infiltrated another major arena for young people, that is the education system where many young people experience various levels of anxiety especially around achievement and choice of career.
On an internal or individual level, I believe that one of the major stressors for young people is belonging or its lack thereof as this can present both an intra-personal struggle together with an inter-relational challenge at any aspect of their world especially with family members or their peers. Adolescence is a particularly challenging period where the young person is struggling to let go of his/her dependent childhood self and find his/her own identity as a fully-fledged independent individual within his/her own right and the level of support from their world at this time can make the difference between a wholesome process of growth and maturation and a fearful experience of instability, shame and loneliness. As a result, psychological issues like poor self-esteem especially when compounded by more serious mental health issues, other chronic disease, disability, sexual identity conflicts or challenging financial situations can seriously compromise further their sense of belonging.
The repertoire of ‘de-stressor’ options available to young people nowadays is as extensive as the search options offered by the topmost web engines; however most, unfortunately, hinge on one or more fixations on one activity or the other. Ironically, more often than not, many of these choices prove to be a major source of anxiety themselves in time.
In my opinion, the only solution to stress and anxiety in adolescents, and any other other age group for that matter, is to go back to the basics of what constitutes a healthy existence, or what the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its 1948 Constitution defines as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Likewise, the most efficient antidote to stress might simply turn out to be a healthy lifestyle and meaningful connections with ourselves and people around us which not only gives us the opportunity to live more serenely but also to tap into our internal strengths and external support networks in times of need.
Perhaps this is one of the most important life lessons to teach our young generation before they embark on their challenging journey to adulthood as it could certainly give them much more value than all the financial and academic investments put together.