The group of parents now raising tweens is the last to grow up — basically — without the Internet.
The good news is that, having received our first email addresses on dinosaur systems as college students, we DO know how the web works.
We all have Facebook (well almost all of us), plus most of its cousins. We’re hooked on getting answers to questions instantly as well as the ease of texting versus calling or — oh, please — talking face to face.
We know, too, of the web’s dark corners — limitless pornography, angry gamers, false information, lurkers and trolls.
This puts today’s parents in a crazy sort of limbo: I get it, I use it, I’m scared to death of it when it comes to my kids.
There’s also inappropriate content, predators, cyberbullying and technology addiction. And that’s not to mention the risk of growing up without knowing how to communicate verbally and always needing to know an answer or order that product — instantly, now, yesterday, if possible.
What’s a parent to do?
While you can and should limit use of the Internet in a way that’s age-appropriate and encourages other activities — such as participating in sports, reading books and playing outside — you can’t keep your child from going online forever.
In fact, complete avoidance could do more harm than good.
“Parents shouldn’t focus on instilling fear of the Internet in the child. Instead, start a conversation about technology and the Internet in today’s world,” said Karina Hedinger, a training and education coordinator for the Minnesota Crimes Against Children Task Force, a group led by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Much like your family rules for exploring the neighborhood, true online safety comes from preparation and communication. (Check out the AAP’s new screen-time recommendations in this article’s sidebar.)
Tips for parents
Don’t freak out. Teaching your kids to fear the Internet isn’t going to keep them safe.
Do talk. Discuss the proper use of websites and what behaviors are inappropriate. Discuss the dangers in a non-threatening way.
Ask. Get your kids talking, too, so you’re not just in boring lecture mode. What do you most like to do online? What if someone online asked you to meet?
Befriend! Sure, you can have a Facebook or Instagram account … if you make me your first friend.
Be a watchdog. “Monitor, monitor, monitor. Monitor what your children are doing on all technology. Have daily conversations about being safe and keeping information safe,” Hedinger said. Be aware that you can set up “restrictions” on various devices (under Settings) to block or allow specific websites or types of content. You can also set blanket permissions based on age ranges. Also know that the top three internet browsers — Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple Safari — offer settings and add-ons to help make your kids’ online experience’ more age-appropriate. There are even kid-safe browsers for a variety of age ranges. (See Page 33 to learn more.)
Limit locations. Keep the family computer in a communal space in the home. Insist that all phones go to charge or “rest” in a designated location at a certain time each night (not your kid’s bedroom).
Get an all-access pass. Though most parents wouldn’t read a child’s diary (at least not without cause for concern), many parents today reserve the right to read their kids’ phones each night after they’re placed in a designated “rest” location. Why? A diary is private by nature, and one might argue that everyone is entitled to his or her own private thoughts. But when it comes to living life on Instagram — where children can easily “go public” with things that perhaps should be private — the rules are bit different. Phone reading not only keeps parents involved, but it also helps kids practice better behavior (or self-censoring) if they know Mom or Dad might take a peek.
Research and explore. The list of apps you should know (and perhaps even know how to use) is honestly too long to name and goes beyond what you might think (SnapChat, Tinder, Musical.ly, Kik and the like). Did you know there are actually apps to hide apps? Yep. And there’s also a whole language developed to keep parents clueless. Deep breath. It’s going to be OK. But do study up! Talk to other parents as often as you can (ideally with kids a bit older than yours) and make friends with commonsensemedia.org, an indispensable website and app for evaluating all media.
Think beyond your home. Which friends have smartphones? Which friends use SnapChat? Would your child’s friends be willing to create an account in your child’s name to get around your rules? What are the rules at the neighbors’ house, where your kid spends half his time?
Make your expectations clear. Setting up formal house rules can help you stand firm in your decisions around digital media. Check out the new, free Family Media Plan tool from the American Academy of Pediatrics — at healthychildren.org — for help creating written guidelines for your entire family. If your child is receiving a smartphone this year for the holidays, you might want to customize one of the many mobile phone contracts online such as those at connectsafely.org and joshshipp.com as well as Gregory’s iPhone Contract written by author Janell Burley Hofmann for her 13-year-old son. Hofmann is the author of iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming and Growing Up (janellburleyhofmann.com).
Tips for teens and tweens
Be discrete. The saying goes, “If you would feel uncomfortable with something plastered on a billboard, don’t share it on the Internet.” Personal information should never be shared in public forums. Turn off location services for most apps, and set them to “On While App is Running” for things that make sense, like navigation programs.
Be private. Gaining scores of fans and followers might feel like popularity — but it’s really just broadcasting a bunch of stuff that could embarrass you someday. Would you invite your whole block over to watch you lip sync in your pajamas? If the answer is “no,” reevaluate your public social media “brand.”
Know real people. You should be friends with someone in real life before being friends online. And you should spend screen-free time with your real-life friends.
Trust your gut. If something feels scary, weird or inappropriate, it probably is. If you feel tempted to hide something on a technological device from your parents, you probably shouldn’t.
Tell. If you see something inappropriate, violent, suspicious or mean online, talk to your parents or another adult you trust.
Be skeptical. It might be normal for an adult to mentor a child or teen, but it’s never normal for an adult to seek a relationship as a peer or romantic partner with a child or teen. Also note that online, a person can say they’re anyone or anything. An adult can easily claim to be 15.
Shut it down. In cases of cyberbullying, be a heroic bystander and report bad behavior when you see it. If you’re the victim of cyberbullying, shut down your device, walk away and talk face to face with someone who cares about you.
It’s tough to know how to help an angry child. But some children—despite their small size—seem to have an endless supply of anger buried inside them.
They grow frustrated easily. They yell. They might even become aggressive. But, they usually blow up over seemingly minor events.
If you’re raising a child whose angry outbursts have become a problem, it’s important to teach him the skills he needs to deal with his feelings in a healthy way. Here are seven ways to help with anger:
1. Teach Your Child About Feelings
Kids are more likely to lash out when they don’t understand their feelings or they’re not able to verbalize them. A child who can’t say, “I’m mad,” may try to show you he’s angry by lashing out. Or a child who isn’t able to explain that he’s sad may misbehave to get your attention.
Help your child learn to identify and label feelings.
Begin teaching your child basic feeling words such as mad, sad, happy, and scared. Label your child’s feelings for him by saying, “It looks like you feel really angry right now.” Over time, he’ll learn to label his emotions himself.
As your child develops a better understanding of his emotions and how to describe them, teach him more sophisticated words such as frustrated, disappointed, worried, and lonely.
2. Create an Anger Thermometer
Anger thermometers are tools that help kids recognize the warning signs that their anger is rising. Draw a large thermometer on a piece of paper. Start at the bottom with a 0 and fill in the numbers up until 10, which should land at the top of the thermometer.
Explain that zero means “no anger at all.” A 5 means “a medium amount of anger,” and 10 means “the most anger ever.”
Talk about what happens to your child’s body at each number on the thermometer. Your child might say he’s smiling when he’s at a level 0 but has a mad face when he reaches level 5 and by the time his anger gets to a level 10, he may describe himself as an angry monster.
Talk about how his body feels when he grows angry. He might feel his face get hot when he’s a level two and he might make fists with his hands when he’s a level seven.
When kids learn to recognize their warning signs, it will help them understand the need to take a break, before their anger explodes at a level 10. Hang the anger thermometer in a prominent location and refer to it by asking, “What level is your anger today?”
3. Develop a Plan to Help Your Child Calm Down
Teach children what to do when they begin to feel angry. Rather than throw blocks when they’re frustrated or hit their sister when they’re annoyed, teach them healthier strategies that help with anger.
Encourage children to put themselves in a time-out when they’re upset. Show them that they don’t need to wait until they make a mistake to go to time-out.
Instead, they can go to their room for a few minutes to calm down when they begin to feel angry.
Encourage them to color, read a book, or engage in another calming activity until they’re calm enough to resume their activity.
You might even create a calm down kit. A kit could include your child’s favorite coloring books and some crayons, a fun book to read, stickers, a favorite toy, or lotion that smells good.
When they’re upset, you can say, “Go get your calm down kit,” and encourage them to take responsibility for calming themselves down.
4. Teach Specific Anger Management Techniques
One of the best ways to help an angry child is to teach specific anger management techniques. Taking deep breaths, for example, can calm your child’s mind and his body when he’s upset. Going for a quick walk, counting to 10, or repeating a helpful phrase might also help.
5. Make Sure Angry Outbursts Aren’t Effective
Sometimes kids exhibit angry outbursts because it’s an effective way to get their needs met. If a child throws a temper tantrum and his parents give him a toy to keep him quiet, he’ll learn that temper tantrums are effective.
Don’t give in to your child to avoid a meltdown. Although that may be easier in the short-term, in the long run giving in will only make behavior problems and aggression worse.
6. Follow Through With Consequences When Necessary
Consistent discipline is necessary to help your child learn that aggression or disrespectful behavior isn’t acceptable. If your child breaks the rules, follow through with a consequence each time.
Time-out or taking away privileges can be effective discipline strategies. If your child breaks something when he’s angry, make him help repair it or make him do chores to help raise money for repairs. Don’t allow him to have his privileges back until he’s repaired the damage.
7. Avoid Violent Media
If your child struggles with aggressive behavior, exposing him to violent TV shows or video games isn’t going to be helpful. Prevent him from witnessing violence and instead, focus on exposing him to books, games, and shows that model healthy conflict resolution skills.
New research demonstrates parental burnout has serious consequences.
Parents Admitting to Burnout: That’s New
New research published in Clinical Psychological Science suggests that parental burnout can have serious consequences. In two longitudinal studies, 918 and 822 participants were analyzed, respectively. The studies involved the completion of three online surveys per year.
Results indicated that parental burnout has much more severe implications than were previously thought. Burnout was associated with escape ideation—the fantasy of simply leaving parenting and all its stressors—as well as with neglectful behavior and a “violence” category that included verbal and psychological aggression (e.g., threats or insults) and physical aggression (spanking or slapping) directed at children.
The truly remarkable result of this study is that parents responded honestly at all. In earlier research on this topic, the researchers grappled with whether parents would ever respond honestly to questions related to burnout, and whether the construct has any validity if no one will admit to it. It’s human nature to avoid responding honestly to questions that make you look bad, even anonymously! We call this the impression management bias.
What is Burnout?
As defined by the study, burnout is an exhaustion syndrome, characterized by feeling overwhelmed, physical and emotional exhaustion, emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of being an ineffective parent. Freudenberger (1974) first coined the term in reference to staff workers. Proccacini and Kiefaver wrote about it in 1984, and then the concept kind of disappeared. Until recently, however, parental burnout hasn’t been systematically studied. I think that’s because the entire concept is taboo.
The thing is, parents aren’t supposed to be able to burn out! We are taught, both explicitly and implicitly, that parenting is so rewarding, fulfilling and wonderful that one smile from a beloved child will instantly fulfill a parent, that the task is so joyful that the occasional difficulties (Meltdowns! Dirty diapers. 2 AM wakeup calls. Dirty diapers at 2AM!) are barely noticed. That’s just plain untrue, and it’s a myth that can harm parents.
Imagine working for this kind of boss: The demands seem to exceed the capacity to satisfy them, and the standard for success is always shifting, with high stakes and a lot of emotional pressure, and no real standard for success. Tasks with no end-date, where the finish line is always shifting, and tasks you can’t escape – those are the perfect conditions for burnout. Teachers experience it. Entrepreneurs experience it. And parents definitely experience it, but they haven’t been able to talk about it.
Oh sure, parents can talk about how work-life balance burns them out, we can talk about the gender gap regarding the mental load of running a home and parenting kids, we can talk about how being a working parent is stressful. But until recently, we haven’t been able to talk about how parenting itself can burn the parent out.
It’s not accidental that burnout makes us think of a depleted battery. When we’ve burned through all of our emotional fuel, there’s no more left. We all know the “supposed to-s” and the “should-s”. Parents are “supposed to” love the act of parenting so much, it recharges them on its own. Parents “shouldn’t” mind being woken up at 2AM, coming late to work, being passed over for promotion because of split priorities, or being the target of teenage angst.
You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have:
It’s true. Our kids rely on us and are frequently helpless. The parenting relationship is crucial to children’s psychological development. Attachment, or the lack thereof, can be damaging. That’s why it’s so threatening to even consider the possibility that parents can burn out. But if we can’t think about it, we can’t do anything to address it.
The thing is, we can’t give what we don’t have. If we’re disconnected from ourselves, we can’t give attachment, love, and nurturing. If we’re under stress, we can’t always respond with patience and model compassionate caring in the face of challenges. Since we are the parents, it’s up to us to know when that’s happening, when burnout is reaching critical levels, and what to do about it.
Neurodiverse Children and Burnout:
The problem is particularly severe when parenting a challenging child. In my practice, I treat parents and families of children with psychological diagnoses. When you’re parenting a child whose presenting problem is anxiety, OCD, ADHD, depression or an Autism Spectrum Disorder, the potential for burnout is so much higher. (For more on parenting a neurodiverse child, click here.)
The world misunderstands challenging children, and it’s up to us to explain them to everyone. Simple tasks, like getting our kids on the school-bus, to brush their teeth, or to eat dinner become massive jobs requiring Herculean effort. Homework time with kids isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Try doing homework with a child who erases every letter that isn’t shaped perfectly, or who can’t stick to a task for more than three minutes straight. Then multiply a few siblings, who just have the neurotypical struggles and life demands. Add in some soccer practice, maybe a boss asking for some at-home work and throw in a toothache for good measure. For some people, this would be a nightmare. For others, it’s just called “Tuesday.”
Self-Care IS Child Care:
So many times, when I’m teaching parenting classes, I ask the participants what their self-care was that week. I get responses like this:
Self-care? Who has time for that? I am so consumed dealing with my son. Besides, he needs so much. How can I justify taking time away from something he needs, just to pursue something I like?
Based on this research, I ask parents how often they have escape fantasies, and all agree that they fantasize about their parenting load being lightened. Because this is an interactive class, we’ve already all spoken about the times that stress has led to less-than-optimal parenting strategies, like yelling, or a harsh consequence. (To learn about strategies to predict child behavior, click here. To learn more about using science to inform parenting, click here. To learn more about effective parenting strategies, click here.)
I point to the cell phones recharging on my power bank.
Every parent in this room has a cell phone currently recharging on that power bank. Just like we all know that the cell phones need to be recharged, so do we. When our batteries deplete, we have to refill them.
Personally, I ask myself each week about certain “banks” that need to be filled. Before others can recharge from me, I need to fill up my banks.
I tell my own children when my “cuddle bank” is empty, and I want them to come to me to help refill theirs. I have a “play” bank, a “nurturing food” bank, and “engaging/interesting pursuits” bank, a “sleep” bank, and an “unscheduled time” bank. When one of these banks is running low, I’ve learned to refill it. Let’s not call that self-care. Let’s call that the highest form of child-care – being present. Ironically, it’s that sense of a present parent, that connection, and that attachment, that is associated with the healthiest outcomes. The scariest finding in the research above – burnout prevents parents from being emotionally present with their children. (To learn more about being present and using mindfulness in parenting, click here.)
In 1953, child psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott spoke about being a “good enough” mother. Ironically, in the pursuit of being a “perfect” parent, we tend to burn ourselves out. Social media, with all the images of bento box lunches, Pintrest boards of “fun” braided hairstyles, and moms who brew their own homemade keffir don’t help. Let’s not be “perfect,” or even “great.” Let’s serve peanut butter and jelly for dinner, but have the energy for a cuddle! Let’s be real, because we can burn ourselves out on the path to ideal.
A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes can affect the whole family. It’s important to listen to, and communicate with, all members of your family – especially any other children – and get help and support if you or anyone else needs it.
While you’re getting to grips with your child’s diabetes, it’s easy to forget about the needs of your other children. But, they, too, will be affected by their sibling’s diagnosis. They may feel that their brother or sister is getting special treatment, worry that their sibling will get really sick or be scared that they’ll develop diabetes themselves.
Rivalry and jealousy are common in most families, and a child with diabetes can cause upset between siblings. In the early days, after diagnosis, it’s only natural for you to be anxious and focus your attention and care on your child with diabetes. But, regular hospital visits, attention to diet and everything else that goes with diabetes has a longer-term impact on all the family.
Advice for coping with sibling rivalry
- Try to listen to both sides equally and be sensitive to their claims that it’s ‘not fair’.
- Be clear about what you expect from each of them.
- Try to give them the same amount of attention.
- If you feel it’s appropriate, get siblings involved with diabetes management, so that they feel part of it.
- Try not to put family life on hold.
It can be a challenge to manage a child’s diabetes when they go from one home to another. Whatever your feelings about your ex, the two of you need to work together to make sure your child’s diabetes is well managed.
- making sure both of you learn about managing your child’s diabetes from your paediatric diabetes team – second-hand information can be confusing or inaccurate
- how you’ll keep each other updated about any changes to your child’s treatment or routine
- how you’ll involve new partners.
As a lone parent, you may have particular difficulties because all the pressures fall on you alone.
- who you can call if you need help
- who can help you in an emergency
- who can support you when you’re struggling emotionally
- who can babysit when you need time off
- involving siblings in your child’s care, being careful not to give them too much responsibility.
When your child is diagnosed with diabetes, it’s natural for grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc to be as upset and worried as you are. They may be in constant contact, asking for updates or how they can help – or they may leave you alone to concentrate on your child.
Advice for dealing with extended family:
- Keep one person up to date. This person can then update everyone else: group texts and emails work well for this.
- Ask for the help you need. Perhaps you’d like someone to look after your other children, do a bit of shopping for you or walk the dog? People often want to help, but don’t know what to do.
- Think about the future. Your family will be living with Type 1 diabetes from now on, so how can your extended family best support you? If your child is used to staying over with relatives, it’s important that they still do so. If grandparents and other family members are worried about looking after them, try involving them in your child’s diabetes care. You could also bring them to clinic appointments to help them learn more about diabetes and ask questions for themselves. Most of all, be honest with them, tell them how you feel and ask them to help you keep your child’s life as normal as possible.
Is Type 1 diabetes hereditary? Will my other children get it?
Research has shown that Type 1 diabetes is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. If one family member has Type 1 diabetes, there’s a slightly increased risk of another family member developing it, too. But, many people diagnosed have no family history of diabetes. It’s natural to worry that your other children will also develop Type 1 diabetes, but try not to let this worry affect you too much. Talk to your diabetes team or contact theDiabetes UK Carelinefor support.
Diabetes support for you and your family
If you’d like some diabetes help, you can:
- ask your diabetes team for advice
- contact theDiabetes UK Careline
- connect with other parents on theDiabetes UK Facebook page
- Visit theDiabetes Support Forum
- join aDiabetes UK group
- contactDiabetes UK’s Peer Support serviceto talk to specially trained volunteers with first-hand experience of living with diabetes (including parents)
Sports used to be a big part of Jonathan Tengi’s life. The 14-year-old from Allendale, NJ, played soccer, basketball and baseball, and swam on a team during the summer. Then Jonathan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. His active schedule came to a complete halt — he even missed the last soccer match of the season.
Three weeks later, with his blood sugar levels under better control and a diabetes management plan in place, Jonathan was back in the game again, in time for basketball season. He was hitting his stride, learning to live with diabetes — something he says he couldn’t have done without his teammates.
“Playing sports was a huge help physically and mentally, because when I was diagnosed, it threw everything off. Being able to get back into sports really helped me keep my mind off my diabetes and feel more normal,” he says.
Diabetes experts agree: Physical activity is vital to staying healthy for all kids, including those with type 1 diabetes. Here’s why and what you need to know to even the playing field for your child.
Strong Minds and Bodies
Exercise helps kids concentrate in school. It’s good for their hearts, for building muscles, and for controlling weight and stress. The optimal amount of exercise for children with type 1 diabetes — about an hour per day — isn’t any different than for other children, says Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and Professor of Exercise Science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.
“A chronic disease can have a negative influence on how children view themselves, but being physically active may help counteract that by increasing self-confidence,” Colberg says.
Participating in team sports had an added bonus: It gave Jonathan a chance to educate his friends about his diabetes. His friends could get help if they saw Jonathan experiencing signs of low blood sugar, such as dizziness, confusion, excessive sweating, or weakness.
“Most of my friends were playing sports with me, so they were able to learn and tell other friends and teammates about it, and by word-of-mouth, it helped everyone,” Jonathan says.
Your child doesn’t have to be on a team to be physically fit, though. Playing tag, riding bikes, or walking are great ways to work in some daily exercise. Keep it interesting by suggesting new hobbies from time-to-time, such as hiking, karate, or hip-hop dancing.
“Learning skills and doing a new activity helps kids develop,” Colberg says. “The more things they learn, the more well-rounded they become.”
Your Game Plan
TALK ABOUT DIABETES. Because the length and intensity of exercise can affect blood sugar levels, coaches and teachers need to know how to handle an episode of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). It can be helpful if teammates are aware as well. Talk with your child’s diabetes care team before he or she starts any new exercise program. It’s important to monitor how physical activity affects blood sugar; adjustments to food and insulin may be necessary.
KEEP SNACKS HANDY. Keep a variety of snacks available that your child likes, such as an energy bar, fresh fruit, yogurt, or cheese and crackers. Depending on the type and duration of the sport, you may want to carry food for before, during, or after the activity.
ROOT, ROOT, ROOT! As for Jonathan, he continues to play several sports and to root for his favorite team, the New York Mets. “They were really bad last year, but they’re picking themselves up, just like I had to do with my diabetes, and I hope the same good things happen for them,” he says.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.
Everyone agrees: Stress is terrible. It’s the thing that keeps you awake at night and unable to enjoy your day. Sometimes stress helps us prioritize the things that need doing now, but more often than not, it’s a terrible feeling that sucks the life out of you. At its worst, stress can increase your chances of heart attack, harm your immune system, decrease sexual function, and wreck your digestive system. Stress can come from your work, your personal life, or your environment, and it can manifest in a multitude of (not great) ways.
Battling stress is a part of caring for yourself and your body. How do you get out from under the crushing weight of stress and get your life back on track?
The Art of Self-Care
The best way to combat stress is to practice the art of self-care. Self-care can be hard for a lot of people, especially those with busy lives who are used to putting work and the needs of others ahead of their own needs. Moms are especially prone to struggling with putting themselves first. Self-care is as much a part of thriving as eating and sleeping. It’s caring for yourself mentally, replenishing that spring of mental wellness and energy so that you’re able to do the things you need to do. When you’re busy, schedule time for self-care the way you would a doctor’s appointment.
So what counts as self-care? Anything that leaves you happy, satisfied, and rejuvenated: massages, time spent with a friend or romantic partner, watching a movie you enjoy, or anything that makes you laugh. Examine the things that make you genuinely happy and fulfilled, and when you find yourself lagging, indulge.
Practice Changing the Way You Think
Getting out of a funk is hard to do. When you’re super stressed, it’s easy to fall into a black hole of negative thinking. Practice changing the way you think. If you’re plagued by negative thoughts, flip them around into something positive. It’s hard to do, especially when you feel buried by worry. The more you practice, the more you’ll lean towards positive thinking naturally. You’ll be happier in the long run.
Kick Social Media
There’s a ton of evidence that social media is bad for us. Deleting Facebook from your phone, or drastically reducing your time on Facebook, can lower your cortisol levels (that’s the hormone associated with stress). Increased cortisol can lower your immune system, encourage obesity, and impair memory. Excessive social media use has been linked with anxiety and depression. That’s a lot to put up with just to see what your cousin had for lunch.
Take a 24-hour break from all the noise and pressure from social media. If your hands are still twitching to use your phone, replace Insta with an app designed to help you reduce stress and anxiety. Some apps walk you through mindfulness or meditation. Others help you breathe, or they play soothing sounds.
Take Care of Your Body
There’s definitely a connection between mind and body — just ask anyone who has experienced being hangry. When you’re stressed, taking care of your body can absolutely help get you back to balanced. If you’re working under a deadline, you might be tempted to forgo eating healthy for something quick, like vending machine food. Sugar bursts and crashes can exacerbate stress. Take some time to eat food that will give you energy without burning out quickly, like protein.
Physical activity can help you work through feelings of stress. It’s as simple as taking a quick walk to clear your head. A walk can help you calm down, catch your breath, and head back into a stressful job or project with a much clearer head.
Sleep is a powerful tool to relax and unwind. Follow practices that lead to a good night’s rest:
- Don’t eat before bed
- Give yourself time to settle
- Prime your bed for comfortable sleep
- Keep distractions or stimulating objects (like your cell phone) far away from your bed.
Like a lot of the other suggestions in this article, they’re small changes. Those small changes can lead to a big difference in your life — one that will leave you more relaxed, fulfilled, and able to take on your goals with increased gusto.
You’ve done it! High school is over and it’s time for college. Everyone is just so proud… and you’re alternating between wildly optimistic and sure of certain failure. As a person with a diagnosed mood disorder, you just barely survived high school—and that’s no exaggeration.
Maybe you’ve accumulated a list of experiences that don’t exactly enhance your resume—frequent absences, medication trials, psychiatrist visits (outpatient or in), special schools, therapists, suicide attempts and drinking sprees. But you’ve gotten good enough grades, and you’re off to college away from home. Maybe you’re hoping the geographic and lifestyle change will help you (You can confess! It’s what your Aunt Mildred thinks, too).
You are one of a new and mighty generation, with access to early diagnosis and treatment for your mood disorder. In generations past, a “nervous breakdown” in youth meant years of seclusion, sedatives and broken dreams. Today, though, higher education has never been more accessible for those living with mental illness.
With support from NAMI and resources like “The Mighty” and social media, you certainly won’t be living with mental illness all alone, and you’re about to join an exciting, new college community where stigma is reduced. But only about 56% of students earn degrees within six years—it isn’t easy.
Your success depends partly on how quickly you can get into the driver’s seat of managing your illness. So, here are a few practical tips for the road ahead:
Prepare For Your Trip
Make a mental health plan with your parents and hometown mental health professionals. Assume the year won’t be perfect and set up your supports before you go. NAMI actually has an awesome guide that can help you plan and start all necessary conversations—including what you decide to disclose to college officials about your mental health condition. Planning will help you succeed.
Avoid The Potholes
Sleep! You know you have to. Lack of sleep is both a trigger and a symptom. Even if you’re behind on studying—it’s better to get a C on a quiz than deal with a trip to the ER. Limit your late nights to 1-2 per week, max. If your sleep gets disrupted in a dorm, make a change. Speaking of lost sleep: please party wisely. Your medications probably don’t mix well with alcohol and ignoring this warning will be at your peril.
Put On The Gas
Practice self-care. This is likely to be easier than in high school, because many of your new friends will be going for walks or runs, working out in the campus athletic center, taking classes in dance or fencing, practicing meditation and joining clubs full of likeminded students. College is a great time to develop healthy habits, and exercise and self-care are so important for mental health.
Choose Your Passengers
At home, most people probably knew a lot about you. Be honest and open at college, but be wary. Once you’ve shared your story, you cannot un-share it. The world is not always a fair place. If you tell others you have a mental health condition, you may be known by your personality and your diagnosis. Some will see you through a veil of their own ignorance. If this happens, you can take on the task of educating others. You may choose to become a mental health advocate, but wait until you are ready.
As you head off to college, be happy! And be prepared. You have a disorder that you wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it is part of who you are. You’re already accomplished: You made it to college and that’s a great achievement. Your preparations will help you be even more successful and every class will bring you closer to having an educated mind.
Many of the people you will be reading about in school—Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, J.K. Rowling, William Styron, Annie Lamott, Kay Redfield Jameson—were once in your shoes. These role models were once young adults facing the adversity of living with a mood disorder, but not letting it define them. When their works are discussed in class, you will have powerful insights about their lives. Mood disorders don’t go away, but with medication, support, lifestyle care and a little luck, they can be managed. You can succeed on your journey.
Sharon Carnahan, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL and Executive Director of Hume House Child Development & Student Research Center. She has taught first-year college students since 1990 and is an advocate for students with special health care needs. www.rollins.edu/cdc.