Mental health is on the forefront of everyone’s mind. If you are a Christian teen (or know someone who is), here are some tips on how to maintain good mental health.
Make time for you
It’s no secret that mental health issues among your peers have been skyrocketing in recent years. You could blame the pandemic, social media, cell phones or a combination of them all. Cell phones are a rightful target because the more we use them and their affects are studied, the more we learn about their impact. (You can learn more here and here.)
Cell phones and social media can become parasitic in nature, stealing from you all the things that make you mentally healthy: time, self-image, spiritual growth, and joy. It can suck out the very essence of who God designed you to be.
It’s so important that you take the time in your very busy schedule to prioritize time alone. This might mean being proactive and setting some time limits on your devices. If you find that you have a hard time even sleeping without your phone, start small. Leave your phone in the kitchen while you sleep. Once you have mastered that, try blocking off a couple of hours on a weekend morning. This may be uncomfortable at first if you are not used to spending time alone without a friend or a phone. So take it slow and start small. Get to know you again.
Check in with yourself weekly
Now that you have turned down the noise, given more space for you in your life, it’s time to reflect. Make a date with yourself once a week, put on some music you enjoy, and take some deep breaths. You can ask yourself these questions as a sort of weekly check-in:
- What gave me joy this week? What filled me up?
- What was draining to me this week?
- Who in my life lifted me up and encouraged me?
- What relationships struggled this week?
- What was I worried about at the start of the week? How did that end up?
Reflecting on these questions can come in the form of journaling, a personal video blog (keep it to yourself though), sketching or just thinking. It really depends on how you are wired. The benefits of doing this include: greater insights, better boundaries, and healthy emotional regulation.
Look outside yourself
At the start of each week, have a chat with God and ask Him if there is anything He wants you to do in the coming days. Ask Him to bring to mind any needs around you and how you might be able to reach out and help.
You may be feeling pretty tapped out, so this doesn’t have to be anything huge. I can be something simple like, picking up dinner when your mom has to work late or calling an elderly relative who might be lonely. The benefits to you in this is that when we look outside of ourselves, it helps gain perspective on our own circumstances. A heart that serves others is one that is blessed in return (Luke 6:38).
It’s important to get outside of yourself, but it’s also important to look inside too. Right now, I want you to close your eyes and take just a couple of seconds to scan your body from the top to the bottom. Look for tight muscles. For many people, there is always some part of their body that is clenched (shoulders, abs, neck, etc). As you scan your body, relax any places that are tight. Do this any time a day (the more, the better) and you will be helping your body to move away from a state of stress to a state of calm and relaxation.
Find a friend, parent or trusted adult to check in with weekly. Anxiety and depression grow in a vacuum. In fact, they seek a vacuum. Fight back against the lie that you are alone. You are not. You may feel alone, but that is not true. Feelings often lie. Reach out for prayer, a conversation or a hug. That first step is always the hardest, but connection with other people who are trustworthy and kind is a balm for the soul. Let these people be the hands and feet of Jesus in your life.
Scientists are finding that your mom was right when she used tell you to “just go outside and play!” You may not want to play outside anymore, but being in nature, no matter what you are doing, can have a big impact on your mental health. Sun exposure generates dopamine which is a brain chemical responsible for motivation and attention. If you can do a little exercise out there while you are at it, your energy levels and feelings of positivity will improve as well.
Sometimes it is simply mind over matter. When we focus on all the things we lack, we will become sullen, discouraged and hopeless. But if we change the lens though which we see our circumstances to one of gratitude, we will find that we have peace and joy. Make it a regular practice to list all of the things in your life that you are grateful for. Thank God for the many blessings you have. You may think that you don’t have much to thank Him for, but remember that anything good in your life is from Him (James 1:17)
These are just a few things that you can do to safeguard your mental health. What have you found that helps you in this area? Please feel free to share in the comments.