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“Your problems are like mushrooms. Mushrooms only grow where there is no light—in fact, they thrive most when it’s dark and rainy.” By andrew mcpeak
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In October 2019, I spoke to parents in an affluent community that recently had been rocked by back-to-back teen suicides. Two young members of the community had decided that their lives were not worth living anymore. Sadly, it’s a story that is all too common today. 

Anxiety and depression, among young people, has been on the rise since the emergence of the smartphone and social media. In fact, many psychologists link the two: the rise of our new digital social order and the simultaneous rise of our inability to mentally handle the weight of all the change. According to a survey conducted in 2019 by the American Psychological Association, today’s generation is “significantly more likely (27 percent) than other generations, including millennials (15 percent) and Gen Xers (13 percent), to report their mental health as fair or poor.” 

Of course, these possible dangers cannot mean that smartphones and social media are to blame. They are tools. In order to get the best out of these tools and avoid the stress and anxiety that often accompanies too much screen time, we need healthy practices that keep us on the right path.

The Best Practices for Conquering Stress

Allow me to suggest to you several practices that have helped me find better life balance and cut down on the dangers screen time can pose to my mental health.

1. Mental Battery: Lower Your Screen Time and Replace it with Something Better

If you want to improve your mental health, you’ve got to take a break from your screen. Your brain is like a battery. If you overuse it, you can cause damage. Just like a phone, your brain requires a recharge. To recharge your mental battery, you must turn off your device. Studies, like the one listed above, show extended screen time is a drag on mental health. Fortunately for us, there are ways to recharge our mental batteries. Plenty of other research has linked practices like mindfulness, exercise, healthy eating, sleep and serving others to positive mental health. 

2. Bug Book: Learn to Recognize the Signs in Yourself

When an entomologist studies an insect, they keep meticulous notes. As they watch and observe, they notice things that others might have missed. Because we aren’t paying enough attention, many of us do not know our own personal signs for stress or depression. This is why you need to start a “Bug Book” for yourself. Like an entomologist, study yourself each day and literally take notes. How do you react when you are stressed? What are the signs that you are anxious? The more notes you take on yourself, the easier it will become to recognize when something is off.

3. Mushrooms: Share your Negative Thoughts with Trusted Friends and Family

Your problems are like mushrooms. Mushrooms only grow where there is no light—in fact, they thrive most when it’s dark and rainy. Shine a light on them, however, and they cannot survive. If your problems stay in the dark, they will only grow. Healthy people share their negative thoughts with others before their thoughts grow too large. When we perfect the practice of sharing, even incomplete thoughts, we open ourselves up to the support, love and care that trusted friends and family want to give us. 

4. Crooked Timber: Find People to Hold You Accountable

Philosopher Emmanuel Kant once said, “From the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” While humans are fantastic at coming up with ideas, following passions and making change, all of us struggle with consistency. We are crooked timber. It’s difficult for us to keep moving straight in the same direction for a long period of time. This is why we need people around us to keep us on track. This is called accountability. Keep people around who won’t let you stray from the goals and boundaries you’ve set for yourself. 

Like that wealthy neighborhood, the world of social media has a veneered layer of levity that often hides a dark reality. If we are going to beat stress and learn to thrive in this new world, we need time-honored practices that can keep us on track.

for further study

Tips to Improve Your Mental Health:

  • Tell yourself something positive. 
  • Write down something you are grateful for. 
  • Focus on one thing in the moment. 
  • Students at a Wisconsin high school organized a “Mental Health Wellness Festival” where they were able to engage this issue with peers. 

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Andrew is a millennial researcher, author, and communicator. In his role as Vice President of Content at Growing Leaders, an Atlanta-based non-profit, Andrew works closely with schools, universities and sports teams to teach students life and leadership skills. Andrew is a co-author alongside Dr. Tim Elmore of two books: Marching off the Map (2017) and Generation Z Unfiltered (2019), and is also the co-host of the “Leading the Next Generation with Tim Elmore” Podcast. 

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