TEDx speaker and mental health advocate offers helpful practices
By Megan Gallagher
When summer comes to a close, teenagers can feel the anxiety creeping in. What will this school year be like? Will I make friends? What college do I want to go to? What do I want to do with my life? These are the kinds of questions I asked myself all the time growing up.
When preparing for my TEDx Talk, I stumbled across some incredible statistics regarding teenagers and anxiety. According to a statistic done by Harvard in 2019, one in three teenagers will experience chronic anxiety. One in three?! That is so mindblowing! Teenagers already feel so much pressure and stress on the daily. I feel that the more open, honest conversations there are about wellbeing, mental health and self-care the better! When the new school year starts back up, so many anxieties can come to the surface.
For many teenagers, the stress of a new school year, getting prepped for college, the body changes, social media comparison, hormones and pressures to fit in can be too much to handle. I personally believe that having a self-care routine and being in touch with your intuition can really help teens and their parents have a successful school year. I feel that everyone, but especially teenagers should put their mental and physical wellbeing first before anything else. Things like meditation, exercise, journaling, getting enough sleep and balancing their social life/academics will benefit them in the long run.
I remember getting so anxious before events, but especially school. What If I didn’t get the good grades? What If I had a panic attack in front of people? What If I wasn’t good enough? What if I never overcame my anxiety? These thoughts flooded my mind like a never ending merry-go-round. From ages 6-17, I struggled with chronic anticipatory anxiety and panic attacks. I constantly felt anxious, but growing up in this tech/social media generation really escalated my anxiety.
Below, are my best tips for teens on having a healthy and successful school year, based on my personal experience:
1. Don’t compare yourself: Comparing is really the thief of joy. We all have different bodies, lives and passions. Social Media can make it really easy to compare yourself to other people (yet we may not even know them in real life). Try spending time loving yourself and living in your present life, not someone else’s. All the likes, comments, followers, etc can make you feel like you have to keep up with the latest and greatest trends constantly- but that’s not true. Living a good life all starts with your thoughts, routines, habits and the effect you have on others.
2. Set boundaries and time limits with social media/technology: I think setting time limits and having a schedule every day can really change your life. Focus on what activities and habits make YOU feel better. Always remember to not compare your life to other’s and that if you want to feel better, you have to put in the everyday work to feel better. Don’t let the likes, comments and followers make you feel not good enough or anxious.
3. Exercise daily/ practice self-care routines: Exercise is one of the best things you can do to soothe anxiety! I love to exercise every day in the morning. It helps set the tone for my day and allows me put myself first. It puts me in a great mood every time. Some of my best self-care routines are meditating, journaling my thoughts, hiking and just setting an hour before bed to wind down. It’s always good to put yourself first! I love dancing, running, hiking, barre, pilates and any type of movement. Exercise relieves stress and racing thoughts. I personally feel like the more you know yourself as a teen, the easier your life will be( through meditation, paying attention to how things feel in your body and journaling/reflecting)
4. Getting enough sleep: Getting a good night’s sleep really sets the tone for your day. Getting about 8-9 hours every night really will improve your mood, boost your immune system and promotes a healthy lifestyle. Getting a lot of sleep and going to bed at normal times really have so many long-term benefits. I typically go to bed at 9 p.m. and wake up at 6:45 a.m.
5. Be kind and loving to yourself/your body/others: I think that when you truly love yourself, it sets up everything else for your life. You think about how things will benefit you and your wellbeing. You start making time for what feels right to you and brings you peace, joy and happiness. As a teen, your body is changing, the hormones and peer pressures can really feel like they are pulling you in multiple directions at once. But, just do what feels right to you and get to know yourself. Take at least one hour every day to be with yourself and see what you are feeling/thinking. Spend your energy on loving yourself and being kind to your body!
6. Surround yourself with positive influences: Who you surround yourself with can really affect your mood and attitude. Surrounding yourself with people who have good energy and are positive really will change the way you view yourself and vice versa. Who you are will attract who you surround yourself with, so always be aware of how you talk to yourself and how you treat others. Make healthy choices! As a teen, there are a lot of peer pressures and trying to fit in, but make sure you put yourself first and do what feels right to you. Also know that being a teenager is such a tiny part of your life, have confidence to stay true to yourself and your beliefs.
7. Do your best but also know that everyone has their own natural talents and abilities: For me, academics never clicked. I enjoyed being on stage, storytelling, helping others and giving advice to my friend group! I loved helping others and just being creative. I think as a teenager it’s important to do what your best with getting good grades and putting in effort, but also being open to what your passions are.
8. Enjoy the moment: Being a teenager goes by so fast and I really believe that staying present in the moment and enjoying the journey will benefit you! For me, my weight fluctuated, I had acne and neckgear/braces. Yes, it was uncomfortable but I wished I had spent more time enjoying the journey instead of wishing I was someone else or at a different point in my life.
9. Stay healthy (mentally and physically): Things like getting enough sleep, loving yourself, taking time for what makes you happy, being active and staying positive/finding a creative outlet are guaranteed ways to stay healthy!
10. Trust your gut feelings: Pay attention to how you feel when making choices or hanging around people.
If you feel anxious or that you are having chronic anxiety or depression- seek help! Therapy, EFT tapping, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, etc have really helped me!
Take action if you feel like you have a problem with racing thoughts or panic attacks
Habits like reading, meditating, hiking and being active have really made me feel more grounded and calm. When you are a teenager, a lot is going on. It’s important to establish routines that support a healthy and happy life.
Megan is a 23-year-old TEDx Speaker, Author, Mental Health Advocate for Teens, Blogger and Motivational Speaker for Teens. She currently lives in Santa Monica and travels the country to speak at middle schools and high schools about anxiety, loving yourself, being your own advocate in life and being intune with your body.
Facebook: Megan Gallagher
Youtube Channel: Megan Gallagher
Her TEDx Talk: Anxiety, The New Teen Epidemic- is available to watch on the TED Youtube Channel