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Stress, Masks, Teenagers

May 15, 2017

Three thoughts woven into one, my hope is to bring it full circle in the end. First on Feeling Overwhelmed, then about Four Modalities of Health. Lastly: Vulnerability to Help Hurting Teens

So, here we go: Overwhelmed?! Me too.

It’s safe to say that I feel overwhelmed multiple times a week. Too much to do, not enough time, guilt about not being a good enough: fill blank (father, husband, employee coach, you name it).

The secret is: you’re not alone. I’m not alone.

Even though anxiety grips me and knocks me down multiple times a week. I keep that smile pasted it on my face like a mask of protection. Nobody knows I am flipping out on the inside. And when I can’t hold it anymore, I hide in my bedroom, my office, the bathroom, a corner stairwell, wherever. Someplace I can be alone for a moment to compose myself, and readjust the mask I wear.

And I am not alone. It’s not like I’m the only one who feels this way. How many other masks are walking all around us? We are all covering up the truth of hurting faces. Moms at the grocery store. Young dads, frozen at a Saturday morning soccer game. An older sister watching her siblings play hockey. Coworkers crouched over the desk next door. We’re at school, the office, even at home.

Everybody gets overwhelmed. But nobody talks about it. It’s like sex or money or politics, a huge part of our life that we we refused to share with even closest confidants. Why?

We’ll return to a few ways to deal with that feeling of anxiety soon enough, but first some backstory, thoughts on part 2: Our four Modalities.

It seems to me, we exist in 4 realities. We have 4 modalities for which we are responsible to be healthy. Physical, Emotional, Spiritual and Scholastic.

Physical is simple: how we treat our body. Nutrition, exercise, sleep habits etc. Scholastic, also called academic health is keeping our mind sharp. Always learning, always growing from new challenges. Spiritual health is our connection with a world and reality greater than ourselves. We have a spiritual side whether we’d like to admit it or not. Spiritual health comes from prayer, meditation, long walks pondering the meaning of life, a church service or even acts of compassion toward our fellow man. Lastly, emotional maturity/intelligence is our healthy responses to the vast array of human emotion we are all bound to experience. How do you feel the emotion for what it is, and respond appropriately. For example how to deal with being overwhelmed.

It is easy to falter in one modality while still feeling healthy in another. However, they are more connected that we think. For example, when we falter physically, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain emotional healthy and well being.

So, how to respond to the emotional stress of being overwhelmed: remember to protect your whole self, each modality. Be healthy times four: Exercise, pray, do a puzzle, talk about your emotions.

Okay, back on track: it only makes sense that a healthy you in all aspects of life would keep us underwhelmed. There are more specific ways to keep that whelmed feeling at bay too.

Step one is so simple and often overlooked: Recognize it. Recognize that you are feeling stressed, then name it. Name the feelings you’re harboring. When you put a label on something you can own it.

Next move on to step two, this is the big one: Open up, be vulnerable, talk about it. Share that feeling you have just named with a trusted companion. Verbally process the feelings you feel, where they come from, and why they suck. Your vulnerability will set you free!

AND it will free those around you as well! When we consider our emotions and are honest with ourselves, then with others, it opens THEM up to share THEIR feelings too. When you dare to open up and be honest with someone, he/she will be encouraged to courageousness too.

Imagine a world where your parents your teachers your coaches your friends were all vulnerable. Open about their inner thoughts and feelings, about their doubts about their stress about their anxiety. A world where the masks came off once in a while.

Are you that teacher, that coach? How would that make the people, the students around you feel? Courageous? Empowered to share their own soul with safe adults in their community?

Instead we all run around with our shields up. Teens do this especially vehemently. Frantically self-medicating, fearfully looking for affirmation and affection from anyone who will give it to them.

A little bit of healthy vulnerability can go a long way with a student who desperately needs to connect.

A huge part of the struggle teens have with drugs, self harm, promiscuity, and alcohol stem from a lack of healthy connections with healthy adults in their lives. How many drug addicted kids come to you with a slew of healthy, caring vulnerable adults in their life walking alongside them?

What an honor it is to be one of those adults. Someone in the lives of teens. Earning the right to be heard with teens though consistency and compassion. Find a mask wearing overwhelmed teen, pull back the curtain on your own emotions once in a while. Share with them how you too get overwhelmed but know how to become healthy.

Jake Tracy is a Therapist at Real Life Counseling of Northern Michigan.  To learn more visit

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Nice sshare

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