Breath, write, talk: Keys to dealing with stress

Teenagers face high, arguably unhealthy, stress levels. They face pressure to get good grades in school in order to be accepted into a good college, balance extracurricular activities, all while dealing with the emotional tolls of social media.

Because of that, and the isolation we all experienced during the Coronavirus pandemic, the number of teens suffering from mental health concerns is at all-time highs. Data shows that after the pandemic one in five teens reported that COVID-19 had significant negative impacts on their mental health.

Bainbridge Island is no exception.

Teens who suffer from poor mental health and don’t have knowledge about how to deal with their stress will often turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. Drugs and alcohol expose teens to severe health and safety risks and are not helping them feel less stressed. They just worsen the stress cycle.

There are alternatives that are healthy, sustainable and offer freedom instead of numbing.

First, we should be teaching teens the power of deep breathing. Science has shown that by simply breathing slowly and deeply, cortisol levels drop and stress levels decrease significantly.

A New York Times best-selling book, “Breath” by James Nestor, a scientific journalist, affirms that. In it, Nestor says, “The missing pillar in health is breath. It all starts there.”

Second, teens should be taught about how effective it can be to write down their thoughts by creating a basic journaling practice. Journaling has been recognized as an effective way to reduce stress and calm the mind. As someone who journals daily, I can attest to how helpful it can be.

Lastly, we need to encourage teens to talk to people they know and trust about what they are going through. Having someone you can be open with about how you feel and what you are needing helps to take away the feelings of shame and loneliness that can creep in when there is no conversation being had.

If we don’t arm teens with effective strategies to cope with stress, they will continue to turn to drugs and alcohol. The science is clear that there are better ways; it is on all of us to ensure the teens in our community know what they are.

Gabriella Matriotti is a student at Hyla High School and a member of the Youth Advisory Board for Bainbridge Youth Services, which runs a monthly column in this newspaper.