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Most kids today need some type of ‘stress band-aids’

Straight Talk column
By: Lauren Forcella Special to The News Messenger
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Dear Straight Talk: I’m a retired high school nurse interested in how kids self-soothe in order to de-stress. I observe kids having such stressed childhoods that most have some type of addictive behavior they use for stress relief.  It doesn’t have to be alcohol, state-changing drugs, or cutting. It can be coffee, nicotine, food, shopping, extreme sports, sex, gaming, TV, movies, Facebook, pornography, or workaholism. Would the panel be so brave as to disclose what they do to make themselves feel better? ~Toledo, Ohio Leif, 21, Berkeley: I have healthy and unhealthy ways of self-soothing. My unhealthy self-soothing involves escape (via TV or video games). My healthy self-soothing involves perspective: remembering the big picture, the things that truly matter; laughing at myself. Meditation allows me to simply “be” with all my mental events (including stress). Chris, 21, Los Angeles: Stress is a prime subject in my psychology classes. One professor defines stress as, “The perception of inability to cope with a significant event.”  In other words, when an important event (upcoming game, exam) threatens our ability (skill, knowledge, preparation time) to manage that event, stress occurs. But the key is that stress is a perception. This professor would pass around a picture of a dog to “focus our minds” into the dog’s mind. The dog cares about five things: food, sleep, shelter, sex/love, play.  The professor then asks: “What else do humans really need?” This change in perception makes life more manageable. Katherine, 16, Petaluma: My closest friends keep me grounded from scholastic pressure and I feel no need to drink, smoke, etc. when I’m hanging with them. However, as a social person, it’s easy to get caught up and stressed by other drama. When this happens, I hit the gym hard or calm myself with yoga. Gregg, 19, Sacramento: To de-stress, I run, read a book, or sleep. Sometimes whatever I’m working on makes me stressed, so I finish it.  Jessie, 19, Eugene, Ore.: I hang out with friends, sleep or journal. Talking about my stress is also therapeutic. Mark, 24, Laguna Niguel: I’ve snorted cocaine, smoked marijuana, chewed ‘shrooms, drank alcohol, popped Ecstasy. This is self-soothing for one born into a confused world. I have run miles, written poetry, sang songs, made tremendous love. This is self-soothing for one walking a clear path. I have meditated, met the source of all energy and been enlightened. I am soothed indefinitely. I was born into a corporate-led world constantly injected with unabated stimuli and information. Self-soothing is nothing more than a cover for wounds. It doesn’t cure them. We are taught to self-soothe. We are taught weakness. The main wound today is lack of identity. Males don’t know how to be manly, nor females womanly. The commercial media disconnects both from their identities. Males are lost and dive into substance, gaming, and porn. Females think they need thin, false bodies to look beautiful and seek destructive male attention. These misconceptions stem from a void in child development. Voids always attract the flow of least resistance (i.e., the addictive behaviors you mention). Dear Toledo: Stress is the new pandemic. I agree with you that few people aren’t self-soothing in some manner. And I agree with Mark that self-soothing is a band-aid for stress. While every era has stress and some coping methods are healthy (the panel mentions many), to really thrive as humans we must heal the root causes of how stress affects the brain. Leif and Chris talk about a shift in perception that needs to occur. Mark talks about healing the male-female identity crisis and the void in child development. Personally, I believe early childhood is key. Give infants and young children happy, stress-free childhoods and the brain can manage stress properly later on. Readers: What have you observed? ~Lauren