#3 TRENDING IN Personal Growth 🔥

Stressed? Read This Harvard-Educated Doctor's Advice on Managing It

Personal Growth

Fri, June 21

Teens… the angsty period when rambunctious kids grow - physically and emotionally - into adults. On top of a maelstrom of hormones, we have to take exams that seemingly decide our future, take part in back-breaking academic and athletic competitions, and deal with plain old cliquey drama. Life can get a little bit overwhelming, and it might seem that you have no clue what you're doing.

That's where Dr. Aditi Nerukar - a Harvard physician specializing in stress and mental health - comes into play.

Courtesy of Dr. Nerukar's Management

“I was in my second year of medical residency when I felt a stampede of wild horses across my chest. So, I went to the doctor and they said, “Oh it's just stress! Try to relax," she told me, “I did all of the things you're supposed to do when you need to relax - spend time with friends, go to the movies, and maybe go shopping.”

But none of that worked for Dr. Nerukar. She put on her scientist hat and got to work. “I wanted to know more about how stress affects the brain and body.

I read all the research studies and books I could, and that's when I found my way out of my stress struggle.” After developing her stress management practice in Boston and extensive research, Dr. Nerukar wrote The Five Resets: Rewire Your Brain and Body for Less Stress and More Resilience.

Courtesy of Dr. Nerukar's Management

Dr. Nerukar debunks myths about anxiety, stress, and toxic resilience in her book. One thing that she thoroughly discussed was anticipatory anxiety, or put simply, “the what-ifs.” It's the thing you get before a test - what if I don't know anything? Or it could be the mental frenzy of self-doubt before a baseball game.

“First off, anticipatory anxiety is normal. Of course, you're going to have anxious and worrisome thoughts. Anticipatory anxiety is simply a protective mechanism. All of it is ok, but within reason, and when you notice that it's keeping you up until 2 in the morning or getting in the way of your daily routine - give yourself some grace and self-compassion," she advised.

Next, find ways to get out of your head and into your body. A straightforward exercise to get away from the doom and gloom is the “stop, breathe, and be” exercise. It mentally grounds you into the “what is” thinking.

Dr. Nerukar explained, “It's a three-second exercise, and what you do is - quite literally in the name - stop, breathe, and be. Over time, if you practice it 10 or 30 times a day, those three seconds incrementally make a huge difference in anticipatory anxiety.”

The best way to combat anxiety and stress is habits, just like the “stop, breathe, and be” breathing exercise. Other positive habits include daily walks, regular exercise, meditation, and nature immersion. However, many teens struggle with sticking to them. “The goal of habit formation is to understand the psychology of it.

It takes eight weeks to build a habit - falling off and getting back onto the horse is a part of the process. It's how our neurons build those circuits. The key is, when you're doing something new, aim to do it every day."

The brain is a muscle, just like a bicep. When you do something every day, even for a little bit, you strengthen it. An example would be a daily walk. Just taking five minutes out of your day to reconnect with yourself in lush nature can easily be punched into a 24-hour schedule.

One nasty habit is - drumroll, please - scrolling on your phones! I'll be honest, I thought Dr. Nerukar was going to go on a splenetic rant on expunging phones from the hands of teenagers.

But no, her research unearthed something else. Dr. Nerukar revealed, “One of the most eye-opening things in my research is that it's not about becoming a digital monk or complete abstinence. It's more about decreasing your reliance on your devices. The reason it's important to have a boundary with your phone is that devices aren't benign. When you scroll and engage, these have a direct impact on your brain and brain chemicals like neurotransmitters."

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“Inputs like social media and just being on your phone all have an impact, and a greater impact on teens, for multiple reasons. Your brains are developing, so you want to ensure you're feeding it healthy input."

Digital boundaries can break this gridlock between your brain and constant doom scrolling. One measure you can take is keeping your phone off your nightstand. Instead of checking your messages and social media first thing in the morning, take a few minutes to set the tenor of your day - wash your face, go outside and take a hearty breath, and brush your teeth. “With phones particularly, I encourage teens to take brain breaks - it allows your brain to recalibrate and recharge.

We know based on science that brain breaks reset the brain. Some ways to honor your breaks are to move your body, get some rest, and do some deep breathing exercises," she said.

Some deep breathing exercises are 4-7-8 and diaphragmatic breathing.

4-7-8 Breathing

  1. Inhale for four counts.
  2. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  3. Exhale for eight seconds.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

  1. When we were children and babies, we diaphragmatically breathe by nature. It's simply belly breathing. “At some point in our adulthood, we lose our ability to inherently breathe diaphragmatically, and we become thoracic - or chest breathers,” Dr. Nerukar said.
  2. Put your hand on your belly
  3. Take a deep breath through your nose or mouth and let your belly rise.
  4. Exhale and feel your belly fall

Why is breathing so important? Dr. Nerukar answered, “The reason breathing is so important is because your breath is the only physiological mechanism that's under voluntary and involuntary control. Your brainwaves or heartbeat can't do that. And therefore, it's a good gateway to managing stress.”

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Kelvin Valerio from Pexels

Happiness

With summer coming up, it's hard to keep yourself busy. A summertime job or internship might burn some time away, but Dr. Nerukar has something else in mind.

There are two kinds of happiness - eudaemonic and hedonic. Eudaemonic happiness focuses on fulfillment and true happiness - what you might get from playing an instrument or a sport. The latter revolves around instant gratification, things like scrolling on your phones and junk food. It's important to have a balance between the two, especially during long periods of tedium.

“Ultimately, for teens, you do want to engage in some hedonic pursuits like watching shows or playing video games with certain constraints. But understand that you could try to volunteer, and learn a new language or instrument, and it's ok if you don't know what you want to do yet. You're in an exploratory phase - so I'd suggest trying to tap into sports.

They can cultivate leadership skills, and there are so many other things you can pursue. The main focus should be doing it for joy,” she said.

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Kindel Media from Pexels

There's a dangerous cobweb of influencers and social media pushing harmful ideologies onto teens. Toxic resilience is when you don't honor your boundaries and limits - “I'm resilient! I don't need that much sleep.

I don't need to quit.” Dr. Nerukar explained, “Toxic resilience is something new that we've seen in this post-pandemic era. But true resilience honors your boundaries and health.”

Adults tell us that we have it easy - sure, we don't have to pay the bills - but our generation is the first to grow up with phones. We have the world at our fingertips - a blessing and a curse. Anxiety and depression are skyrocketing in our generation, but we can still combat them through setting boundaries with our digital devices, practicing deep breathing exercises, and setting beneficial habits. Remember - it's not about “being a digital monk. It's about setting healthy boundaries and limits.”

Dev Shah
50k+ pageviews

I am a high school sophomore living in Largo, Florida. My goal as a journalist and interviewer is to help our generation of teenagers by providing inspirational writing and exploring complex topics. I focus on mental health, self-love, entertainment reviews, and narrative experiences. My work has been published in The Washington Post, Tampa Bay Times, Fortune Magazine, Education Week, and more local papers. I use my experiences as the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion to guide my writing and pieces, and my vast verbal knowledge to best articulate my thoughts.

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