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Healthy Choices in the New Year

January 5, 2010
Times Observer

All right, let’s try this again! I must sincerely apologize for my absence over these past many months – life in my classroom has kept me insanely busy and the dust is finally settling. You may say that I need to work on time management; however, since this is a column focusing on teenagers (and to save face) I am going to call my time away from writing a “sabbatical for research purposes.” But, in hindsight, I do need to work on time management – it is the time to make resolutions, after all! I would also like to get more physically fit AND lower my stress level. All of these goals are noble ones (albeit easy to break by February) and, as I thought about this article, could also be very beneficial for teenagers to adopt this year. As time goes by, healthy decisions are becoming fewer and farther between – especially amongst teenagers.

Time management is probably the easiest of these things to tackle. A lot of solutions are nothing but common sense; it is the implementation of these strategies that take some self-discipline. The simplest solution is to start making “To Do” lists. List making and using these lists as a tool are very “left brain” activities and this half of the brain is more logical. Teenagers are naturally more emotional and by creating a list that prioritizes their tasks and gives them a way to track their progress will help them to see that the situation may not be insurmountable. They must also learn that it is okay to say “no” – to friends, to bosses, to joining up with too many extra curricular activities – to keep their obligations manageable. Guilt or the desire for having fun obviously get in the way of the word “no” very often, but as soon as your teen gets used to thinking things through and knowing when they have too much on their plate, it will become easier. Along with the desire for fun comes the dreading of doing monotonous tasks and with that comes the procrastination and the agonizing and the hemming and hawing about actually getting the job, whatever it may be, done. They need to bite the bullet and get started before they have too much time to let the dread fester in their minds. Finally, and the one thing you can directly do to help them more than any of the rest of these time management tips, is to let them communicate their schedule to you. By hearing their “to do” list out loud reinforces it in their minds as well as creating more accountability now that there is someone else around who knows what they need to accomplish.

The issue of physical fitness and making the healthy dietary choices is a bit tougher and, trust me, for me to be telling others they need to be healthier is kind of like Homer Simpson teaching calculus – I am far from the one who should be giving advice. However, I can appreciate the desperate need we have for teenagers to start living healthier. It is estimated that 1 out of every 3 American children is either overweight or obese. This issue is easier to deal with while people are teenagers, their metabolism will never be as good as it is now – for ONCE the adolescent hormones are beneficial! Creating a healthy, balanced eating plan for your family and encouraging more physical activity will help your teen on the road to better health. In extreme cases, psychotherapy, group therapy, and consultations with a nutritionist might help as well. However, by tackling the problem as a family (or at least part of the family acting as a team) it takes the emphasis off of the teen, who is probably already self-conscious about the issue (which will most likely cause even more bad dietary habits), and makes it a group effort. Plus, it gives great opportunities for bonding time.

Finally, the Grand Poobah of personal challenges, lowering a teenager’s stress level. This may be quite the challenge, especially for people around here, seeing as though people of New York, according to a survey conducted by Live Science, are ranked 51 on their list of depressed and stressed states (yup, the District of Columbia isn’t even a state and they beat us, too). Fortunately, if you are taking my advice to heart, and doing so in order, by improving their time management skills and helping them make healthier decisions about their bodies, a lot of stress will already be taken off of their shoulders. However, if your teen still has stress to work through there are some tips they can try to implement. First, fight against our country’s negative view on napping and take a 15 to 30 minute power nap in the afternoon. Most teenagers do not get the recommended 8 hours of daily sleep, but a power nap could help give their battery a much-needed recharge. Light sleep isn’t good enough and REM sleep is meant to repair the mind and, thus, becomes difficult to wake from and continued on page 49 ‰‰‰

HEALTHY CHOICES IN THE NEW YEAR from page 48 could actually make them groggier. However, a power nap will get your teen into the level of deep sleep, which is where repairs to the body occur.

Breathing exercises, such as simply focusing on slowing down each breath, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) are also extremely beneficial and take very little time to do. “When your body is experiencing a stress response, you’re often not thinking as clearly as you could be. A quick way to calm down is to practice breathing exercises. These can be done virtually anywhere to relieve stress in minutes, and are especially effective for reducing anxiety before or even during tests, as well as during other times when stress feels overwhelming.”1 PMR is a technique that involves tensing and relaxing the muscles, one muscle group at a time – scrunch up your toes for a couple second, then relax slowly; tighten your calves for a couple second, then relax slowly; and work your way up. Just think of it as a quick and simple do-it-yourself massage.

A couple other really simple stress relievers are music and personal affirmation. By listening to your favorite kind of upbeat music, you can control your brainwaves; soft upbeat music can help focus the mind for studying while more pumped up tunes can energize and inspire an individual.

Finally, never underestimate the power of self-affirmation. If you look in the mirror and start to criticize yourself (as teenagers are very prone to do) it is incredibly easy to “psych yourself out.” However, a quick cheesy grin to the reflection with a whispered, “you can do this,” or “this is going to be a good day,” or even a narcissistic “hey good lookin’” will give you that little extra boost of confidence that only our toughest critic, ourselves, can give.

Like I said, I am no expert at ANY of this, but I know what I need to improve my life. I also know that very little separates teenagers from adults besides age. Our stressors and challenges are different, but the results are basically the same on our bodies and minds. That being said, for all of those adults like me out there, if you want to use your teenager as an excuse to take on some of these personal challenges yourself, go ahead, your secret is safe with me.

1Scott, Elizabeth. "Top 10 School Stress Relievers for Students." Stress Relief for Students., 15 June 2007. Web. 18 Dec. 2009.

Jason Williams is an 8th grade English Teacher at Washington Middle School. He is a life-long Chautauqua County resident along with his wife, Holly, and their son, Drew. He holds two degrees in education specializing in instructing adolescents.He is the owner and director of Lights of Broadway Productions and an avid supporter of Team DJ the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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Jason Williams



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