Submitted by Darsh N. Patel
According to the United Nations, in 2019, there were 1.2 billion people between the ages of 15 and 24 years. That is around one in every six persons worldwide, given the world population of 7.63 billion. However, too many young people continue to face poverty, injustice, and human rights violations, preventing them from reaching their full potential.
A secure and healthy transition from childhood to adulthood is a basic human right that every child should have. As a culture and as a family, we should provide the chance to learn life skills to live productive and satisfactory lives.
Instead of growth opportunities, today’s youth are more confronted with expanding challenges. Despite technology advancements, many are feeling more distant than ever.
Speaking at an event on youth empowerment, Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General (from 2006 to 2016) stated, “When young people have decent jobs, political weight, negotiation muscle, and real influence in the world, they will create a better future.”
The current pandemic has intensified isolation from one another for extended periods, heightening the feeling of disconnect. This, combined with the uncertainty of the future, has stifled socializing possibilities, and the uncertainty of educational and job prospects has resulted in emotions of stress and anxiety. Changes in career options, educational structure, and a lack of physical activity in gyms, outdoors, school playgrounds, and organized sports have been reduced placing an additional burden on today’s youth.
Stress – physical and mental — in my opinion, is the most pressing issue confronting youths of today. Much research has been conducted to link stress to drug addiction and autoimmune disorders in the younger population. “Prolonged stress can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, a weaker immune system, and heart disease,” according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
Stress that is left unchecked for an extended period can lead to mental disorders. Peers can often help relieve stress at a time when social ties are crucial, but they can also be a factor in contributing to stress and anxiety.
According to the 2018 APA survey, there has been an escalating trend in the diminishing state of their emotional well-being over the last seven years. In addition, a 2019 study conducted by R Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, reports that rate of the major depressive disorder increased by 52% among adolescents aged 12-17 and by 63% among young adults aged 18-25 between 2005 and 2017.
A Canadian Longitudinal study was done in 2018 by Taylor Heffer, which surveyed 594 adolescents every two years with a median age of 12 years, for six years. The study concluded that social media use does not induce depression in adolescents, but this might not be accurate these days.
An important first step is to educate our adolescents, teenagers, and youths about stress and its symptoms. Second, providing opportunities for this age group to stay connected in meaningful activities, such as introducing outdoor activities in school and opportunities for constructive dialogue about issues confronting our society, will aid in stress management.
Stress in adolescents and teens does not necessarily appear the same as stress in adults.
I dealt with my stress by being academically active, participating in Stanford University students’ Model United Online High School and the online Global Issues summer seminar conducted by Yale. I also managed stress by staying connected to my friends via online face time and participating in outdoor physical activities. Those activities have helped me to manage my stress which at times was exasperated due to prolonged isolation.
I am certain that without staying active and busy I would have felt melancholy and would have felt less connected to the community around me.
From a young age, I have been physically active, joining the Galena High School track team — an endeavor which didn’t go very smoothly due to COVID restrictions. I am an avid rock climber and I climb year-round with my team members for three hours three times a week at Mesa Rim Climbing gym. The longer I climb, the more my brain concentrates on physical movements, problem-solving, and exertion. At some point, I am not thinking at all, yet my body knows what to do. This is my brain working on a higher level of self-preservation.
I am exhausted but happy when I am done as my brain has just released several endorphins. Endorphins bring a positive feeling to the body, similar to that of morphine. My mind calms down, and I no longer feel stuck. Through climbing my body is gaining strength, endurance, and agility. Climbing brings my body and my mind in synch.
During winter I go skiing with my friends and when I was young came very close to the state before actual frostbite, my toes felt like they were on fire with hundreds of needles pricking them. And this memory led me to one of my most fulfilling activities, a community service project, The Soul Shoe Project, geared toward helping the homeless and unsheltered population in my town get fitted with winter boots so that they are not victims of frostbites that lead to amputations of toes.
I saw, following strict HIPPA guidelines, adult feet in a horrid state of gangrene, and these patients at my mother’s work are often homeless. I have spoken at the Community Homelessness Advisory Board meeting, where I met outstanding community advocates and dedicated council members. I am learning how bills get passed and how the housing system for the homeless community works.
I also help my high school community to recycle household batteries and I feel good that they don’t end up contaminating our soil.
I would highly recommend my fellow youth to find a project big or small that forces them to look beyond themselves and give back to the community. Giving to others through my charity project has helped me to gain a sense of responsibility, taught me to be helpful and kind, given me opportunities to sharpen my leadership skills, and given me a healthy boost to my self-confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.
There are days when I am very stressed as the school and other deadlines are piling on, that is when I remember to not only get enough sleep but to also go to bed by 11 p.m., with no devices in the bedroom.
A healthy balanced diet is also key to keeping my energy high.
Last but not least, my passion for mathematics has kept me curious and I am always seeking greater depth and knowledge in mathematics. I have been able to achieve this through taking many higher-level UNR undergraduate mathematics courses and being involved with the Northern Nevada Math Club since I was in fifth grade. Soon after completing eighth grade, I approached my college professor and started working on independent mathematics projects. This has helped me gain a better understanding of mathematical concepts and proofs.
These projects showed me the possibility of applying mathematics to different areas of our lives in a meaningful way. My continued engagement in mathematics has fueled my passion for the subject, and my anxiety about my future college and job prospects has significantly reduced.
And I cannot stress the importance of friendships I have formed and the time I spend with my friends in person at school and at the climbing gym has greatly added value to my life. I would also advise listening to music with your friends, playing board games, going for a swim, hiking, biking or just meeting in a park for a game of hoops to lift your mood and take your eyes off your electronic devices.
I still think there is room for improvement in my strategy to reduce stress. I see my mother has greatly benefited from the practice of yoga. She tells me that yoga improves mental clarity and brings relaxation, promotes body awareness, eliminates chronic stress patterns, calms the mind, and sharpens concentration. Perhaps next year when I am a college freshman, and my schedule is less hectic, I will dive into the ancient practice of yoga!
Darsh is a 12th-grade student at The Davidson Academy, a dual enrollment school at the University of Nevada, pursuing higher-level university courses in computer science, mathematics, statistics, and economics.
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