Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller has worked with thousands of teenagers, their parents and schools. Here are his top tips to help you navigate the choppy waters of teenagehood.
• SLEEP is critical to your health and you must make it your number one priority.
“The structures in the brain that support the most powerful anti-depressant, serotonin, are built and re-built between the sixth and eighth hour of sleep,” says Fuller.
“Over 60 per cent of people who sleep five or less hours per night end up obese and depressed.
“Adolescents eat more and sleep less. But they need more sleep than they did as children – around 9 ¾ hours. Most teenagers’ brains aren’t ready to wake up until 8am or 9am in the morning.
“Teenagers who are sleep-deprived do less well at school and are more prone to feelings of sadness and hopelessness.”
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To promote good sleep habits, avoid caffeine after noon, don’t sleep with a computer or TV flickering in the room, avoid bright light in the evening and try not to sleep more than two or three hours later on weekends than on weekdays – this can disrupt your body clock.
• EAT HEALTHILY, as what we eat changes our moods, says Fuller.
Eat more fish, flaxseed, walnuts and chia seeds, as these contain a fatty acid known as EPA which can help with depression. Whole grain oats, full of B vitamins and folic acid, also release energy slowly and have been shown to help with depression.
Other depression-busting foods include meat, fish and cereal grains (all high in selenium) and magnesium-containing leafy greens, as these also help with sleep patterns.
• LOWER STRESS by finding ways to deal with the sources of stress in your life.
If you can’t avoid stressors, such as a complex maths exam or a difficult family situation, use a “decompression strategy” to wind yourself down after being “revved up”. For example, go for a walk or do some type of exercise; being active is the best way to release built-up stress hormones.
“Exercise decreases stress hormones such as cortisol and increases endorphins (happy chemicals),” explains Fuller. “Exercise also helps release dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin, which work together to make you feel good.”
Endorphins are hormone-like substances made in the brain and act as the body’s natural painkillers.
Good friends can also help when you feel down. Talking things over with a friend is better than bottling up your feelings. If you’re a loner, or haven’t got a friend to hang out with when you’re feeling blue, find a source of “flow” – a healthy, fun thing that focuses your mind on the moment and temporarily blanks out your worries. This may include swimming, dancing, running, computer games or drawing.
Laughter also raises our levels of serotonin and dopamine, so watch more funny YouTube videos!