Americans have been barraged in mid 2018 by a series of major news events — some of them unsettling.

President Donald Trump's trip to Europe left many unsettled about the future of the decades-old U.S. relations with Europe, and a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin left many uneasy when Trump did not forcefully back the findings of American intelligence agencies.

This all has come after hysteria on all sides over a Supreme Court nominee and a fountain of bad news about natural disasters, immigration issues, growing addiction rates, and a startling 30% increase in deaths of despair.


It doesn't matter which side of the aisle you are on or even if you have a side. The dangerous polarity and the rhetoric that catches fire is leaving many people feeling numb, discouraged, angry, or lost.

And yet, maybe this stress is beneficial in its own way, encouraging us to pause for long enough to update how we think about stress.

My colleagues and I at University of California San Francisco have developed an online program called emotional brain training (EBT) for improving the brain's effectiveness in preventing and treating stress-induced problems. (If you're interested in trying it, you can — click here and enter the promo code "upworthy" for free access.)

We've found that there are five brain-based techniques that can effectively train you to bounce back from stress more rapidly.

1. See stress as a moment of opportunity.

This simple mental reset stops the secondary stress of ruminating about being stressed that can last for hours or days after we are triggered by a situation.

What’s more, old unconscious expectations that are stored in the emotional brain can block our creativity. Stressful moments open the brain to revising those expectations, so it’s easier to experience a breakthrough in a love relationship, a work project, or a new perspective on life. Through the portal of stress, old expectations unlock. They become fluid so that fresh ideas can appear in our mind more readily.

The first technique to outsmart stress is to say to yourself, "Stress? Great! It’s a moment of opportunity!"

2. Check your stress number.

Instead of asking, "How do I feel?" or "Why did I do that?" ask "What number am I?"

We use the EBT 5 Point system, with 5 being the highest level of stress. In Brain State 5, the primitive, reptilian brain is in charge, and all aspects of life seem extreme. At Brain State 1, the lofty neocortex takes control and the various domains of life naturally feel effective and balanced.

Checking brain states has important benefits like helping us understand ourselves better and appreciate shared human experiences. Everyone experiences all five brain states.

3. Update your unconscious expectations.

The third technique is to update unreasonable expectations that are encoded in the brain from past experiences.

These unreasonable expectations can be false associations, crossed wires from a momentary experience of stress that we coped with in an unhealthy way which the brain then recorded and now replays in response to small daily stresses.

For example: If we reached for food when we really needed love, an expectation is encoded ("I get my love from overeating.") If we feel distanced in a relationship, the encoded message may be "I get my safety from isolating," laying the foundation for decades of distancing from loved ones. These expectations amplify our stress chemicals and promote reactivity and prolonged stress.

Emerging research shows that these circuits can be reactivated and updated. When we train the brain to react with something more healthy, the brain begins promoting stress resilience, helping us bounce back from disturbing news more rapidly.

The EBT technique for rewiring, which is called the cycle tool, applies this research with a set of statements that guides users to reduce their stress and update their expectations. The key is to state one phrase after another, and pause for long enough that the messages from the unconscious mind "bubble up" into the conscious mind to complete the sentences.

The EBT Cycle Tool

This situation is:

What I'm most stressed about is: (narrow it to one complaint)

I feel angry that:

I can't stand it that:

I HATE it that:

I feel sad that:

I feel afraid that:

I feel guilty that:

Of course I would have that guilt reaction, because my unreasonable expectation is:

The reasonable expectation that I will replace this with is: (repeat three times)

I'll give an example. Here's my cycle tool at this moment:

The situation is that politicians are making a mess of things. What am I most stressed about is the world falling apart. I feel angry that the world is falling apart. I can't stand it that you can't trust anyone. I hate that they won't do what I want them to do. I feel sad that things are so bad. I feel afraid that they will get worse. I feel guilty that I am so stressed out!

Of course I am stressed out, because my unreasonable expectation is that I get my safety from other people doing what I want them to do. That's ridiculous! I cannot get my safety from others doing what I want them to do. That's impossible. The reasonable expectation that I will replace this with is that I get my safety from connecting with myself and doing what I can do to create safety and joy in my life.

In one to four minutes of using this emotional tool, I feel good again and appreciate that I have made a small but important improvement in my wiring.

4. Tap into the power of compassion and humor.

The fourth technique is to check the brain state of others. Problems in relationships are most apt to happen when both people are stressed. The reptilian brain is in charge, so emotions are extreme and the brain activates circuits of relationship dysfunction. Our thinking brain remains offline, so analyzing the situation rapidly devolves into obsessing or ruminating. We're apt to distance ourselves from others and judge.

When stressed like this, nobody is "relationship material." By realizing that your partner is in stress, you can access compassion and use humor (e.g., "I'd like to discuss that but my reptilian brain is in charge right now.") to melt that stress and hasten a healing moment of reconnection.

5. Finally, try a little tenderness.

How can we boost our spirits during turbulent times? Let's remind ourselves that the stress of the situation is perfect in its own way. It gives us opportunities to try a little tenderness, becoming more sophisticated in how we approach our emotions, thereby discovering a new zest for life. That zest becomes our gift to ourselves, to our loved ones – and to our nation.

This story originally appeared on The Conversation and is reprinted with permission.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

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How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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