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Interpersonal Landscape of Adolescents: Journey of Building up Emotional Competencies

Interpersonal Landscape of Adolescents: Journey of Building up Emotional Competencies

Teenagers seeking counselling often present with a range of concerns that stem from, or are exacerbated by, interpersonal distress. Interpersonal problems can manifest in various contexts, from family relationships and friendships to romantic partnerships and other social interactions.

The transition from childhood to adulthood is a tumultuous period marked by significant physical, cognitive, and emotional changes. As they traverse this intricate terrain, adolescents encounter various challenges and opportunities that can profoundly impact their well-being as well as future trajectories in career and life.

Positive interpersonal experiences and effective emotion regulation strategies can foster resilience, self-confidence, and a sense of belonging, ultimately contributing to better academic performance, mental health, and overall life satisfaction.

Conversely, maladaptive interpersonal behaviors and emotional dysregulation can lead to social isolation, low self-esteem, and increased risk of mental health issues. Additionally, these challenges can have long-lasting impacts on their future relationships, career prospects, and overall quality of life.

The Emotional Rollercoaster

Adolescence is a time of heightened emotional intensity, where young individuals experience a wide range of feelings with greater intensity than in any other stage of life. This emotional upheaval is driven by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors, including hormonal changes, cognitive maturation, and the increasing influence of peers.

During this period, adolescents often struggle to regulate their emotions effectively, resulting in a heightened risk of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Consequently, developing emotional competencies, including the ability to identify, express, and manage emotions, becomes a critical task for adolescents.

The Influence of Peers

Peer relationships hold immense sway over adolescents’ emotional and social development. As individuals navigate the complexities of relationships and social hierarchies, they engage in a constant process of peer comparison, evaluating their own attributes, behaviors, and emotional experiences against those of their peers.

Positive peer relationships can provide a supportive environment for self-disclosure, emotional validation, and problem-solving. On the other hand, excessive peer pressure or bullying, can contribute to the development of maladaptive coping strategies and exacerbate existing emotional vulnerabilities.

The Interpersonal Battlefield

In this phase, peer relationships take center stage, with friendships and social acceptance becoming paramount. However, navigating these intricate social dynamics can be daunting, as adolescents grapple with issues such as peer pressure, bullying, and the constant need for validation.

Furthermore, the transition from relying primarily on parental support to seeking advice from peers can be challenging. Adolescents often find themselves torn between the desire for independence and the need for guidance, leading to potential conflicts and misunderstandings within the family dynamic.

Fostering Emotional Competencies

Developing emotional competencies lays the foundation for healthy relationships, effective stress management, and overall psychological well-being. Equipping adolescents with the necessary skills to recognize, express, and regulate their emotions can empower them to navigate the complexities of their social world more effectively. Here are some useful strategies for fostering emotional competencies:

  1. Emotion Education: Providing adolescents with a comprehensive understanding of emotions, their functions, and the importance of emotional regulation.
  2. Mindfulness Practices: Encouraging mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and meditation, to promote emotional awareness and self-regulation.
  3. Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions: Implementing cognitive-behavioral therapies to challenge unhelpful thought patterns and develop adaptive coping strategies.
  4. Social-Emotional Learning Programs: Introducing programs that focus on developing social and emotional skills, such as empathy, communication, and conflict resolution.

What Can Parents Do?

Parents can help their children navigate the challenges through the following strategies:

  1. Open Communication: Encouraging open and non-judgmental communication about emotions, experiences, and challenges.
  2. Emotional Validation: Validating adolescents’ emotional experiences and providing a safe space for expression.
  3. Role Modeling: Demonstrating healthy emotional regulation and interpersonal behaviors through their own actions and interactions.
  4. Collaboration with Schools: Collaborating with schools to ensure a consistent approach to supporting adolescents’ emotional and social development.

What Can Schools Do?

Schools play a crucial role in mitigating the negative impacts of emotional and social challenges. Good relationships with teachers and classmates can foster a sense of belonging, promote academic engagement, and provide a supportive network for emotional growth.

However, negative experiences within the school setting, such as academic stress, social exclusion, or conflicts with authority figures, can exacerbate existing emotional challenges and contribute to the development of maladaptive interpersonal behaviors such as excessive reassurance-seeking, feedback-seeking, withdrawals, and other destructive behaviors. Which would lead to persistent conflicts, isolation, and diminished sense of self-worth.

Schools can support student’s social and emotional development through the following ways:

  1. Mental Health Screening: Implementing screening programs to identify adolescents at risk for mental health issues and provide appropriate support.
  2. Counseling Services: Offering accessible and confidential counseling services to address emotional and interpersonal challenges.
  3. Teacher Training: Providing professional development opportunities for teachers to enhance their understanding of adolescent emotional development and effective classroom management strategies.
  4. Peer Support Programs: Encouraging the development of peer support programs, where adolescents can seek guidance and support from trained peers.

Conclusion

Navigating the intricate social world of adolescence is a complex and multifaceted journey, fraught with emotional upheavals and interpersonal challenges. By fostering emotional competencies, introducing adaptive interpersonal skills, and providing comprehensive support systems, we can empower adolescents to navigate this critical developmental stage more smoothly.

Through collaborative efforts involving families, schools, and communities, we can create an environment that nurtures adolescents’ emotional regulation, fosters healthy interpersonal relationships, and ultimately contributes to their overall well-being and success in life.

Megan Chang & AM Team

Please refer to the AM articles page for Elise and the AM Team articles.

Please complete the AMindset intake form to start therapy with an AM team member. Our therapists offer a FREE 20-minute introductory session for new clients.

If you are not quite ready, please click here to subscribe to the AMindset Newsletter with articles and podcasts to learn more about your mental health and how AM can help you.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Battle Over the Teenagers Digital Usage Behaviors

Battle Over the Teenagers Digital Usage Behaviors

Today’s teenagers are digitally native, born into a world where online connectivity is the norm. This digital generation heavily relies on social media and online gaming platforms as primary sources of entertainment, socialization, and self-expression. This article delves into the impact that social media usage and online gaming behavior have on the emotional and social well-being of teenagers, the potential risks and benefits, and the role of parents in providing guidance.

Social Media Usage

Social media has become an integral part of teenagers’ lives. Platforms such as Tik Tok, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter serve as virtual spaces for teenagers to connect, communicate, express themselves, and share their experiences. But, with the increasing prevalence of these platforms, there is growing concern about the risk of exposure to inappropriate messages, cyberbullying, excessive usage, or even addiction.

Social Media as a Way of Being
The nature of teenagers’ social media usage goes beyond merely being a pastime. Instead, it has evolved into a way of being, an integral part of their identity. Social media platforms serve as a stage where teenagers portray their ideal selves. At the same time, it also serves their needs of feedback seeking and social comparison. Which also highly associate with their senses of self-efficacy and emotions.

Online Gaming Behaviors
Online gaming has become another popular digital pastime among teenagers. Much like social media, online gaming platforms provide a virtual space where teenagers can engage, interact, and compete with others.

Online Gaming as a Source of Entertainment and Socialization
Online gaming is not just about entertainment; it also serves as a platform for socialization. Many online games are multiplayer, requiring cooperation and coordination among players, thus promoting teamwork and communication.

Impact on Family Relationship

The digital generation gap between parents and teenagers can lead to conflicts over device usage. Many parents struggle to understand and navigate their teenagers’ digital lives, leading to potential relationship problems and emotional strains.

The Struggle for Balance

Social media and online gaming, like any other activities, come with their own set of risks and benefits.

Balancing the benefits of digital technology with the potential risks is a common struggle for many parents as well as their adolescents. On one hand, social media and online gaming can provide a platform for teenagers to connect with others, express themselves, and learn new things. Likewise, online gaming can also improve cognitive skills such as problem-solving, spatial awareness, and teamwork.

Nonetheless, excessive social media usage and online gaming can lead to various risks such as addiction, decreased academic performance, sleep deprivation, and reduced physical activities.

Social media addiction is characterized by excessive preoccupation with social media, and continued usage despite negative consequences. Similarly, gaming addiction is presented by a preoccupation with gaming, the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge, withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away, and continued excessive gaming despite negative consequences. Online gaming addiction may also lead to negative impacts on academic performance, sleep patterns, and interpersonal relationships.

The online content of social media, short videos, and gaming is programmed to inflict the urge of continuous watching or using. Even adults may not be able to resist the desire for extra screen time. Thus, our teens need to learn how to utilize these platforms while manage their desire for excessive usage at the same time.

Impact on Emotional and Social Well-being of Teenagers

Adolescents are more susceptible to the addiction of social media and gaming due to their impulsive tendencies, needs to establish their identity among their group, and stronger urge for social influences. Like other addictions, excessive screen time can lead to various emotional problems such as increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness. Social media, in particular, may lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem due to constant comparison with others.

Furthermore, neuropsychological research has revealed that the prefrontal lobe is the most affected region of brain in adolescents with digital addiction. Which underscored the negative impact digital addition can have on adolescents’ cognitive control, problem solving, and emotion regulation.

While social media and online gaming can provide opportunities for socialization, excessive screen time can also lead to decreased face-to-face social interactions and potential social isolation. As Sherry Turkle, the psychoanalyst in MIT mentions in her book “Along Together” that “The ties we form through the internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind. But they are the ties that preoccupy.”

Guidance for Parents of Teenagers on Device Usage

As digital technology continues to permeate every aspect of our lives, it is crucial for parents to provide guidance and set boundaries for their teenagers’ device usage. Parents can help prevent excessive usage, potential addiction, and other risks through the following strategies:

Setting Boundaries
Parents are encouraged to set clear and reasonable boundaries for device usage. This includes setting limits on screen time, ensuring that technology use does not interfere with important activities such as homework and family time, and setting rules about appropriate online behavior.

Encouraging Healthy Device Usage
Parents should encourage their teenagers to use digital technology in a healthy and balanced way. This includes encouraging regular breaks from screen time, promoting physical activity, and encouraging face-to-face social interactions.

Learning More About Their Digital Life
To foster an open conversation about their device usage, parents can learn more about what their teens are engaging in. You can navigate new areas of learning, fun discoveries, or even concerns together. Letting your teenagers know that they can come to you about any kind of their online experiences is the key.

Setting a Good example
Don’t forget the best way of educating your teenagers is by being their role models. Tell them what you are doing when you need to stick to your devices for a while around them. As they may lack effective skills of controlling their usage, you can share how you manage the distractions from your device by setting screen time limit or turning off notifications.

Conclusion

The digital age brings with it new challenges, particularly for today’s teenagers who are growing up immersed in a world of social media and online gaming. Which is why we have to nurture responsible digital users at this early stage.

While these platforms bring numerous benefits, they also come with potential risks, including addiction. It’s crucial for parents, educators, and mental health professionals to understand these risks and take proactive steps to promote healthy device usage among teenagers. With a balanced approach, we can harness the potential of digital technology while minimizing its pitfalls.

Megan Chang & AM Team

Please refer to the AM articles page for Elise and the AM Team articles.

Please complete the AMindset intake form to start therapy with an AM team member. Our therapists offer a FREE 20-minute introductory session for new clients.

If you are not quite ready, please click here to subscribe to the AMindset Newsletter with articles and podcasts to learn more about your mental health and how AM can help you.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Navigating the Teenage Years: Unraveling the Developmental Tasks, Challenges, and Opportunities

Navigating the Teenage Years: Unraveling the Developmental Tasks, Challenges, and Opportunities

Adolescence is a period of intensive change and growth. As teenagers navigate their way through this transformative stage, it is crucial for parents to have more understanding of the developmental tasks, challenges, and opportunities that come with it.

Neuroscience has shed light on adolescent development thus given us better insight into their experiences. One key aspect is the later development of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for decision-making, impulse control, and reasoning. During adolescence, the brain undergoes a process called pruning, where unnecessary neural connections are eliminated, making room for more efficient wiring. The process starts from the back of the brain, and the pre-frontal cortex is remodeled the last. This pruning process contributes to the advancement of cognitive skills and the ability of critical thinking. The later maturation of this area makes adolescents rely more on their amygdala in problem solving or decision making than adults do. Which explains why adolescents tend to be more emotional and present more aggressive and instinctive behaviors.

Another significant factor is the role of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. The teenage brain is particularly sensitive to dopamine, leading to heightened sensations of pleasure and a greater inclination towards risk-taking behaviors. This increased sensitivity to dopamine explains why teenagers are more likely to engage in impulsive actions, seek out novel experiences, and more reactive to reward and feedback.

Developmental Tasks During the Teenage Years

Adolescence is the stage that teenagers strive to achieve a sense of identity, autonomy, and independence. One of the crucial developmental tasks during this period is the formation of a strong and coherent sense of self. Teenagers may explore different identities, experiment with various roles, and seek validation from others.

Another important developmental task is the establishment of healthy relationships. Teenagers are learning how to navigate the complexities of friendships, romantic relationships, and familial ties. They may face challenges such as peer pressure, conflicts, and the need for acceptance.

Lastly, adolescence is a time when teenagers are preparing for the future and gaining a sense of purpose. They are exploring their interests, talents, aspirations, and directions throughout this phase.

Challenges Faced by Teenagers

In this stage of growth and exploration, teenagers face a myriad of challenges such as academic pressure, peer influence, body image issues, relationship issues and the quest for independence. As parents, it is crucial to understand these challenges and provide the necessary guidance and support. Below I listed the most common challenges and how we can help:

Academic pressure: The pressure to excel academically can lead to stress, anxiety, and burnout. It is important to strike a balance between academic expectations and their well-being. Encourage them to set realistic goals, recognize personal strengths, seek help when needed, and prioritize self-care.

Peer influence: Teenagers are highly influenced by their peers, often seeking validation and acceptance. This can lead to risky behaviors, such as substance abuse or engaging in dangerous activities. Open lines of communication, setting clear boundaries, and promoting positive peer relationships can help teenagers navigate this challenge.

Body image: Teenagers undergo physical changes and compare themselves to societal ideals. It is crucial to promote a healthy body image and self-esteem by emphasizing the importance of inner qualities, encouraging a balanced approach to nutrition and exercise, and fostering a supportive environment for their holistic health.

Opportunities for Growth and Learning During Adolescence

However, adolescence is also a time of great opportunities for immense growth and learning. For example, it is a time for adolescents to break through their comfort zone and adventure with their risk taking tendencies. And their egocentrism as well as sensitivity to rewarding feedback can also serve as the drive for their pursuance to achievement or more impactful roles in their community. It is important for parents to recognize and nurture these opportunities for the holistic development of teenagers with understanding and empathy.

One of the opportunities during adolescence is the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Teenagers are expanding their cognitive abilities, questioning the world around them, and forming their own opinions. Encouraging independent thinking, exposing them to diverse perspectives, and engaging in meaningful discussions can foster their intellectual growth.

Another opportunity lies in the realm of emotional intelligence. During adolescence, teenagers are learning to navigate their emotions, understand the emotions of others, and develop empathy. By promoting emotional awareness, introducing healthy coping mechanisms, and modeling emotion regulation strategies, parents can help teenagers develop strong emotional intelligence, which will serve them well in their personal and professional lives.

Strategies for Parents and Caregivers in Supporting Teenagers

As a parent and caregiver, our role in supporting teenagers through these challenges and opportunities of adolescence is crucial. Here are some ways to support:

  1. Foster open communication: Create a safe space for teenagers to express themselves, share their thoughts and feelings, and ask questions. Listen actively and non-judgmentally, providing guidance and support when needed. And take opportunities to model them essential relationship skills such as effective communication, empathy, and conflict resolution.
  2. Set clear boundaries: Establish rules and expectations that are fair and reasonable. Clearly communicate these boundaries and the consequences of violating them. Consistency is key.
  3. Encourage independence and responsibility: Allow teenagers to make decisions, take on responsibilities, and learn from their mistakes. Balancing autonomy with guidance will help them develop a sense of accountability and self-reliance.
  4. Provide opportunities for exploration and growth: Encourage teenagers to pursue their interests, try new activities, and explore their passions. Provide resources and support to help them achieve their goals while developing a sense of self-worth, purpose, and direction.
  5. Seek support from other adults: From family and friends to other parents, the connection with people sharing the same experiences can provide reassurance and new perspectives for your journey. You can also reach out to professional mental health workers who can walk you through the challenges and offer effective techniques. With your own support system in place, you will feel less alone and empowered.

The American Psychological Association (APA) provides a wealth of resources and support for parents, caregivers, and teenagers themselves too. Here are some additional strategies to support adolescents’ mental well-being from APA:

  1. Encourage self-expression: Provide outlets for teenagers to express themselves creatively, whether through art, writing, music, or other forms of self-expression. This can serve as a healthy emotional outlet and a means of self-discovery.
  2. Teach coping mechanisms: Help teenagers develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress, anxiety, and other challenges. This can include techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, journaling, or engaging in physical activity.
  3. Promote a balanced lifestyle: Encourage teenagers to maintain a balanced lifestyle by prioritizing self-care, engaging in enjoyable activities, and fostering healthy relationships. Balancing academic, social, and personal commitments is crucial for their well-being.

Navigating the teenage years can be both exciting and challenging. Embrace this transformative stage as a time of growth, self-discovery, and positive transition before adulthood with your adolescents. By understanding their journey, parents can be the pillars of strength for their teenagers.

References

Brain development in pre-teens and teenagers
https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/development/understanding-your-pre-teen/brain-development-teens

Parenting: The teen years
https://www.apa.org/topics/parenting/teens

Megan Chang & AM Team

Please refer to the AM articles page for Elise and the AM Team articles.

Please complete the AMindset intake form to start therapy with an AM team member. Our therapists offer a FREE 20-minute introductory session for new clients.

If you are not quite ready, please click here to subscribe to the AMindset Newsletter with articles and podcasts to learn more about your mental health and how AM can help you.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Unlocking the Unspoken: Exploring the Complex Relationship and Communication Strategies Between Teenagers and Their Parents

Unlocking the Unspoken: Exploring the Complex Relationship and Communication Strategies Between Teenagers and Their Parents

Looking back into your teenage years, have you ever been pondering the intricate dynamics that exist between you and your parents? It is a relationship that transcends the boundaries of love and affection, often veering into uncharted territory filled with misunderstandings, conflicts, and unspoken emotions. In this article, I aim to delve into the depths of this complex relationship, shedding light on the challenges faced by both sides as well as offering some guidelines that are proven to improve communication between parents and their teens. Thus, we can strive to nurture healthy and open connections with our teenagers.

Developmental Tasks and Challenges for Teenagers and Parents

Adolescence is a period characterized by rapid physical and emotional changes, as well as the exploration of one’s identity and individuality. It is common for teenagers to seek independence and autonomy, often leading to clashes in decision-making or boundaries related issues with their parents. It is important for parents to recognize that power struggles can hinder the development of a healthy relationship. Rather than engaging in a battle of wills, we can shift the focus towards collaboration and compromise. By involving teenagers in decision-making processes and allowing them to have a voice, we can foster mutual respect and understanding.

During this phase, teenagers strive to establish a sense of self that is separate from their parents. They explore their interests, beliefs, and values, often questioning societal norms and authority figures. As parents, it can be challenging to witness our teenagers questioning our values and attempting to forge their own path. However, it is crucial to recognize that this process is a natural part of their growth and development. By empathizing and offering support, guidance, and a safe space for exploration, we can facilitate their journey towards self-discovery.

Understanding and Managing Emotional Responses in Parent-Teen Relationships

Emotions run high in parent-teen relationships, and reactivity is a common occurrence. Both parents and teenagers can find themselves caught up in a cycle of emotional reactions, leading to heightened tension and strained communication. It is essential for parents to be aware of their own emotional responses and reactions when interacting with their teenagers. By cultivating self-awareness and practicing emotional regulation techniques, we can create a more harmonious atmosphere within the family. Taking a step back, breathing, and reflecting before responding can help in de-escalating conflicts and promoting healthier communication.

Handling Destructive Behaviors of Teenagers

Destructive behaviors can pose significant challenges in parent-teen relationships. As adolescents tend to engage in risky behaviors or test the boundaries while they don’t quite know how to make good decisions, it is crucial to address these behaviors with empathy and understanding, rather than resorting to reprimand or other punitive measures. By utilizing effective communication strategies, we can approach these situations as opportunities for growth and learning. Engaging in open and honest conversations about the impact and consequences of these behaviors, exploring underlying emotions, and collaborating on solutions can pave the way for positive change. It is important to remember that destructive behaviors often stem from unmet needs or underlying emotional turmoil, and addressing these root causes is crucial for long-term growth and development.

Communication Between Teenagers and Parents

Communication is perhaps one of the most significant challenges in parent-teen relationships. Misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and lack of effective communication tools can create a divide between parents and teenagers. By creating a safe and non-judgmental space, where teenagers feel heard and understood, we can bridge the communication gap and strengthen the relationships.

Strategies for Effective Communication Between Teenagers and Parents

To improve communication between teenagers and parents, several strategies can be employed:

  1. Active listening: Active listening plays a pivotal role in building rapport and understanding. By giving our full attention and validating our teenagers’ feelings and experiences, we can create a foundation of trust and openness.
  2. Practicing empathy and perspective-taking: Which allows us to see situations from our teenagers’ point of view, fostering empathy and connection. Remember adolescents always talk to people who understand them.
  3. Dedicated time: Setting aside regular dedicated time for family discussions and establishing clear communication boundaries can help in maintaining healthy lines of communication.
  4. Be firm, fair, and consistent: Being firm and fair sent your teenagers clear messages in communication. And teens would like their parents to be consistent and predictable which can bring them reassurance under any circumstances.

Seeking Professional Help: Therapeutic Approaches for Improving Parent-Teen Relationships

In some cases, seeking professional help may be necessary to navigate the complexities of parent-teen relationships. Therapeutic approaches such as family therapy can provide a safe and neutral space for open communication and conflict resolution. A skilled therapist can help parents and teenagers explore underlying issues, improve communication skills, and develop strategies for building healthier relationships. Seeking professional help is not a sign of failure but rather a proactive step towards nurturing stronger bonds within the family.

Conclusion

The relationship between teenagers and their parents is a complex and ever-evolving journey. During adolescence, Parents’ roles gradually transit from authority figures to mentors or coaches. By recognizing the developmental tasks and challenges faced by both parties, we can approach these problems with empathy, patience, and open-mindedness. As a proactive, equal, open, and reflective parent, we can unlock the unspoken and nurture strong connections that will withstand the test of time.

Megan Chang & AM Team

Please refer to the AM articles page for Elise and the AM Team articles.

Please complete the AMindset intake form to start therapy with an AM team member. Our therapists offer a FREE 20-minute introductory session for new clients.

If you are not quite ready, please click here to subscribe to the AMindset Newsletter with articles and podcasts to learn more about your mental health and how AM can help you.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

We’ve all been through a time when the world seemed dull and hopeless after experiencing a loss – regardless of whether they’re family, friends or simply an individual of great significance to us. People experience loss in a multitude of ways beyond the passing of a loved one; we grieve at the end of a relationship, a permanent change in appearance, a passing life stage, or simply anything that we can never again regain or revisit. Due to the cyclic nature of life, we deal with grief constantly. Some of them are more gradual and less noticeable like ageing, while others may be more unexpected and sudden like the death of a loved one.

Grief affects us in ways beyond both physical and emotional pain. The five stages of grief modelled by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross concluded that the five major emotions experienced during grief were denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2014). This model was based on her work on patients with terminal illnesses, suggesting that these five stages were more applicable to people facing their own existential crises rather than those who were grieving. But in practice, we find that the five stages were also shown in grief clients despite the lack of linearity of graphical evidence. Most of the time these emotions are interwoven with many others, including guilt and fear. Beyond emotional responses, the process of grief also includes natural physical responses like sleeplessness, appetite loss, and a weakened immune system. But with proper coping mechanisms, these responses can be alleviated with time, allowing you to feel more prepared to make peace with it. 

Grief is a personal and subjective process, and coping mechanisms vary amongst people, so there is no norm or timetable to abide by. In most cases, people can process and resume their day-to-day functions after a certain period of time. However, in more severe cases (i.e., the loss of a romantic partner, the loss of a parent, the loss of a grandparent) we find it overwhelming. Especially if such grief was complex or unresolved (for example through sudden life changes, traumatic events, or unresolved issues with the deceased). During Covid-19, these situations were more prevalent than ever before. One of my friends was unable to complete quarantine in time to see his beloved family member in the hospital for the last time. Another one was unable to enter Hong Kong due to Covid-19 restrictions and had missed the last call from his father before he passed in the ICU. 

In sessions, we sometimes find people still struggling with loss even after many years due to the build-up of pain over time in addition to mental challenges stemming from grief, including difficulties in emotion regulation or disassociation. Such challenges can become debilitating as individuals often do not even realise that grief is still affecting them. Clinically, the prevalence of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) was found in approximately 9.8% of bereaved adults in the population. Of the adults suffering from PGD, the symptoms they experienced consisted of intense preoccupation with the deceased, persistent distress, detached or numbed emotion, inability to trust others, and avoidance of the reality of loss (Rosner et al, 2018). 

However, there are many ways to make it easier to cope with grief. If you are currently grieving, there are a multitude of things that may help you navigate this time:

  • Know That You Are Not Alone

Because there was love, there will be pain. Whenever there is a start, there will be an end. As the pain of loss is natural and inevitable, no one can live without going through it. But rather than fearing it, try to remember that it is possible to have an easier relationship with the pain of the loss by allowing ourselves to feel it.

  • Talk About Your Feelings

If you feel that you are struggling with grief, resistance or avoidance will not lift the burden. Instead it may cause unnecessary frustration. Try to express and share your feelings though they are difficult. It will aid your grieving progress. Begin to share these thoughts with your support system, address them in a journal, and find your emotional outlet. 

  • Share Your Memories

Share your memories to alleviate fear of forgetting them. Recalling and sharing the memories with those you surround yourself with can bring you a sense of peace amidst this painful time. The most memorable moment during the funeral of a loved one is the sharing of cherished memories with the people who share our pain. These moments may remind us of the fragility of life and how despite the fact that we are mortal, the love we have is eternal. 

  • Find Ways to Remain Connected With Your Loved One 

You can still connect with those who are no longer with us. I have seen many post-it memos placed along the surface of a tombstone by a wife or a grandchild, each inscribed with a message yearning for their beloved husband or grandfather’s embrace one last time. While others may play songs they used to listen to together, or plant a tree to symbolise their everlasting life. These things serve as a reminder to us that despite our loved one not being physically with us, they are here with us in spirit. 

  • Prioritise Yourself

Everyone grieves at their own pace. To find the best way to heal you have to take care and prioritise yourself. If you feel like crying, cry it out. If you need space, ask for space. It is not selfish nor insensitive to take time for yourself to heal. Please do not be hard on yourself for not being ‘strong enough’ in such circumstances, instead, we learn how to be strong enough through grief. Only through pure transparency with ourselves and our emotions can we make peace with them.

  • Remember That Your Life is Valuable

There are a lot of changes that follow loss, sometimes the change is so drastic that you begin to feel lost in the world. Just as how precious the deceased are to you, your life is just as precious to your family, your friends, and most importantly, your own self. With this mindset you will learn to find purposefulness in continuing on with the future and finding back your sense of self that was lost amidst the grief. 

  • Seek Help When You Need It

If you ever feel overwhelmed in the madness, reaching out to your support system is a wonderful method. You can also read self-help books pertaining to grief, seek help from your religion, your support group, or perhaps by paying a visit to a professional psychotherapist as a source of help for navigating past these mental challenges.

If you are accompanying someone who is grieving, here are some helpful ways you can engage:

  • Keep Them Company

Yes, you just need to stay with them. Remember that they do not need advice or positive talk at the moment, they simply need your presence. Having someone alongside you who is listening with all of their heart is one of the best forms of support. Even if you cannot be there in person, texting or calling them is another viable way of showing support. The feeling of being cared for will aid them through this difficult time.

  • Distractions

Whether it is house renovation, work, or travel planning, it can help people temporarily disconnect from reality and focus on the world around them. Exercise is always a good idea to help them feel uplifted naturally, so asking them for a walk if they are willing to do so is another effective form of distraction. If they do not want to engage in anything physically, providing them with a list of TV show recommendations may help occupy part of their mind.

  • Be of Help

There are a multitude of things you can do to help provide an extent of aid towards a grieving individual. For instance, you can help them with their chores, take their kids to the park, order food for them, etc., Simply by doing this you are offering substantial help and providing time and energy for the individual to deal with the chaos surrounding their loss.

  • Respect, Empathy, and Understanding

There are times when grieving individuals may have some irrational thoughts like bargaining with fate or impulsive, emotion-centred reactions such as blaming the hospital or the doctor. Try to give them space to sort things out and accommodate them with understanding. Everyone heals at their own pace, so your respect is an important buffer for them to feel supported and loved to learn to make peace with their bereavement. 

 “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of the loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – On Grief & Grieving, Kübler-Ross and Kessler

It is a heartbreaking part of the journey. But aren’t we blessed to ever have someone or something that was so hard to let go of in this life?

References

Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, David. (2014). On grief & grieving : finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss (Scribner trade pbk. ed.). Scribner.

Rosner, Rita, Rimane, Eline, Vogel, Anna, Rau, Jörn, & Hagl, Maria. (2018). Treating prolonged grief disorder with prolonged grief-specific cognitive behavioral therapy: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials19(1), 241–241. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-018-2618-3

Megan Chang

MC

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Other Articles:

Talking About Eating Disorders

Talking About Eating Disorders

Talking About Eating Disorders

What is an Eating Disorder? 

Eating disorders (ED) can be expressed in a myriad of ways including extreme restrictions on one’s food intake, binge eating, purging attempts, mental distortions of body image, and extreme exercise. An excessive obsession with food, weight, and body shape are potentially all alarming signs of an eating disorder. Despite this, not everyone with such thoughts and behaviours may be suffering from such a disorder. A professional diagnosis utilising the criteria from the newly updated 5th edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is required to conclusively identify whether an individual may have an eating disorder. 

The DSM-5’s criteria have been deemed highly reputable in its encapsulation of what constitutes a certain mental disorder. For example, in Anorexia Nervosa (AN), the DSM included the following as its criteria: reduction in energy intake, low body weight, intense fear of weight gain, denial of current low body weight, and mental distortions of body image. 

There are various types of ED, as follows: 

  1. Anorexia Nervosa (AN) 
  2. Bulimia Nervosa (BN) 
  3. Binge Eating 
  4. Pica 
  5. Rumination Disorder 
  6. Avoidance/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). 
  7. Other Specified Feeding or eating disorders (OSFED). 

Among various types of EDs, AN and BN are the most common ones treated as an outpatient. AN was addressed in abundant research due to its increasing prevalence in adolescents throughout the decade. It has since become the third most common chronic disease in adolescents, next to asthma and obesity. 

Furthermore, in contrast to males, females have higher prevalence rates in most types of eating disorders. For AN, the research concluded that around 0.9~2.0% of females had developed this disorder, a percentage that is approximately sevenfold that of a male. Here we will discuss this mental health condition through research findings regarding ED among female adolescents, and young adults. 

Risk Factors 

There are several etiological and risk factors that contribute to the development of ED: 

  1. Genetic factors 

Among various studies, evidence indicated that females are significantly more likely to develop ED if a biological family member had ED prior. Both the inherited traits of personality and temperament may explain the influence. In addition, the environment in which one grew up is associated with genetic factors that may result in the development of an ED. 

  1. Neurobiological factors 

Neuropsychological functioning plays the role of mediating between underlying neurobiological abnormalities and psychological functioning in eating disorders. Nonetheless, the relationship is bidirectional. While neurobiological abnormalities can contribute to the development of ED, consequences following ED, such as constant low weight and underconsumption of nutrition, also lead to the poor neurobiological wellbeing of the individual. Emphasising the severity of an ED due to such a cycle. 

  1. Psychological factors 

EDs are highly related to underlying psychological distress. Grief, low self-esteem, trauma, or other mental disorders can be associated with its development. Family, especially parents, were often found to be responsible for such conditions. Literature indicated that restrictiveness of the authoritarian parenting style is highly at fault for lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression in their children, two main psychological distresses identified in an early ED pathology. 

According to the research of the risk factors contributing to EDs, mothers who are highly critical and overbearing were found to have caused the development of an eating disorder attitude towards their daughters. The study “Family Interactions and Disordered Eating Attitudes: The Mediating Roles of Social Competence and Psychological Distress” conducted an investigation with a sample group of 286 families in the University of Arizona. Dr. Analisa concluded that young females tend to have poorer social and relationship skills if the individual’s mother frequently communicates with overt criticism, which is a rather unhealthy pattern to be subjected to at such a young age. In these emotional obstacles, the individual experiences are known to cause higher levels of psychological distress and a disordered eating attitude in their daughters. 

The research revealed that the negative form of family communication between mother and daughter impacted the sense of self and social skills of the young female significantly in this developmental stage. This was linked to their struggles over control and self-enhancement. Consequently, disordered eating is developed to deal with negative emotions or compensate for their incompetence in social life. 

These risk factors, along with the developmental changes of young females, are not only associated with the development of an ED but also the maintenance of thoughts and behaviours with such conditions. Clinically, we need a holistic assessment of these aspects of a client’s life to deduce and proceed with the most effective strategy for support. 

Protective factors 

ED can manifest at any age, but the most common age of onset is adolescence. As a result, families are at the front line in preventing, identifying, and supporting their young family members with ED. Adolescents are experiencing tremendous changes in their psychosocial development, including an increased sense of autonomy, a shift in focus from family to peers, and the emergence of abstract thinking. Therefore, self-image awareness and confusion in identity evolving in this stage deeply affects the young adolescent’s social life and overall well-being. 

According to the attachment theory, a secure attachment can create a crucial buffer for young adolescents when facing psychological challenges. In the present, families must have open and transparent communication with the younger generation. By conveying messages clearly and listening carefully, parents can help enforce an environment in which proper guidance is provided in terms of well-respecting the children’s volition. 

In essence, parents are role models to children, emphasising the importance of demonstrating how grown-ups maintain a healthy relationship with food, appearance, identity, and social interactions. In addition to the family, the community, like schools and peers are also vital in the prevention and recovery of young people with ED. 

Early treatment is the key 

ED, especially AN is highly related to risks of potential morbidity and mortality. Despite such statistics, nearly 45% of people with ED do not receive professional treatment for their eating disorders. It is beyond crucial to seek help earlier before it further affects the health of both the client and the family. 

Eating disorders can indeed be treated, but preparations for adverse situations like negative reactions and relapses, are quintessential. It is an emotional and delicate journey for not only the individual who succumbed to it but the family who also walks alongside the young adolescent through such disorder. If you are aware of someone undergoing these conditions, please reach out to your GP or qualified healthcare provider for a professional assessment and support as soon as possible.

Megan Chang

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References:

1. Common Types of Eating Disorders (and Their Symptoms)

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/common-eating-disorders

2. Over-bearing mothers can produce daughters with poor social skills and disordered eating attitudes

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130918090208.htm

3. Bryant-Waugh R. and Lask, B. (2013) Overview of eating disorders in childhood and adolescence.

In: Bryant-Waugh, R. and Lask, B. (eds) Eating Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence, 4th edn. Hove: Routledge, pp. 33-49.

4. Teens Visiting ER for Eating Disorders Doubled During Pandemic

https://www.google.com.hk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=newssearch&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjgkPfx-oL6AhWMp1YBHWy-Ar0QxfQBKAB6BAgSEAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.healthline.com%2Fhealth-news%2Fnumber-teen-girls-in-the-er-for-eating-disorders-doubled-in-pandemic&usg=AOvVaw2eUiRaYrDLJHweAGt31jvV

5. Stice E & Bohon C. (2012). Eating Disorders. In Child and Adolescent Psychopathology, 2nd Edition, Theodore Beauchaine & Stephen Linshaw, eds. New York: Wiley.

6. Analisa Arroyo, Chris Segrin. Family Interactions and Disordered Eating Attitudes: The Mediating Roles of Social Competence and Psychological Distress. Communication Monographs, 2013; 1 DOI: 10.1080/03637751.2013.828158

7. Bohrer BK, Carroll IA, Forbush KT, Chen PY. Treatment seeking for eating disorders:

Results from a nationally representative study. Int J Eat Disord. 2017 Dec;50(12):1341-1349. doi: 10.1002/eat.22785. Epub 2017 Sep 30. PMID: 28963793.

8. Nicholls, D. (2013). Aetiology. In B. Lask & R. Bryant-Waugh (Eds.), Eating disorders in childhood and adolescence (p. 50–76). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

9. Fonagy, P., Gergely, G., Jurist, E.L. and Target, M. (2004) Affect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of the Self. London: Karnac Books.

10. Enten R.S., Golan, M. (2009) Parenting styles and eating disorder pathology, Appetite,Volume 52, Issue 3, Pages 784-787, ISSN 0195-6663,

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2009.02.013.