In my last blog post, I discussed what quieting means according to neuroscience. If you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, I encourage you to check it out here. I will briefly summarize its contents before diving into this post’s topic. Quieting is a brain skill that we can practice and train; it is the ability to calm the mind and body in a healthy way. While quieting, serotonin is released and gives our minds and bodies a chance to rest, allowing us to process experiences and become refreshed. It is needed after high-energy states like stress and joy, and is essential to lifelong mental health1. The lack of quieting can result in becoming overworked, overwhelmed, burned out, disconnected, avoidant, and disordered.
When people don’t know how to quiet, they often avoid it, overwork themselves, and rely on certain Behaviors, Events, Experiences, People and Substances (a.k.a. BEEPS,)1, to make up for a lack of internal joy and quiet. People use BEEPS to meet their need to rest the nervous system but face mental health challenges from the lack of true mind and body rest, as BEEPS only provide temporary benefits. Our brains and nervous systems need to rest from high stress and from high joy because, if they don’t, the brain cannot adequately process memories and experiences. When we adequately process memories and experiences, the result is resiliency instead of paralysis or avoidance (due to fear). People who do not learn to quiet often become avoidant of true quiet. They may feel uncomfortable, fearful, or even emotionally overwhelmed when alone and without distraction.
Mental health issues are increasing in today’s youth, most notably in the areas of anxiety and depression2. Teens who lack the ability to quiet will become dependent on BEEPS. This can result in addiction to substances, social media, pornography, peer approval, and more. Addictions, in turn, create more dependency on pseudo-relationships and increase anxiety, depression, and irritability.
While working with teens, I observed the negative outcomes that result from adolescents who aren’t able to quiet. I saw some teens become extreme overachievers, always doing something and becoming consumed by sports, extracurricular activities, and school in an unhealthy way. They got irritable and lashed out when things didn’t go according to plan or when their family members got “in the way” of what they needed to do. These teens became stressed, burned out, and overwhelmed by any new addition to their list of responsibilities.
I’ve seen some negative outcomes from the lack of quieting in the dance community as well as other athletic sub-communities in the adolescent population. One thing I observed is that teens who lack the ability to quiet are often more prone to injuries because they push themselves too far and don’t allow their minds and bodies to rest. Teens who rely on events for joy and feelings of self-worth or belonging can become concerned if they are injured. Once injured, they feel uncomfortable and anxious about the amount of time they will need to take off from their activity to heal. I have seen teens push through an injury or come back too soon, which results in chronic injury. Even the teens who do take the time to heal fully can experience depression or anxiety from the solitude or stagnance around achieving. These issues might occur because of the desire to please and/or get validation from a teacher or coach, encouraging them to ignore pain and fatigue during training. This is especially dangerous when the teacher or coach is narcissistic or one who is simply not conscientious of the students’ or athletes’ well-being.
When teens depend on events, such as games, competitions, and performances to feel accomplished and worthy, they are likely to struggle fathoming the idea of falling behind in preparation for these events. Because they focus so much on these events and their results, they don’t listen to their body and set healthy limits. I believe my observations are evident in teens beyond those involved in athletic or dance activities. Through my work in ministry, I have seen teens develop addictions as a result of an inability to engage in quieting after anxious or joyful times. Teens who become overwhelmed and stressed with school and life and who also avoid being quiet, may look for something that makes them feel better or gives them a boost of feel-good hormones and avoid “being bored.” This could mean taking substances like marijuana and alcohol, or it could mean engaging in behaviors like watching pornography and masturbating. I have witnessed teens become easily overwhelmed by social interaction or high stimulation. They crave rest but don’t know how to find it. This will often result in teens avoiding family; they may get home from school or an after-school activity and immediately run to their room to play video games, scroll through social media, or dive into a book. While their need to rest is very real, and they are trying to rest, they often become dependent on these behaviors and do not receive long-term refreshment and restoration through relational connection and true queting.
Our youth are facing intense stress that few generations faced before. I believe it is increasing the need for quieting. The COVID pandemic was a global trauma; there was fear, stress, uncertainty, disunity, confusion, isolation, and drastic changes in schools and socialization. During the pandemic, students were disengaged from their friends and support systems, and they could not engage in activities that were beneficial to their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. For example, extra-curricular activities that provided youth with a much-needed outlet for stress and challenging situations were shut down. Physical exercise, sports, music, performing arts, fine arts, and other clubs give teens a place to explore who they are, find their people, and process and express their emotions. The loss of these beneficial and crucial social interactions led to a rise in social media use3.
Social media has become a pseudo-joy and pseudo-quiet for teens. The Surgeon General warns, “Social media is the defining social issue of your time”3. Social media use increased dramatically during the pandemic and continues to increase. While social media can have a positive impact on some users by providing peer connection and support, excessive use leads to an increase of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Social media increases these mental health issues because it can become an escape, a type of pseudo-quiet. During the pandemic, teens sought such escape to find relief from stress and frustration with the circumstances. Teens were also forced to face intensified mental health triggers, along with losing many activities and resources that help people cope with increased distress. During these intense times, teens would go to social media to quiet and calm their minds.
One important developmental task for teenagers is to figure out who their people are, who those people say they are, and what it means to belong to that group4. Teens are figuring out their identity as an individual but also as part of a group4. That is a challenging task to do with other teens. It can make them more susceptible to peer pressure, bullying, social anxiety, and more. They also are experiencing hormonal changes and experiencing new feelings of attraction. With all the complex challenges teens face, they need to rest. Resting and calming their brain-body systems will provide a sense of peace and increase their capacity to think clearly about the issues they are facing. If they are experiencing negative self-talk or dysfunctional cognitions, quieting will provide an avenue to acknowledge and address those things instead of living through the tainted perspective of those thoughts. Quieting will help increase the capacity to accept and process their emotions so they are not controlled or overwhelmed by them. While quieting does not automatically result in insight, self-awareness, and self-reflection, it calms the nervous system, which makes those tasks easier to accomplish.
In these last two blog posts, I hope to have communicated the importance of quieting, its benefits, and the negative outcomes associated with its lack. Now the question is: What can we do about the problem? How can we help teens learn and use this skill? In the next part of this series, I will discuss what the skill of quieting looks like, how to develop it, and how communities can help support the development of this skill in teens. Teens won’t be able to learn this skill on their own; they will need guidance, support, and examples in their community.
- Khouri, Ed. Becoming a face of Grace: Navigating lasting Relationship with God and Others. United States: Illumify Media Global, 2021.
- Nirmita Panchal, Robin Rudowitz. “Recent Trends in Mental Health and Substance Use Concerns among Adolescents.” KFF The independent source The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news., June 28, 2022. https://www.kff.org/mental-health/issue-brief/recent-trends-in-mental-health-and-substance-use-concerns-among-adolescents/#:~:text=The%20share%20of%20adolescents%20experiencing,among%20adolescent%20females%20than%20males
- Goldfus, Tobi B. 2023. “The Impact of Social Media Use on Depression, Anxiety, and Well-Being for Teens/Young People: Using Hypnosis to Build a Strong Sense of Self.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, August. doi:10.1080/00029157.2023.2240863.
- Wilder, E. James, Edward M. Khouri, Chris M. Coursey, and Shelia D. Sutton. Joy starts here: The transformation zone. Joy Starts Here, 2021.