Since the covid19 pandemic began a year ago, many people have been experiencing panic disorders, stress, depression, and have even attempted suicide.
Adults and children, those neurodivergent or neurotypical, have experienced elevated stress during this period of uncertainty, experts say. Higher stress levels have been noted in children and teens who mostly socialise and learn online as a result of limits on public gatherings.
Dr Safeeya Mohammed, CEO of Sisu Global Wellness, told a group of girls at the American Chamber of Commerce’s (Amcham) Caribbean Girls in ICT conference last Thursday, and boys who support them, how to be resilient, how to cope with stress and how to care for their bodies
through mindfulness, building resilience techniques and being cognisant of how stress affects their bodies.
This was the 25th anniversary of the Amcham conference. Typically, it would be hosted at the Hyatt, however, because of the pandemic, it was done virtually instead on Zoom.
This allowed Amcham to host 18,721 attendees from different Caribbean countries such as the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago. Their ages ranged from 14-19.
Mohammed was speaking on using digital technology safely while living through a crisis.
“What is stress? It is the emotional and physical response you experience when you perceive the imbalance between the demands placed on you and your resources and coping skills to come out of it. Stress affects every single organ in the entire body,” she told teens.
This year, she said, the body has been put through many stressors. There has been an increase in screen time and digitisation; an increase in the level of collaboration and social cohesion among people; and an economic fallout that families and countries are still trying to climb out of. All these factors cause stress.
Stress is called toxic when it does not let up and there are no relationships or means to help people cope. Mohammed asked the students what they have been doing to counter the stress levels.
She separated the students into breakout groups and challenged them to come up with ways to de-stress using the letters of the word.
The students said they dance, exercise, sing, take slow deep breaths, relax, eat, sleep, dance, draw, doodle, sightsee, read, ride a bike, sit still listening to silence and swim.
One student said she smiles.
“Even if it is a fake smile, your brain would not know that it is a fake smile and release the happy hormones,” the girl said.
There is also physical stress, Mohammed said which yong people also experience.
She said there has been an increase in ergonomic concerns such as joint issues, posture problems and blurry vision caused by an increased screen time. A number of younger people have been complaining recently about eye strain. This, she said, is a direct cause of too much screen exposure and not resting the eyes while looking at screens.
She taught the students the 20-20-20 rule where every 20 minutes, they should take a 20-second break and shift their eyes away from the screen for at least 20 feet away to help their eyes from getting tired.
Resilience, she said, is a person’s ability to overcome the problems stress brings. It is problem-solving, being resourceful, experimenting at home, being tenacious, persistent, collaborative and having the ability to ask for help and work together when needed.
“We all have different ways of dealing with stressors...Don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution. Don’t make fear make the decision for you, analyse and collaborate, get the support from your family, don’t look at things as an insurmountable problem. What we think about matters to the brain,” she said.
She advised the group to look at their tone of voice, how their minds engages issues and to observe what emotions are in their minds. She told the group not to compound one negative thought on another negative thought because that’s ruminating.
When difficult times happen, she said a person can either have a response or a reaction to the event. A reaction is thoughtless and impulsive. A response is calm and intentional.
Responding, she said, was mindfulness.
“With mindfulness, there is a pause before something hits you. To calm your reactions say: ‘I will breathe.’ You have a crazy amount of assignments and it hits you, breathe.”
Meditation, she said, was a good way to improve the stress response and build a mindfulness practice.
“Harvard (university) did an MRI on those who started doing meditation and in six to eight weeks there were changes in the brain to be better at regulating memory. If you want to have a better tool to manage stress, embrace mindfulness and meditation.”
She said one of the best ways to cultivate resilience during a crisis is to have a gratitude practice for the good things that happen in life.
“There is so much in being able to wake up in the morning and being grateful and saying: ‘thank you Lord.’ When you are able to say thank you Lord for the simple things. It is like throwing the rock in the water and seeing the ripple effects.”
She said in the midst of a pandemic which has brought much anxiety, economic hardship and stress, everyone is feeling some strain, but the tools she gave the students were to help them cope with any problem.
“I want you all to be resilient. Concentrate on what you can control, think about your thoughts and support each other...You are going to have all kinds of curve balls thrown at you and you have the tools to try to unpack that stress.”
Put in box
What neurodivergent means?
The term neurodivergent is used to describe a variety of conditions related to cognitive abilities, though more often people with these conditions prefer neurodiverse. It applies to conditions such as autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Neurodiverse individuals often struggle with soft skills, especially ones that apply to social interactions. Unexpected physical behaviours like standing too close to someone or speaking too loudly occur for people on the autism spectrum, self soothing movements like rocking or irregular hand movement may also be present. In Tourette’s sufferers, verbal and physical tics are the hallmark of the condition.
What neurotypical means?
The term neurotypical arose alongside the term neurodiverse. Neurotypical describes individuals who display typical intellectual and cognitive development. These individuals acquire physical, verbal, intellectual, and social skills, proceeds at a specific pace and meet standard accepted milestones for development. Neurotypical people also display commonly expected physical behaviours such as being able to easily modulate their volume when speaking based on the situation and don’t find it distressing maintaining eye contact.