girlfriendaugustAnxiety and sleep: Girlfriend deals with two significant issues for girls

Melinda Tankard Reist

The two most important articles in this issue are on anxiety and the importance of sleep.

Anxiety appears to be a plague on our girls right now. ‘Feeling anxious? How to deal when your worries take over your life’ looks at the symptoms of anxiety and how to recognise when it is impacting on your ability to function on a day-to-day basis at school, home, work or socialising with friends. Different forms of anxiety include social anxiety, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Girls are encouraged to seek professional help if their anxiety is spiralling out of control. Maise, 16, shares her story of developing a nervous disorder which made her physically ill, with vomiting, panic attacks, crying and shaking. After treatment with a psychologist, her anxiety attacks have ceased. “For anyone out there who is a sufferer, one thing I can say is don’t deny you have a problem, because chances are someone you know is going through the exact same thing. And, most importantly, there is help out there,” says Maise. A related piece is on dealing with stress.

‘Next stop ZZZ Town’ stresses the importance of sleep at a time when all the indicators are that girls just don’t get enough of it – which of course exacerbates anxiety. Teens need nine hours of sleep a night to function well. Says sleep specialist Dr Chris Seton: “If you’re too tired, your mood goes downwards and it affects your learning and ability to remember stuff – lack of sleep is linked to issues like depression, anxiety and suicide”. Sleep shortage is also linked to increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Girls are advised to: go to bed and wake up at the same time, avoid caffeine from the afternoon onwards, exercise, turn off electronics 45 minutes before going to bed, do something relaxing 45 minutes before bed, open the blinds and be exposed to sunlight as soon as they wake up, have a cool, dark, quiet room and not to sit on their bed to do homework or watch TV – their brain needs to learn that this is a place to sleep.

‘The trick to being absolutely positive’ aims to help girls break negative thought patterns, which also relates to anxiety and sleep. Nyomi Graef, founder of extrahappiness.com, offers secrets for a positive mindset: how to over the 3am terrors when you are controlled by fears (write a plan for dealing with the fear the next day to help you get back to sleep), work out what you can control, ask what you can do to change a situation that has dented your confidence, how to manage fears for a friend and beating the ‘blahs’. “There’s no way you can stop worrying completely, but you can stop your concerns from taking over your life” says GF. (Of course sometimes they can’t do it by themselves and may need professional help). Related is ‘I’m not good enough…And other lies we tell ourselves.’ “Constantly pretending we’re OK and swallowing our emotions has significant ramifications, even leading to serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety, says psychologist Jacqui Marquis-Conder.

Also connected with the themes so far is ‘Under Pressure: How to deal with the pressure to perform.’ Psychotherapist and family counsellor Tahlia Mandie says: “Parents, peers, teachers and society can all contribute to the pressure you may feel to make a decision about what you’d like to do, but don’t forget you are just figuring out who you are.” She says when feeling the pressure to make major decisions about your future, it’s important to be true to yourself. “Focusing on your values, interests and passions is what counts, as this will help you make the best decisions for you and no-one else.”

Coralee, 18, in the ‘Life, as told by you’ section, was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. It affects the autoimmune, endocrine and neurological systems. There is no known cause or cure. Through the support of her boyfriend and family and her love for music, fashion and art, she says she tries to look on the bright side and is grateful for the support she has. Soreti, 18, is a youth ambassador with World Vision who went to Malawi on a study tour. She speaks in schools about the work of World Vision. “My whole experience with World Vision has reinforced that this is the kind of work I want to do in the future.”

‘Future: Unknown’ is about helping girls work out what they want to do with their futures. Girls are encouraged to think about their passions, interests and strengths when considering their future, then research ways they could turn each interest into something bigger. And it’s OK to change your mind – decisions don’t have to be set in stone.

‘Learn like an A+ student’ helps girls work out how their brain works and what study techniques – visual, verbal, active and reflective – wok best for them. Girls are informed that planning is the key to study success and to test themselves. The website  is suggested to help readers find out more about learning styles.

From study to the importance of internships and how they can lead to a job you want. Girls are given advice on how to look after their best interests and not be taken advantage of in the process. “As an intern, you should be learning about a job you’re interested in. If you’re not learning anything but the company is getting a free pair of hands to help out, there’s a problem,” says GF. They should know how long they are there for, ask how realistic are your boss’s expectations – “There can’t be an expectation from the boss that the company lives and dies by this person’s performance”, says Tom O’Shea, executive director of police for the government’s Fair Work Ombudsman. Girls are advised to dress to impress, to arrive on time, to keep track of people’s names and not to curb their enthusiasm. Related is ‘Career Plan B’ – about having a backup plan on the way to your most desired profession. Girls are advised to write down a list of their ideal jobs, then branch out from them with related jobs in similar industries or jobs that use the same skill set. Careers coach Lisa O’Brien offers career planning tips: make a list of all you need to go to get the job you want; break the list down into specific tasks, make a list of adjustments you need to make in life to get those tasks done; Identify the fall back plan; talk to parents; reassess progress; never stop researching career options; Do lots of work experience.

And to help girls not sabotage their chances of getting the job they want, readers are reminded that their cyber profiles could make or break their changes. According to career expert and psychologist Suzie Plus, many employers check social media sites when assessing a candidate’s suitability for employment – candidates may be rejected if they’ve posted inappropriate content. “Be strict with who can see your content. Put your Facebook privacy settings on ‘friends only’”, says Plus. She also advises asking yourself “How is this image or status going to impact on the life I want to create for myself?” Girls should remember that even if they de-activate an account, the information can live on in archived or old versions of websites. Girls need to be careful about the kinds of photos their friends take and tag them in. But social media can be helpful too, for example joining professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. And many industries want talented people with digital skills for social media jobs. Australian fashion jewellery brand Diva is given as an example of a company with a prominent online presence “that demonstrates innovative and creative use of these sites” (Many who protested online against Diva selling ‘Playmate of the month’ and other Playboy- themed merchandise to their target market, 8-12 year old girls, discovered how ‘creative’ Dove was when it deleted critical comments on masse from its social media sites! (see ‘Diva: perhaps the most blatant example of consumer disregard we’ve come across’, MTR blog, October 19, 2011  and ‘Dodgy Diva does it again flogging Playboy necklaces to little girls’, MTR blog, June 29, 2012‘).

Readers are encouraged to think about casual homophobia, for example describing things as “so gay”. “The problem isn’t necessarily what people say or even what they might mean by it, but the deeper message it sends,” says Jayde Ellis, spokesperson for the Wear it Purple support group. “When casual homophobia goes unchecked, it can lead to isolation, bullying, violence, beating and, in many tragic cases, suicide.”

There’s a very useful two page feature on periods and understanding your monthly cycle. Another welcome article is ‘Fun for One’ to help girls see they can enjoy their own company. “When you’re single, you have more time to learn a lot about what you want, what you’re not willing to compromise on, and what your passions are. The longer you’re single, the more you’ll learn.” In a culture that tells girls they are losers if they don’t have a boyfriend, this is sound advice.

A piece that had great potential but turned out a bit limited was ‘Secret Ways Teens have Power.’ The article was way too short on examples, with just three – blogging, helping customers if you work in retail and service, or using ‘fan power’ to influence celebrities. There are so many more ways teens have power, for example in engaging in grassroots campaigning and protest movements (brazen plug here) such as Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation). I have had the pleasure of seeing many teens seeing how much influence they can have when they protest, write letters of complaint, bombard social media spaces of corporates who do the wrong thing. Their energy and passion can be harnessed for great good! Also there is no mention of political influence – we have an election approaching and many teens include those who have reached voting age. Helping teens see they can influence the political process would surely have been a natural fit with this piece.