When the Light Goes Out

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Here are some excerpts from an excellent article in BYU Today magazine, “When the Light Goes Out.” While the focus is on the struggles college students can have with anxiety and depression, the insights are valuable for all of us, especially those with children who are trying to help develop emotional resilience in all members of the family. You can find the original article at When the Light Goes Out.

In a recent survey of 574 BYU students, ancient scripture professor and psychologist Daniel K Judd (MS ’85, PhD ’87) and his colleagues found a strong correlation between those who felt that their salvation was primarily dependent on their own efforts and those who experience anxiety, depression, and other mental-health problems. In contrast, Judd notes, “those who understood and embraced the principle of grace had dramatically lower scores.”

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On his mission and at BYU, Jordan became a master at appearing okay. “I went into my mission imagining myself being a great missionary. I would follow all the rules, I would be perfect, people would love me, and they would be converted to the gospel,” recalls Jordan. “That just wasn’t the reality.” The discrepancy, he says, resulted in a struggle with depression throughout his service.

Upon returning to BYU, Jordan’s emotional state spiraled downward, but he didn’t tell anyone what he was feeling. “I was very good at masking it,” he says. “People thought I was the happiest, nicest guy, but internally I tortured myself.”

He turned to pornography as a coping strategy, and he feared telling his parents how much he was suffering because he thought they would be ashamed of him. Jordan also confused the feelings he recognizes now as anxiety and depression as messages from God. “I interpreted those feelings as God’s disapproval of me: He didn’t want me to feel good about myself because He wasn’t happy with me,” he says.

It was during a drive with music blasting—something Jordan often did to cope—that he finally recognized he needed help. It was a turning point.

Jordan found a therapist through campus resources, and his physician prescribed medication. “To talk to a therapist who could explain the science behind what I was experiencing was so refreshing,” Jordan recalls. “[It] was the most weight-lifting, revelatory experience I had.”

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As stresses arise, it’s natural for young people to try to replace the negative feelings with pleasurable ones. Unfortunately, Smith says, many of the common go-to methods for young people can be unproductive and even harmful. Some turn to pornography or excessive video-gaming. Others may binge on anything from potato chips to Netflix. While this destructive sort of “self-medicating” may temporarily allay negative emotions, it ultimately creates more problems than it resolves.

Much better, say experts, is for young people to counter stress with their own unique set of healthy coping strategies. Those might include shooting hoops, having a heart-to-heart with a friend or a parent, keeping a gratitude journal, or finding someone to serve. And nearly everyone does better when they avoid isolation and foster social connections.

Young people can also learn to adjust their physiological response to stress. Strategies range from using deep, abdominal breathing to learning to relax one’s muscles to replacing negative self-talk with more productive internal conversations. Smith says thought processes that involve words like should, ought to, must, or have to (as in “I have to get into medical school or I’ll let everyone down”) are rarely healthy and represent a rigid, perfectionist orientation. He says, “People who are resilient tend to have more flexibility in their thinking” (“I hope I get into medical school, and I’ll do my best. But if that doesn’t work out, I’ll succeed elsewhere.”).

The good news, Smith says, is that such strategies really do help reduce stress in just about anyone who is willing to commit to them and practice.

These excerpts are just a taste of a comprehensive discussion of the challenges and solutions to issues that affect almost all families at some time. Follow this link to read the entire article. When the Light Goes Out

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