Teen emotions can be bumpy. Therapy for teenage depression and mood disorders can be highly beneficial. Mental health retreats offer support. Teenage mental health facilities offer all sorts of therapies. But teaching kids tools for managing emotions is key. What does it mean to ride the wave of emotions? To understand the metaphor, all you have to do is close your eyes. Picture yourself on a surfboard in a turbulent sea. Tune in to the sensations in your mind and body. In addition, visualize yourself rising and falling with the giant swells. Do you feel your chest tighten and your breathing become shallow? Do you feel tense as a wave curls high above you? Is there a sense of exhilaration as it lifts you up? Furthermore, is there then a sense of doom as you drop downward?
Riding the Wave of Teen Thoughts and Feelings
“Riding the wave” is a metaphor that therapists use “to help illustrate the ebbs and flows associated with life,” says Kristin Wilson, MA, LPC, Vice President of Clinical Outreach at Newport Academy. “Sometimes the waves are big and other times they are small, but if we can learn to observe when they are starting to swell, and experience the feelings associated with that, we can mindfully ride them out without getting swept away,” she says.
The key to staying upright is self-regulation, which begins with learning to recognize when the wave is building. “For someone struggling with addiction or mental health issues, the ‘wave’ may be a triggering situation or craving,” Wilson says. At Newport Academy, “we teach teens to bring awareness to the first signs that the thought or feeling is building, and sit with those heightening feelings,” she says. Natural cures for depression are ideal because they don’t require ongoing medical intervention.
Teen Emotions and Self-Regulation
Those feelings might include fear, anger, and hopelessness—and also positive emotions, such as joy, pride, and love, which can be equally difficult to “ride out” when they are intense and overwhelming. The tools for maintaining balance are self-observation, self-compassion, and the breath. “We help teens breathe through the discomfort and begin to let the feeling pass without reacting,” Kristin says.
Learning to Ride the Wave
This approach is central to many traditions of yoga and meditation. At the Kripalu School of Yoga at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, yoga teacher training includes the study of a specific technology for riding the wave, known as “BRFWA” (Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow). “This is a simple technique for being present with our moment-to-moment experience,” says Stephen Cope, a psychotherapist, Kripalu Yoga teacher, and author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.
Starting with the Breath
Again, it all begins with the breath. “It’s impossible to be stuck in an endless, obsessive thought-loop while you’re breathing consciously,” Cope says. The relaxation phase of the technique helps to break up tightness and resistance in the body and mind, he explains. The “feeling” step helps us tune in to sensations and emotions, and the practice of “watching” develops the ability to observe our actions and reactions without judgment. The final phase focuses on surrendering to the process and allowing emotions to pass through.
Riding the wave is an approach that will benefit teens for the rest of their lives, in every situation, Wilson says. “They can carry these mindfulness skills into all aspects of their lives as they journey into adulthood and sustainable recovery.”