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Finding rest in a restless world

By Jeremy Freeman

Person laying down in the snow
In many facets of our lives we have made busyness, or hurry, the driving command. The American philosopher Dallas Willard wrote that one of the biggest distractions from our own growth is hurry, and that we must 'ruthlessly eliminate hurry' from our lives. In a recent webcast I participated in, the author explained that our busyness can feel productive, but in reality it can be a toxic distraction, sapping our spiritual, physical, and emotional vitality. Consider the following effects:
  • Emotional health - Busyness may lead to frustration, anger and hopelessness. 
  • Physical health - Busyness may lead to muscle tension, headaches, insomnia, compromised immune function and restlessness.
  • Mental health - Busyness may lead to anxiety, stress and a loss of agency. 

We must carefully consider whether our approach to youth development is driving some of these same effects. Research analyzed by the CDC on sleep suggests that nearly 60% of students in grades 6 - 8 and over 70% of students in grades 9 - 12 do not get enough sleep on school nights. In an effort to provide positive experiences for young people, we may be robbing them from a vital element of their growth, rest. Add to this the recent research around media use among youth, and it paints a clear picture that our young people’s lives are saturated with stimulation.

Common practices in our youth programs often involve evening meetings (with travel) and evening virtual programs that create media stimulation. While the programming we provide is positive in nature, it can’t be received and enacted by overcommitted young people who can’t properly digest the experience.

So how can we ensure our young people are finding rest in the midst of a restless world and avoiding the consuming power of hurry? Here are a few strategies that we can put into practice:
  • Help young people prioritize commitments and know it’s okay to say no to commitments that they can’t keep.
  • Be clear about the amount of time youth will need to give attention to a specific activity 
  • Set a deadline for in-person meetings to be done, with enough time for the furthest participant to get home at a reasonable time. This may mean prioritizing business items and creating separate times for social gatherings.
  • Check-in on youth when they seem tired and encourage them to set aside one night a week to be free from media use and social obligations.
  • Ask young people to identify ways that they can renew their energy.
  • Close evening activities with well-being openers that create an open and quiet space.

Young people, like all of us, need times where they can be renewed and find rest to effectively manage their life. They also need to learn how to prioritize their time and balance obligations with their own personal health.

How can we use youth development practices to guide young people to live whole and satisfying lives free from a sense of hurry? What strategies do you use to help young people cope with busyness and live more fully in the present? What positive outcomes arise when young people live out of a place of rest? I’d love to hear from you!

-- Jeremy Freeman, Extension educator

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  1. I appreciate this perspective Jeremy. We as adults have the responsibility to set manageable expectations and model them for young people. Thank you for this reminder, and maybe for some of us, permission to end a meeting at a reasonable time.

    1. We are building and setting expectations every time we gather with young people. There are exceptions but most business we do is not so vital that it warrants setting poor practices for young people to model. We can teach them a lot by ending a meeting early, or by showing them how to manage their time effectively by setting constraints on a meetings content.

  2. Jeremy, this is such an essential topic, made all the more salient by the mental health crisis among youth that was precipitated by the Covid 19 pandemic. As youth workers, we can all ask ourselves what we can do to support young people’s wellbeing. Supporting their rest and mindfulness are some of the most powerful ways we can do that. I also have found that helping young people develop the ability to be present, to slow down, and to be with themselves is an essential step in that process. So many youth struggle with life that is unmediated by technology. I find basic mindfulness tools are helpful (like the resource you included), as well as time outside and time to cultivate curiosity and wonder. Thanks for lifting up this topic.

    1. Kathryn, you mention the need to 'develop the ability to be present, to slow down, and to be with themselves.' I think these are great points of consideration to approach with young people. People may argue that these skills are lacking because of a shift in cultural norms and expectations. Example, fifty years ago most young people had very concrete activities that connected them to their daily life. Are there structural changes that we can help young people adjust within their lives, or do you see the need to develop skills from within? Or a combination of both?

      I have found with my own kids a need to reset their expectations in a given moment, and recognize that there is value and beauty in the mundane, the ordinary and oftentimes the present reality starting at them in a moment. This allows them to stop and pause and be present with what they have around them.

  3. It would be good to model manageable expectations by looking at how stressed our county educators are. In a job with high turnover, what insights can we get from those who have chosen to stay long-term?

    1. Thanks for bringing your perspective to the conversation. There are a lot of expectations given to our staff and I agree we can continue to help them (and their program base) set realistic expectations about what work they can commit to, and how to buffer their time to manage ongoing needs. There are certainly things outside our control, we can only advocate for as much staff time and support as any given county will allow.

      It would be interesting to study trends within employment in other non-profit like organizations. My assumption is we are not the only organization that struggles with shorter term employment cycles, especially among young and newly hired employees.

      I also agree with you gathering the collective wisdom of our veteran and long-standing staff would be valuable. Their modeling and mentoring is vital for our success as an organization.

  4. Thank-you for addressing such an important topic, not only for young people, but for youth workers as well! I especially love your strategy around asking young people, "What renews your energy?". Such a powerful question. How often do we stop and consider what renews us? What renews our souls? One aspect that I try to build into programming is mindfulness and helping young people think about where they are and what they are doing. A small pause is sometimes all it takes to slow things down.

    1. Thanks for your attention to the needs. Mindfulness, while being a relatively new approach in health and wellness programs has really been around for centuries. I find it interesting that as its acceptance has gained popularity in western culture its use is being directed towards the self and personal improvement rather then what it was originally intended to be used for.

      This practice can be used as a stop-gap, but do you think mindfulness practices allow youth to learn and gain a deeper sense of what is driving their hurry to begin with?

      What other practices or approaches do you think youth would benefit from that address the inner heart of hurry in their life?


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