My office is rife this month with patients exhibiting anticipation anxieties about what college accepted them or rejected them (their hopes are dashed forever!), what classes they failed, how well they performed, and how they are positioned for future success.
The sea of despair, the self-accusations, the diminution of inherent self-worth hangs in the balance of the student’s final report card. It appears that the cultivation of innate self-worth through other means has not been deemed worthy in our culture. The price tag on education is a functional reality and a concomitant pathology.
The range of symptoms that accompany the self-worth crisis are as diverse as the person. There are those whose emotions are felt in the stomach who exhibit IBS, cyclic vomiting syndrome and recurrent stomach “viruses”. Tension headaches and musculoskeletal complaints are manifested in those who stiffen up in the face of the perceived stress. I see performance anxiety, ailments from apprehension, eating disorders, generalized anxiety and insomnia among other mental health issues.
The risk factors involve family dynamics, particularly those that reinforce the notion that you are “good” if you get good grades and “bad” if you don’t. Self esteem plummets when you do not meet these expectations.
Contributing factors are an education system that emphasizes performance on an intellectual level that is not in synch with the emotional intelligence of the person. Where I live, and I imagine in many other areas, there are high schools that emphasize college level global learning beginning in 9th grade. Parents compete to have their child enrolled in these programs. The disastrous results have been in my consultation room diagnosed primarily with ADHD and executive function disorder. The students feel they must perform a task that seems impossible for them. If they do not achieve, they have failed. They have failed to meet their parents expectations and their own. In a conversation I had with a guidance counselor at one particular high school, she told me that 95% of the students “suffer” with challenges to executive function at the school. She assured me that eventually, by year 11, they sort it out.
In the meanwhile, the student suffers. What is the mental, emotional and physical price of an education of this nature?
It feels to me as though I am in a war zone, patching up the wounded in triage and sending them back out to the battlefield hoping they will make it until the war is over.
The treatment protocol that I employ is designed to maintain self-esteem as a priority. It is called the Triumvirate Technique. I do this by utilizing a homeopathic assessment that includes the totality of symptoms presented in the mind/body/spirit. I select a homeopathic similimum as the remedy for self-regulation.
To construct a self-assessment tool for each person, I teach them Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction techniques including the daily practice of checking in with your Self using body scan and mindfulness meditation. To know oneself and to learn how to respond skillfully rather than to react frantically is a learned strategy.
To reinforce thriving and to promote flourishing, I use the principles of positive emotion psychology. Loving Kindness meditation recited daily for self and others along with Pockets of Positivity (POP!), a method of creating moments of positivity. Upward spirals of positive emotions build resilience and engender more of the same. According to research done by Barbara Frederickson and colleagues, open hearts build lives.1
With self worth at the core of an open heart, a happy, wholesome life is the award as we graduate from one season of life to another. As integrative practitioners we can help nurture this in our patients.
I welcome comments/successful strategies from practitioners with cases of the same nature. eMail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Frederickson BL, Cohn MA, Coffey KA, et al. Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness medication, build consequential personal resources. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008;95(5):1045-1062.