“Rub your ear lobes,” said Tina Terry from the front of the classroom.
“Now slap your left knee, now the other.” Terry threw her cheetah-clad legs up one at a time, demonstrating brain gym exercises at Payson High School’s Student Wellness Conference Tuesday.
“This may look silly, but it delivers serious results,” she said, flailing her arms in alternating circles.
While Terry corralled students up out of their seats, across campus, Ingrid Schon was trying to get them to sit still.
“True relaxation is doing nothing at all,” she said.
Over low drum music and with a candle casting a gentle glow, Schon said meditation delivers your mind to a zone where you stop thinking and just experience calm.
A balanced life — most struggle to maintain it. From juggling friends, school, parents, relationships and peer pressure, it is no wonder high school students get depressed, detached and even give up.
PHS’s second annual Student Wellness Conference tackled these tough issues and offered steps to cope.
More than three-dozen experts delivered their unique message of wellness during 45-minute breakout sessions, of which students had the option of attending four.
Topics ranged from the fun: job hunting, volunteering, Zumba and Brain Gym, to the serious: bullying, suicide, eating disorders, sex, epilepsy, identity theft and dating abuse.
Speakers Che Hernandez and Lauree Moffett delivered one of the more somber messages of the day.
Two years ago this month, Moffett’s son and Hernandez’s nephew, Austin Moffett, took his own life at a house party.
At 22 years old, Austin had made mistakes and was struggling to get his life on track. Unfortunately, no one recognized how serious his internal plight was. When he attempted suicide earlier in the week and failed, none of his friends thought to call his family, Lauree said.
Unaware of the attempt, Lauree didn’t know he needed help right away. When he went to a party later with friends, all it took was one friend not answering his text message to send Austin over the edge. He quietly took his life in the garage.
Austin’s interpretation of that unanswered text was severe, but how often have we called someone, they didn’t call back and we thought the person hated us, were mad or didn’t love us? Hernandez said, “when maybe they were just busy.”
How we understand events can send us down a dark path, he said. Hernandez encouraged students to always look for the positive.
“If we have a friend that is struggling, we need to reach out to the appropriate people,” Lauree said.
“I want to help people in crisis and be there for any one of you if you need help,” Hernandez said. “Ordinary people like myself can make a difference”
One student raised his hand and said he needed help; he was one of the same students that raised their hands when Hernandez asked if they knew of someone taking their life in the last month.
“I will get you the help you need,” he said.
In each session that followed, “tragically, each had students that were affected by suicide recently,” he said. “My mission is to encourage individuals in crisis to seek assistance, as well as empower those around them to give encouragement and loving support.”
At 9 a.m. on Oct. 22, Lauree will host the second annual Walk To Prevent Suicide at Green Valley Park. Last year, 125 people attended, recognizing those lost with memory boards and posters. All funds raised go toward suicide prevention programs.
For immediate help, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK.
What leads someone to suicide varies, but depression often plays a role, said therapist Penny Navis-Schmidt during the depression awareness and prevention session.
Depression is an illness that can strike anyone at any time. Learning to handle it is key.
“Depression is about biochemistry and we know that the chemicals in our brains have a lot to do with our emotions and so when we are seriously depressed, there are chemicals such as serotonin that just aren’t firing appropriately,” she said. “But there are things we can do in terms of wellness that are going to change those chemicals in our brain.”
When depression hits, it can lead to detachment, substance abuse, sleeplessness, feelings of worthlessness and a general lack of energy. Schmidt compared it to slogging through quicksand.
“We all can see when someone is depressed, they just look different,” said Mike Royer with Southwest Behavioral Health.
“But instead of spending our time here, we are going to spend more time talking about how we can move towards wellness, the things we can do if we are feeling depressed and how to maintain patterns of wellness.”
One of the best things to take the focus off depression is to offer goodwill to others, Schmidt said.
“When you go up and say something nice to someone rather than something mean, it does two things, it makes you feel good and it makes them feel well and it doesn’t cost anything,” Royer said.
“Just try it and see what happens. I tell you, you will see a difference in yourself and those people.”
In addition, learning to counteract negative thoughts with positive expectations and activities can change our brain.
Although letting go of negative thoughts sounds simple, “it can be one of the most powerful patterns that you can get into,” she said.
When Royer counsels depressed teens, he frequently finds they aren’t involved in clubs, don’t do anything after school and isolate themselves in their room. But withdrawing only draws you further into a funk.
Keeping busy and active with sports, music, art or friends takes us away from a depressed state of mind. And the only person in control of your mind is you, so choose positivity, Schmidt said.
Controlling the mind takes practice. One of the best ways to do so is through meditation, Schon said.
Repeating the pattern — breathe in, hold and release — for a period takes the focus off obtrusive thoughts and directs it to peaceful, neutral ones.
With practice, meditation brings calmness even during stressful times.
“You learn you can walk into total chaos and be calm,” she said. “Life is stressful, but in a couple minutes you can go from being freaked to calm.”
While meditation brings the mind peace, Brain Gym activities get it moving.
Through simple movement exercises, like massaging the ear lobes or muscles around the jaw, pathways are created in the brain.
And intentional movement can help with learning. There are more than two-dozen Brain Gym movements that improve concentration, memory and coordination, Terry said.
Terry ran through most of them, getting students up out of their desks and flailing their arms, stretching their calves and tapping their heels.