This current age is faster, busier, noisier, and more stimulating than any era preceding it. While there have been some wonderful advances made over the last few decades, our modern society also poses unprecedented challenges which many of us do not have the awareness or tools to address. The Backpack Program equips people with the resilience and life skills necessary to negotiate these new obstacles.
Here are some of the contemporary challenges our youth (and all of us!) are up against, and some of the methods by which the Backpack program enables individuals to survive and thrive in the midst of these modern afflictions.
The Backpack teaches awareness of and coping skills for anxiety. Students learn to identify where they carry anxiety in their bodies, what situations trigger anxiety for them personally, and how to cope with it when it happens. Elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are woven into the lesson. Many people have no idea that they are experiencing anxiety, and by first identifying what it is and developing emotional granularity around the feeling, they are able to implement practical methods of calming themselves and maintaining their peace.
Crossing the Bridge is a Backpack exercise that teaches students to first identify negative thought patterns, often tracing them back to a negative or limiting belief, and then to change those beliefs and thought patterns using logic and reasoning skills and repetition. In this way they are empowered to take control of their minds and choose to develop and activate the healthy, rational, and creative parts of their brain through neuroplasticity.
The Backpack program assists with gaming addiction by discussing it with teens in the context of mental health. Excessive use of video games negatively impacts brain areasm associated with anxiety, and causes individuals to become desensitized to real life violence. It also increases aggression and hostility on a neuro-chemical level. Students learn neuroplastic principles which enable them to break old habits and create new ones by rewiring their brains.
There is so much noise and stimulation in Western culture that it can be difficult to unplug and allow ourselves to wind down, and as a result many are developing addictions to social media and technology. These specific addictions, like gaming addictions, have been directly linked through studies to anxiety and depression. The Backpack teaches people the potential dangers of addictive behaviours as well as how to break the cycle of addiction and create new brain pathways for healthier choices and patterns. Contemplative Prayer and Crossing the Bridge in particular will enable people to relax their minds and bodies and promote neuroplastic change and control.
Many in today’s fast-paced and image-driven society are struggling to develop confidence and maintain healthy self-esteem. One of the primary themes of The Backpack is positive self-contemplation. Students learn to focus on their strengths and good qualities, as well as all the many ways they are ‘getting it right’. Self-esteem is dramatically improved through self-awareness and changing thought patterns. Confidence boosting exercises are woven throughout the program. The Backpack is foundationally a resilience building program, and the resilience skills incorporated throughout the curriculum assist in building confidence and self-esteem.
One of the biggest and most in-depth teachings in the Backpack program is the lesson on boundaries. Participants learn that we all have four types of boundaries – physical, psychological, sexual, and spiritual – and how to identify violations of each boundary type. Emphasis is placed on recognizing when a boundary is being crossed and how to assert and communicate one’s boundaries. Through particular consideration of their personal boundaries, students are enabled to protect themselves around others and to have healthier relationships.
Many of us suffer from racing or looping thoughts as a result of anxiety, stress, or overstimulation/over-exertion. This is similar to rumination, or thoughts that play over and over again without resolution. Backpack participants become competent in Contemplative Prayer which has immensely positive effects on both mind and body. This, among many other techniques, such as Crossing the Bridge and brain gym exercises that promote focus and concentration, help to dramatically decrease racing thoughts and enable students to be in charge of their own minds.
The Backpack curriculum includes information about dating and domestic violence. As such, all students will become familiar with the profile of an abuser, early signs that a relationship is taking a negative turn, and how to handle manipulation and other forms of psychological abuse. Establishing clear and healthy boundaries and knowing what to look for aids in the prevention of unsafe or violent dating relationships.
Social anxiety is a specific form of anxiety relating to social situations which is becoming increasingly common. Through positive and practical coping methods for dealing with anxiety, students are enabled to talk themselves through and step down their anxious responses to social stimuli that might provoke inner tension. One mother of an early Backpack participant said, “My daughter was unable to so much as take the bus on school trips, her anxiety was so bad. Since taking the Backpack program she is more confident than ever, is relaxed and happy amongst her peers, and even takes the bus on her own now.”
Grief is a universal experience, and yet we often fail to recognize when we experience grief or grasp the impact it can have on us. The Backpack equips people to identify situations that can cause grief (many of which may be unexpected). The program helps people to view themselves compassionately in grief and see it as an inevitable element of development, as well as to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy ways of coping with and expressing grief. Grief can feel very isolating, but we never have to go through it alone. Help-seeking behaviours are fostered in conjunction with the experience of grief.