A teen guide to mental health during COVID-19|
I don’t think we knew how hard this would be.
The coronavirus has changed our lives in ways we never imagined. Who knew all of sudden we would all be working from home, transitioning to online classes, and social distancing from our loved ones as quickly as we did? From being a teen to a 20’s college student, we adjust to ‘the new normal’ for now, we must find ways to cope and nurture our mental health in the best way possible.
As the world is dealing with the ramifications of COVID-19, racing for a cure, we’re also reckoning with mental health and wellness. PTSD, stress, and anxiety are real, baggage that stems from uncertainty. Unfortunately, we may not know what the news will be reporting next week or even tomorrow, and it’s impossible to see how we’ll navigate, as we’ve never experienced this before. What we can control are our own actions. This includes making plans for ourselves, being mindful of others as well as practicing social distancing and self-care.
We asked Dr. Jessica Pae, Psy.D from Grace Counseling in Colorado to help us better understand ways to ease our anxiety during this time of the coronavirus. Here’s what you can do if you’re a college student, young adult or teen.
Keep a schedule
Maintaining a sense of control and structure in your life will help minimize feelings of ambiguity in times of uncertainty, says Dr. Pae. While staying up late and sleeping is now an option with your newfound freedom, it’s best to keep a sense of structure to better serve the needs of your body and mind. Dedication to eating regularly, incorporating exercise, and stepping out into nature will ease your mind and allow excitement when looking forward to these activities.
Stay engaged in a healthy way
It’s human nature to want to be within the company of people, even if you are a little introverted. If getting out and seeing people IRL while remaining socially distant isn’t an option for you (i.e this fun neighborhood Zumba class) luckily, we have the technology to help keep in touch with friends and family. Staying engaged with friends and family through video calls, phone calls, and even platforms like Netflix Party is essential for our social lives and overall well being.
Avoid overindulging in the news
Dr. Pae suggests staying informed should not result in over usage of social media and news coverage. “Too much or too little information can overwhelm people and increase anxious feelings” she tells Very Good Light. Pay attention to your limits and when it triggers your anxiety. Watching in doses is key and she encourages deep breathing practices (count to five breathing in, hold for three, then breathe out for five). In times like these, we can’t forget the relaxation tools that have helped us manage and work through overwhelming news in the past.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
We are all experiencing and coping with the news of the pandemic in different ways. As we are encouraged to ‘shelter in place’ and only leave our homes for reasons of necessity and well being, anxiety can arise from the thought or fear of leaving the comfort of our own homes. “We know avoiding anxiety will only increase one’s anxiety,” says Dr. Pae. Ignoring and holding onto those feelings of fear will only hold us back. Instead, Dr. Jessica suggests consulting a professional to help ease those feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or neighbor for help if you are too fearful to go out and take advantage of delivery services if available.
Take advantage of telemedicine services
Dr. Jessica stressed how important it is to keep seeing your therapist as needed. “Many therapists are creatively responding to the crisis to remain engaged with clients and expanding their telehealth electronic services,” she notes. And if you don’t have a regular therapist and are feeling the need to speak with someone, online services such as Better Help, Talkspace, and Breakthrough are super helpful.
Reflect on the positives
Reminding ourselves of all the positives happening in the world can help curb our anxious feelings. While these times are uncertain and can bring about fear, we are also experiencing a time of community building as we see individuals lend a helping hand to those who need it most. “People are stepping out of their way to think about the common good,” says Dr. Pae. “We are practicing kindness, generosity, intentional family time, and a slower-paced life that can be healing and restorative for our souls.” Perhaps all this time spent reflecting on the positives and taking in the slowed pace of everything around us will stick with us long after this is over.
Remaining calm when possible is easier said than done. Taking everything in and being intentional with all of this extra time we are given can keep us feeling focused and serene. For Dr. Pae, this means thinking of things to be grateful for in the form of writing it down in a journal. This has helped her, as well as making a list of gratitude each day, walking outdoors, getting exercise. It’s good, she says to be “relishing in this slower pace of life.” Taking this time to catch up on things you’ve been meaning to get to whether that’s talking to an old friend, immersing yourself in a new book, or taking up a new hobby. Each of these can easily help you refocus, relax, and pinpoint what is important to you.
While we can’t ignore our feelings of anxiety, panic, and fear we must learn how we can control those feelings and save our energy for healthy and productive activities. Setting a daily intention and schedule for yourself can keep you on track and focused on what your mind and body needs. Remember to breathe!
This too shall pass.