BEING a teenager is difficult no matter what, and COVID-19 is making it even harder. With school closures and cancelled events, many teens are missing out on some of the biggest moments of their young lives — as well as everyday moments like chatting with friends and participating in class.
For teenagers facing life changes due to the outbreak who are feeling anxious, isolated and disappointed, know this: you are not alone. We spoke with expert adolescent psychologist, best-selling author and monthly New York Times columnist Lisa Damour about what you can do to practice self-care and look after your mental health.
- Recognise that your anxiety is completely normal
If school closures and alarming headlines are making you feel anxious, you are not the only one. In fact, that’s how you’re supposed to feel.
“Psychologists have long recognised that anxiety is a normal and healthy function that alerts us to threats and helps us take measures to protect ourselves,” Damour said. “Your anxiety is going to help you make the decisions that you need to be making right now — not spending time with other people or in large groups, washing your hands and not touching your face.” Those feelings are helping to keep not only you safe, but others too. This is “also how we take care of members of our community. We think about the people around us, too.”
While anxiety around COVID-19 is completely understandable, make sure that you are using “reliable sources (such as the Unicef and the World Health Organisation’s sites) to get information, or to check any information you might be getting through less reliable channels,” recommends Damour.
If you are worried that you are experiencing symptoms, it is important to speak to your parents about it.
“Keep in mind that illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults,” Damour said. It’s also important to remember, that many of the symptoms of COVID-19 can be treated.
She recommends letting your parents or a trusted adult know if you are not feeling well, or if you are feeling worried about the virus, so they can help. And remember: “There are many effective things we can do to keep ourselves and others safe and to feel in better control of our circumstances: frequently wash our hands, don’t touch our faces and engage in physical distancing.”
- Create distractions
“What psychologists know is that when we are under chronically difficult conditions, it is very helpful to divide the problem into two categories: things I can do something about, and then things I can do nothing about,” Damour said.
There is a lot that falls under that second category right now, and that’s okay, but one thing that helps us to deal with that is creating distractions for ourselves.
Damour suggests doing homework, watching a favourite movie or getting in bed with a novel as ways to seek relief and find balance in the day-to-day.
- Find new ways to connect with your friends
If you want to spend time with friends while you’re practicing physical distancing, social media is a great way to connect. “I would never underestimate the creativity of teenagers,” Damour said. “My hunch is that they will find ways to (connect) with one another online that are different from how they’ve been doing it before.”
“(But) it is not going to be a good idea to have unfettered access to screens and or social media. That’s not healthy, that’s not smart, it may amplify your anxiety,” Damour said, recommending you work out a screen-time schedule with your parents.
— Family Lives