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6 strategies for teenagers faced with the new (temporary) situation

1. Recognize that your anxiety is completely normal

If school closures and worrying headlines are making you anxious, you are not the only one. Actually, that is how you should be feeling.

“Psychologists have long recognized that anxiety is a normal and healthy function that alerts us to threats and helps us take measures to protect ourselves”, says Dr. Lisa Damour, expert adolescent psychologist, best-selling author and monthly New York Times columnist.

“Your anxiety is going to help you make the decisions that you need to be making right now – not spending time in big groups of people, washing your hands and not touching your face.” 

Such feelings are helping not only you, but others as well. That is how we “take care of members of our community. We think about the people around us as well.”

Although anxiety about coronavirus is completely normal, make sure “to get information from reliable sources [such as UNICEF and World Health Organization], or to check any information coming through less reliable channels”, Dr. Damour advises.

If you are worried that you may have the symptoms, it is important that you tell your parents/guardians about it. “You should know that the coronavirus disease is usually mild, especially for children and young people”, says Dr. Damour.

It is also important to know that many symptoms of COVID-19 can be treated. Dr. Damour advises to tell your parents or a trusted adult if you are feeling unwell or if you are worried about the virus, so that they can help you.

And remember: “There are many 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 limit face time with others.”

Read our hand washing tips on the link here.

2. Find a distraction

“Psychologists know that when people are in chronically difficult conditions it’s helpful to divide the problem into two categories: things they can do something about, and then things they can do nothing about”, says Dr. Damour.

There’s going to be a lot in that second category right now, and that's fine, but what can help us cope are distractions. Dr. Damour suggests doing homework, watching favourite movies or reading books, as ways to make it easier for ourselves and to find a balance in everyday life.

3. Find new ways to connect with friends

If you want to spend time with your friends while limiting your face time, social media are a great way to connect. Be creative: join TikTok challenges such as #safehands. “I would never underestimate the creativity of teenagers”, says Dr. Damour and adds: “My hunch is that they will find ways to [connect] online that are different from how they’ve been doing it before.”

„[But] it’s not a good idea to have unfettered access to screens and/or social media. That’s not healthy, that’s not smart and it may amplify the anxiety”, says Dr. Damour and recommends making a schedule for social media time together with parents.

4. Focus on yourself

Have you wanted for a while now to learn to do something new, to start reading a new book, or to devote time to playing an instrument? Now is the time to do all that.

Focusing on yourself and finding ways to use the time that is now available are a great way to take care of your mental health.

“I have been making a list of all the books I’ve wanted to read and all of the things I’ve wanted to do for some time now”, says Dr. Damour.

5. Connect with your feelings

Missing events with friends, hobbies and sports is very disappointing. “These are major losses. They are very upsetting for all, including teenagers”, Dr. Damour says. What is the best way to deal with disappointment? Allow yourself to feel it. “When it comes to having a painful feeling, the only way out is through. Go be sad, and if you allow yourself to do it, you will feel better soon.”

Everyone processes their feelings in a different way. “Some children are going to make art, some are going to want to talk to their friends and use their shared sadness as a way to feel connected in a time when they can’t be together in person, and some children are going to want to find ways to get food to food banks”, says Dr. Damour. It’s important to do what you feel is right and useful.

6. Be kind to yourself and others

Some teenagers are facing online bullying and violence due to coronavirus. “Activating bystanders is the best way to address any kind of bullying”, says Dr. Damour.

“We can’t expect children and teenagers faced with bullying to stand up to the bully; instead, we should encourage them to turn to their friends or adults for help and support.”

If you see this happening to your friend, try to offer support. Doing nothing in this situation can leave the person feeling that everyone is against them or that nobody cares. Your words can make a difference.

And remember: now, more than ever, we must make sure that the things we say and share do not hurt anyone.

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