What a strange and unprecedented time. Never in our lives have we had to practice social distancing, stay in our homes, be fearful of giving friends and loved ones hugs, be so afraid of getting sick, do all online learning, miss out on everyday events like participating in class, talking to friends in person, sports, plays, parties, proms, and graduations. There is so much! This is A LOT! If you are feeling anything, whether it be sad, isolated, disappointed, anxious, nervous, or mad, I want you to know this is completely normal. You are not alone. It’s normal to be worried during this time; there is so much uncertainty and change all around us. It’s normal to be sad; you have lost out on a lot. It’s normal to think COVID-19 is unfair and question why. Here are seven tips that may help you practice self-care and look after yourself during this time.
Feel your feelings: Missing out on events, hobbies, or friends is so disappointing and such a bummer. The best way to deal with disappointment and loss is to let yourself feel it. Go ahead and let yourself feel sad or disappointed. Recognize that your feelings are completely normal and may vary from day to day. Dealing with feelings looks different for everyone. You could express feelings through art or journaling. It may help to talk about your feelings with loved ones or trusted others. I think you will find that it will help to get it off your chest and to share in the collective experience with others. You will find that everybody is having emotions. Like I said, you are definitely not alone.
Learn the facts: Educate yourself on COVID-19 from trusted sources like the WHO, the CDC, or your parents. Don’t spend too much time looking at your social media feeds to learn about coronavirus news. There is so much misinformation out there that can fuel anxiety. In addition, we are being bombarded with coronavirus news everywhere. It’s on every news station and everyone is talking about it.
Don’t spend too much time listening to reading or watching the news. This can make anxiety and loss feel worst. Spend no more than 15-30 minutes a day learning about what is going on from trusted sources daily and that’s it. After that, shift your attention to something else. And if you find that 15-30 minutes a day is too long or creating anxiety, it’s okay not to watch the news at all. To be perfectly honest, things won’t change that much day to day.
Keep scary thoughts in check: Try and keep your thoughts healthy and accurate. It is easy to think about the worst-case scenario and all the horrible things that can happen. If you are having these thoughts, think about the percentages of people diagnosed with the disease versus the number of people who are dying. It is a small percentage.
In addition, keep in mind that illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for teens. Many of the symptoms can be successfully treated. It is also easy to think that you will not get through this time or that it will be so unbearable. I would encourage you to think about all the difficult times you have been through and how you have gotten through them. For example, the time your grandmother died, or you weren’t invited to the party, or your dad lost his job. What did you do to overcome this? Think about how strong you are. This is another difficult time, and you can get through it. We will look back at this in the future as a short time in our lives. Resilience is a muscle that is strengthened, and you are currently strengthening this muscle right now.
Focus on what you can control: I know this is not a normal time. When we are under stressful conditions, it is helpful to divide the situation into two categories. Something I can do something about, and something I can do nothing about. There is a lot that is falling in the second category, but one thing that helps with a loss of control is trying to create and follow a routine and structure. You can try and keep a routine, get some exercise, go outside, and engage in pleasurable activities. For example, try and keep your bedtime and wake time the same as when you are going to school. Take a shower, get dressed. Eat well. Do homework. Create a schedule and stick to it even if it’s flexible. Keep in mind that it may not follow the same routine and that is okay too. For example, if you find yourself playing more video games than normal or waking up a little later, that is okay too. Try and do one productive thing each day and one fun thing each day. Give yourself some flexibility.
As far as pleasurable activities, you can play board games, watch movies, read, make Tik Toks, bake, scrapbook etc. Many places are offering virtual tours or experiences as well. Psychology Today put together a list of ways to find pleasure at home entitled “51 Simple Ways to De-Stress and Find Joy at Home.” Check it out! Maybe you can make a list that is relevant to you. I think it might also be fun to do something to break out of the routine. I’ve seen that some people online are creating themes for their day or weekends. For example, you could do a Harry Potter day where everyone uses the jargon from the movie, wears robes, has a marathon of the movies, makes a special treat from the movie, and gets sorted into one of the Hogwarts Houses. Or you could celebrate a holiday, like Spring Halloween; you could dress up, tell scary stories, carve a pumpkin, and have a candy scavenger hunt. Or you could go camping in the backyard – go on a hike, have a cookout, and make S’mores.
I know you are missing out on many important events in your life as well, like graduations, proms, etc. I would encourage you to find a way to celebrate and document these events. Be creative about having prom or graduation. For example, I have seen some teens wear their dresses and suits and take pictures outside with their family members. Others have merged these pictures and videos with their friends or posted to a shared group page. It is not going to be the same, but you can still create and celebrate these moments and make lasting memories.
You may also have to shift your focus on what you can control. It’s easy to look at the things we can’t do, but perhaps you can get creative, and see what you can control. For example, if you enjoy being around others and baking, you could send cookies to a senior citizen home, people who are isolated and alone right now. Instead of focusing on what you do not have, you can shift the focus to what you can do.
Find Social Support: Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation. Find new ways to connect with your friends. Talk to your family members more. If you do not like talking through videos or on the phone, play games with friends; engage in activities where you don’t have to talk too much. TikToks are a good way. There are some games that are adaptable to Zoom like Pictionary, Charades, andSpeak out. Here is a website that gives you more ideas about Zoom games.
You can do virtual movies too. You guys are probably more creative and have better ideas than I do about how to engage with each other online. I’ve also seen people have drive by parades to celebrate birthdays, take prom or graduation pictures and videos and merge them together, etc. It’s not the same I know, but we are so fortunate to live in a time where we have access to internet, videos, and social media.
Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the present moment without judging it. It can help keep you focused on the here and now versus the past and the future. It’s easy to think about all the “what ifs” in the future. If you find yourself thinking about the future, try and bring your thoughts back to the present and what is happening right here and now without judgment. For example, where are you right now? Are you healthy right now? Is your family healthy right now? Who is around you? What are you doing?
I like to encourage teens to identify 5 things that you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things that you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. This can help you feel grounded in the present moment. There are some good apps that can help you practice mindfulness like Calm and Headspace. Take a look at these.
Lastly, Give Gratitude: I find that waking up and sharing a few things that I am thankful for each day helps me focus on the things that I have and keeps me less anxious and happier. I would encourage you to share three things daily. Keep a gratitude journal. You could make a game out of it, and think of three things each day that starts with a letter of the alphabet. For example, on day one, you may be grateful for apple pie, aunts, and authors who write stories I like. Try it!
I know this is a really scary and uncertain time. I know some of you are not enjoying being at home, but I also know that you have all been through a lot in your short lives and have developed and are developing the resiliency muscle for doing hard and scary things! You are certainly not alone. We are all in this together. Please be safe, stay healthy. If you believe that you would benefit from specialized treatment and additional support to improve your mental health, please do not hesitate to contact The OCD & Anxiety Center at (630) 522-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.