Mental Health and Making New Routines
Earlier this spring, when schools closed across the country, many believed it was a temporary measure. The overwhelming thought was that within a few weeks, everything would go back to “normal.” Parents who were working from home would go back to the office, businesses would reopen, and kids would return to school. Within a few weeks (days in some cases), we realized this was unlikely to be how the spring school year played out. Over time, the list of schools across the country who canceled classes grew quite rapidly until virtually every school at all grade levels in the United States was closed for the duration of the school year.
The apparent ease with which the COVID-19 virus spreads has resulted in the need for extensive social distancing guidelines and widespread stay at home orders. Businesses, stores, and restaurants are closed or only open for curbside service. Things we once took for granted, such as shopping, going out to eat, or meeting friends for a cup of coffee, have all become either a significant challenge or a nonexistent option. All these increased social distancing measures have caused a disruption in day to day life greater than most people have ever seen. Routines that teens (and their parents) have come to count on have been thrown aside in favor of homeschool, teleworking, and the need to stay home for the safety of ourselves and those around us.
Unfortunately, this lack of routine, coupled with a fear of the unknown and fear of themselves or their loved ones getting sick can be quite overwhelming for teens of all ages. So, what are some of the things parents can do to help develop and maintain new routines while social distancing guidelines remain in place?
Routines and schedules provide a sense of stability, security, and structure for kids of all ages. Routines can also keep boredom, frustration, and mental health issues to a minimum. This is very important during these difficult times. Stay at home orders, and social distancing have resulted in teens having to stay home now more than they likely want to. Many of the events that are important to them and keep them busy and out of the house have been postponed indefinitely or canceled altogether. This includes some of the events they likely view as the most important in their lives and irreplaceable. Some examples include senior sports seasons, high school graduation, proms, college tours, and similar events, which only come around once in a person’s lifetime. For teens who are not seniors this year, there are losses as well. The most notable of these is the loss of time with friends whom teens have been forced to isolate away from. Despite the existence of facetime and other social media communication options, the lack of face to face and in-person communication can lead to anger and frustration for many teens.
As previously noted, one way to ward off boredom and its associated emotional symptoms is to maintain some sense of routine whenever possible.
Keep A Sleep Schedule
One way to maintain some sense of routine even when ordinary routines have been displaced is to keep a relatively consistent sleep schedule. Many teens are still educating from home, which means they have similar work requirements as to those that would be expected if they were attending in-person classes. Although it is likely there more relaxed time deadlines, there is still an expectation of daily attendance and classwork completion. While teens may appreciate sleeping in as they would on summer vacation, it is beneficial for them to get up at a reasonable time (as they would if they had to attend school) and stick to their usual bedtime routine if possible.
Create A Daily Schedule
With many students educating at home and nearly as many parents working from home, it is reasonable to think daily household schedules have been altered significantly. It could be helpful to create a “new” schedule that works for you and your family who are now home together when you usually would be heading off to your respective jobs, schools, or daycares. Your schedule should include things such as scheduled meals, quiet activities such as reading, time to complete any required schoolwork, time for creative activities, and hobbies as well as time for outdoor activities and exercise.
Technology is the primary means teens (and everyone else) has for communication with friends and loved ones right now; however, it is important to limit sedentary screen time as well. Use caution with allowing unlimited and unrestricted access to the internet. There is a lot of news currently available through various websites and social media outlets that aren’t necessarily reliable and can cause increased fear and anxiety, depending on how it is absorbed or interpreted. Statistics associated with the COVID-19 pandemic such as new cases in each county and the ever-rising death statistics are not easily digested by anyone but can be particularly emotionally disturbing to teens; especially when they are concerned about the health and well being of loved one they cannot be around at this time.
Make Activity Important
Sedentary living can lead to boredom for anyone. Boredom can lead to a variety of other issues, including health problems and weight gain due to boredom related snacking. Keeping ourselves active during these times can be particularly challenging due to social distancing restrictions. Some activities are particularly challenging to accommodate when you are required to maintain a six-foot distance from each other. However, regardless of social distancing, unless members of your family are actually ill, there are still some options that allow for physical activity. These can include going for walks, hiking, taking the dog out to play, or participating in home-based exercise programs.
Let us take a moment to further clarify the note about home-based exercise programs. Most gyms and exercise facilities are currently closed until it can be deemed safe to reopen them. Due to the abnormal nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on society, many businesses that generally operate land-based fitness centers, along with those who are online, have begun to offer broader access to their services. Some gyms have uploaded at home work out programs such as Zumba classes, yoga and Pilates classes, and other fitness programs. In addition to these, online programs that generally charge an access fee have reduced their fees or eliminated them to allow for greater access during what is sure to be financially challenging times. So, if outdoor activities are not an option, there are a multitude of inside ways to remain physically active and stay healthy.
Consider the Needs of Everyone in the Household
While it is essential to develop new routines that serve the needs of the younger members of the home, those routines will not be beneficial to anyone if the adults in the household are not able to be emotionally present for their teens. The added stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic will reasonably have an impact on people of all ages. We addressed the concerns of teens in the paragraphs above. For parents, there are stressors that include finances and fears regarding the potential illness of yourself or your family. The biggest question many people are asking themselves right now is, “if I get sick, who will care for my family?”
This question and all of the other unknowns add a significant amount of increased anxiety to our daily lives. It is illogical to assume you can create and maintain new routines for your teen and household members if you are unable to care for your mental health.
Below are a few things you can consider for yourself. Self-care and emotional care for adults will also help to allow you to be present for your teen when they need you to help care for their mental health.
Maintain or Learn Self-Care Practices
If you are a person who normally utilizes meditation, yoga, or a warm bath to decompress, keep using these techniques to help you relax during times of stress. If you have never considered any of the above, now may be a great time to start. During current times of social distancing, yoga studios are closed to the public, but there are many online options available. A quick search on YouTube will help you find everything from guided meditation to online Yoga classes. Self-care techniques like these can help you even if only for a short time, to shut out the world and let your mind wind down. It can also help you relieve stress and anxiety, allowing you to be better able to help your family members when they experience times of stress.
Try to Manage Your Anxiety Around Your Children
Depending on how much they understand about the things happening in the world around them, the idea of an illness like COVID-19 can understandably cause increased fear and anxiety for teens.
Remember that children of all ages, teens included tend to take their cues from parents on how scary something is or how they should react to a given moment.
Try to be mindful of the conversations your teens overhear and monitor to the extent possible what they are seeing and hearing on social media and television. Although it is undoubtedly challenging, parents need to manage their own levels of anxiety to provide reassurance to their teens so that they don’t suffer from further mental health issues.
Maintain Regular Health Habits
We teach our children from a young age to wash their hands and to keep dirty hands out of their mouths and eyes. Unfortunately, these lessons are not always adhered to or remembered. The virus, which causes coronavirus, is spread through respiration and through contact with dirty surfaces. If one touches a contaminated surface and then puts their fingers in their eyes, mouth, or nose, they could reasonably develop the illness. The flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus, and it is essential to maintain their daily habits we have used for so many years to remain healthy. Encourage handwashing with soap and water, sneezing into your elbow, and avoiding close contact with others. This is especially true as we all work to follow social distancing guidelines, which encourage a six-foot or more distance between people.
Just a few minutes watching the nightly news or viewing social media can make it feel as though COVID-19 and its associated anxiety and fear will be with us for a very long time. There is truth in the idea that it will be around for a while. Still, with the ongoing adherence to social distancing and individual attempts to maintain healthy transmission control habits, we will hopefully see things start to change in the near future. For teens, these are trying times. For adults, these are times like nothing many of us remember ever experiencing, and anxiety is a normal reaction. Establishing and maintaining routines that help to provide normality and even a little distraction in the face of what is undoubtedly abnormal can be healthy and beneficial to everyone’s emotional and physical well-being.
Please contact us at Hillcrest as we are concerned about the mental health of your teen and your family during these trying times. Despite social distancing and stay at home orders, we are available to our clients and to those who need to seek help during or after the pandemic has passed. If setting new routines has not helped or even if it has, but your teen still needs someone to talk to, contact us here at Hillcrest.