Teenager Anxiety and Mental Health During the Pandemic
With the ongoing nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has impacted upon us all, I’ve been helping loads of people who have been struggling with anxiety and other aspects of their mental health.
With the stop start nature of school and college, the lack of social interaction, the rise of screen time and the other limitations, one group who really need help are young people (and their parents who see them struggling and want to help). As well as pandemic-related anxiety, depression and stress, many adolescents may have found that issues such as low self-esteem, low confidence and overthinking have been exacerbated.
Now everyone is of course different, some young people will worry more than others, some will be more comfortable expressing how they feel, some will be more prone to overthinking and anxious tendencies, many may use distraction to get some respite from mental health issues and sometimes it can be hard to open up about how you feel and that you are struggling. And for parents seeing their kids struggle and wanting to help them, it can often be a challenge to know how much to intervene or gently push, what to suggest that will work, and how to be there for them in a meaningful way.
I’ve worked with adolescents from pretty much every school and college in this area for issues such as anxiety, lowness, self-esteem, confidence and stress (pandemic-related or otherwise). In this article I’ve covered a few things that can often help to alleviate teenager anxiety symptoms and to help start feeling better.
Adolescent Mental Health During the Covid-19 Pandemic
There seems little doubt that the pandemic and all of the social restrictions have impacted upon the mental health of young people. Online learning, limitations on social interactions and the uncertainty can all play a role. Although schools have reopened, there are still restrictions in place and changes to how things used to be (e.g. remaining in bubbles, staggered school times and the use of face masks).
Many aspects of adolescence can be particularly challenging and demanding anyway. There’s all the academic stuff and studying, there are emotional and physical changes to contend with, heightened emotions, and social relationships become more and more important (which can have potential positive and negative impacts). Emotions get heightened but the ways of managing emotions usually come later. It’s no wonder that some young people are struggling with going to school and feel more stressed and anxious than before.
As I sometimes joke with my teenage daughter (a line I pinched form something she was watching on TV), being a teenage is a strange time: you’re no longer a child, yet not quite an adult (to which the response is usually the ‘teenage eye roll’!).
Due to all the social and emotional changes, adolescents can be at increased risk of developing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and social anxiety. And the research tends to support that, compared with their mental health before the pandemic, adolescents have experienced significant increases in depressive symptoms and anxiety, and a significant decrease in life satisfaction (Magson, 2021).
Of course, the mental health impacts of the pandemic, from social restrictions and health anxieties, have increased stress and reduced mental well-being for children, adolescents and adults (Rothe, 2021).
The evidence supports the potential negative impact of the pandemic on adolescent mental health, with higher rates of teenager anxiety, depression, and stress due to the pandemic. Some adolescents may struggle to cope with the difficult circumstances and the lack of social support and they may have negative coping skills. Stress, worry and overuse of the internet/social media can be factors in young people’s mental health. On the positive side, social support, positive coping skills and parent–child discussions seem to positively impact adolescent mental health during this period (Jones, Mitra and Bhuiyan, 2021).
Some young people (as with adults) may have experienced a positive impact upon their mental health during the course of lockdown (e.g. from reduced travel, less social anxiety etc). However, the evidence suggests that for many adolescents the uncertainty, stress, changes in routine and lack of social interaction will have exacerbated levels of anxiety and depression.
Supporting Adolescent Mental Health
Being a parent can be tough. If you think your child is struggling then you want to be there for them, to help them and sometimes (in my experience) the solutions seem obvious (but that doesn’t mean they’re going to listen to your words of wisdom!). Sometimes their anxiety and stress is about big stuff and sometimes little stuff, sometimes there seem to be thoughts and emotions that don’t match what they say and sometimes they blurt it all out and you have to navigate a supportive way through it all to help them as best as you can.
As our adolescents search for their independence, they may or may not want to open up and talk about stuff. Sometimes all you can do is let them know that you are there and happy to talk and plant that seed which you hope will bear fruit. Sometimes they will talk right away, sometimes later and sometimes all you can do is be there, demonstrate support and love and let them navigate their own path towards a solution. In my experience, colleges tend to have excellent levels of support when it comes to creating a safe place to chat.
Be positive and supportive, be encouraging and present, stay calm and composed, avoid judgement and encourage them to express themselves. If you are worried about signs of distress, then offer to talk, or sometimes letting them write things down helps. Time when you broach the subject; it won’t help if everyone is rushing around or there’s too much going on, so pick a quiet moment to get out of the usual surroundings and go for a walk. Or if your teenager prefers, let them talk to a trusted family friend about it, or a school counsellor.
And above all else, I think we can all exemplify that it’s normal to have emotions and feelings, that it’s ok to talk about our mental health and well-being and that encountering (and coming through) problems and challenges is a part of being human (but we can always get better at dealing with them).
Teenager Anxiety: How To Support Your Mental Health
As covered above, the evidence suggests that anxiety and depression levels in young people have increased during the pandemic. Now, everyone is different in how things have affected them and these suggestions are in no way a replacement for working with a therapist, but certianly in my experience these steps help. If you are a young person struggling with things right now, start to put some of these things in place to support your mental health and well-being.
1. Social Support
Young people rely on their social networks for support, which is why the social restrictions have really impacted. With school/college back open and restrictions beginning to ease, make sure you connect with friends. Having a good social support group can help support your mental health and help you to combat loneliness or feelings of isolation.
2. Have A Routine
Having school open helps with having a routine and provides stability and certainty. Add to this by going to bed and getting up at the same time. Get some structure into your hours outside school too.
3. Have The Courage To Open Up
Your family and friends want the best for you and want you to be happy. If you are struggling and keeping it all in your own head then you may well find that things like anxiety, worry and lowness only seem to grow worse. Be courageous and start to open up (at least a little). Sometimes just talking to someone you trust can help and other times you may need a little extra help. Chances are whatever you are struggling with, others have experienced it too and there are plenty of things that can help you to feel better in yourself.
4. Thoughts & Feelings
Our thoughts and feelings aren’t always reliable or helpful (however real and strong they may feel). Anxiety can have you thinking the worst, low self-esteem can mean you worry about being good enough and what others think, and unwanted feelings can make you feel unmotivated and unable to cope. Rather than letting your thoughts and feelings do whatever they like, interrupt unwanted thoughts by counting backwards from 300 in 3s and start to relax more by using 7/11 breathing (extend your out breath to stimulate your relaxation response).
Learn more about these two great techniques: My Go To Two For My Anxiety and Stress
5. Take Time To Relax
If you feel rubbish and anxious you may struggle to concentrate, may feel restless and agitated and feel like your mind never switches off. Start practising relaxing to help you deal with things. Being able to relax is a skill that you get better at with practice so whatever your starting point, you’ll get better and feel calmer with practice. Many people have used my free relaxation hypnosis audio to help them (and my morning calmness hypnosis download can really help you before school).
Free relaxation download: Rapid Relaxation Hypnosis Download
6. Get Moving
There’s a mass of research showing that exercise is good for your mental health. Getting moving can help you to deal with anxiety, stress and depression, as well as helping you to keep feeling better.
More about the mental health benefits of exercise: Ely Festive 5k 2019 and Why You Should Get Running For Your Mental Health
7. Remember The Good Stuff
When you feel low or anxious, it’s easy to focus on everything that isn’t going well or that might go wrong. Yet there will always be better moments, moments when you feel better or when something good happens. Be sure to focus on the better things too. Every night spend a minute thinking back on three good things that happened that day and why they were good. Again, research shows this helps your mental health.
Caffeine is a stimulant so will tend to exacerbate any stress, worry and anxiety you may be experiencing. If you are having lots of caffeine each day then now would be a good time to start easing back.
9. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is vital for your mental health. In fact, along with what you eat and exercise, it’s been called one of the pillars of mental health. Switch off your screen an hour before bed and get to sleep at a reasonable time (and if you need something to entertain you before you fall asleep grab my free relaxation download!).
More about the three pillars of mental health: The Three Pillars of Mental Health
10. Manage Your Screen Time
We all love our tablets and smartphones, right? Smartphones, tablets and other screens can be a positive tool for keeping in touch with others, finding things out and entertainment. Yet they can also have an impact on your mental health, and overuse can be associated with anxiety and depression, as well causing sleep issues (Is Cell Phone Addiction a Thing? Smartphone Use, Sleep, Anxiety & Depression). Screens can also be used as a distraction from how you are feeling, which can offer some relief, yet means you avoid taking action to sort things out.
There is some evidence that social media use by young adults can increase your risk of depression (Primack, 2021) and screen use has been linked to lower physical activity, higher BMI and less sleep (Harrington, 2021). Give the benefits of exercise, eating healthily and getting enough sleep for your mental health, screen use can really have a negative impact if you don’t manage it well.
There are plenty of other therapeutic strategies and techniques that can help you to deal with teenager anxiety, lowness, stress and other mental health impacts. If you are a parent worried about your child, be supportive and encouraging, and listen. If you are a young person who is struggling then there is plenty of help out there, and people who want to help, so please do talk to someone and start that process towards feeling better in yourself.
To your health and happiness,
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Harrington, D.M., Ioannidou, E., Edwardson, C.L., Gorely, T., Rowlands, A.V., Sherar, L.B. and Staiano, A.E., 2021. Concurrent screen use and cross‐sectional association with lifestyle behaviours and psychosocial health in adolescent females. Acta Paediatrica.
Jones, E.A., Mitra, A.K. and Bhuiyan, A.R., 2021. Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health in Adolescents: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(5), p.2470.
Magson, N.R., Freeman, J.Y., Rapee, R.M., Richardson, C.E., Oar, E.L. and Fardouly, J., 2021. Risk and protective factors for prospective changes in adolescent mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of youth and adolescence, 50(1), pp.44-57.
Primack, B.A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J.E., Escobar-Viera, C.G. and Fine, M.J., 2021. Temporal Associations Between Social Media Use and Depression. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 60(2), pp.179-188.
Raw, J., Waite, P., Pearcey, S., Creswell, C., Shum, A. and Patalay, P., 2021. Examining changes in parent-reported child and adolescent mental health throughout the UK’s first COVID-19 national lockdown.
Rothe, J., Buse, J., Uhlmann, A., Bluschke, A. and Roessner, V., 2021. Changes in emotions and worries during the Covid-19 pandemic: an online-survey with children and adults with and without mental health conditions. Child and adolescent psychiatry and mental health, 15(1), pp.1-9.