Just 10 months ago, back in The Before Times, when we were planning on New Year’s Eve outfits and Sharing our glow-up goals for the new decade, none of us could have imagined what 2020 would have in store for us.
Despite the fact that lockdowns only started for most of the country in the spring, it’s now hard for many of us to remember life before the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the deaths of George Floyd. Breonna Taylor and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. For all the Strife surrounding the upcoming election. Altogether, it can feel like we’ve been stuck in this stress soup for a whole lot longer than a few seasons.
Given all this, it’s easy to overlook the fact that our world has actually undergone a pretty dramatic transformation – at a speed none of us were prepared for. And if all that dizzying change has taken a toll on your mental health lately, know that you are not alone.
Welcome to the struggle
“We’re seeing a lot of people coming to our centers in crisis because recent events are exacerbating mental health issues that were just underneath the surface,” says Heather Monroe, LCSW and senior clinician at Newport Academy, a mental health center for teens and Families.
No doubt, the pandemic has been especially bad news for teens who already struggle with mental illnesses. Take Paige B., 19, who has OCD and grapples with feelings of anxiety and Desperation. Quarantine threw a wrench into her usual coping mechanisms. “I would use distractions or have things in my calendar to look forward to so I wouldn’t feel so down or lost,” She says of her pre COVID-19 routine. “Now, you can’t really have that, you can’t really plan ahead. There’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen next.“
That sense of uncertainty adds to the stress that many girls already are experiencing. “The pandemic heightens my feelings of loneliness,” says Diane S., 16. “I don’t know when I’m going to be able to do the things I used to do, no less be with my friends again.”
And perhaps the most crushing part? The roller-coaster aspect of the COVID crisis.
When restrictions began to ease, seventeen-year-old Sara D.’s mood began to improve. “But then everything came crashing back down again,” she says. “I’m losing hope in my country… and in everybody.
COVID’s challenges have been taking a toll on teens who *aren’t* used to grappling with mental health issues, too.
This year, the percentage of teens who discuss depression with their primary care physician nearly doubled—from 23% to 41%—and ADHD diagnoses rose by 66%, according to a study from Athenahealth.
Ella F., 15, found herself feeling characteristically down as she started school. “The pandemic is definitely ticking away from the Carefree teenager experience were supposed to have,” she shares. “ I just feel like it’s robbing us of our last few years of high school. It’s a very heavy thing to be going through.”
Open up to others
We’re going to come straight out and say it: If the events of 2020 has been hard for you it’s important to seek help (in fact, it’s always important to seek help anytime you need it).
Maybe the help is in the form of a family member. Maybe it’s a professional, like a counselor, doctor or therapist. Or maybe it’s just a friend and some serious self-care. Any and all of these solutions can be the right one for you.
What’s the first step if you’re struggling? Ask for support. “Tell your parents [or another trusted person] that you need to speak to them, but you just want them to listen for a second. If they agree, share with them how you are feeling” suggest Monroe. When you tell someone you need help, “they are invited into your pain. You’re no longer alone.”
And if that person isn’t the resource you hoped they’d be? ”Find a teacher, counselor, clergy person or friend who can hear you,” Monroe advises. Not sure where to turn IRL? Look online. “There are so many groups on social media that share the same beliefs as you that you can join. It’s a great way to feel supported.”
Putting yourself first
We know you’ve heard it a hundred times from us, but mindfulness is key right now. The techniques at the top of our list? Journaling and meditation.
Both of these practices teach you how to get in touch with and identify your feelings as they are happening, I practice with a long-lasting impact. “ the coping skills you developed as a teenager become the go-to coping skills of your adult life,” reveals Monroe.
In other words, the sooner you are able to learn to acknowledge and manage your emotions in order to steer yourself through life’s rocky waters, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle troubles in the years to come.
Do something creative
If you think you’re not creative and this doesn’t apply to you, think again. “ Creativity doesn’t need to mean art,” says Monroe. “ It’s really anything you like to do that helps you express how you feel or gets energy out of your body.”
That can mean drawing or playing music, sure, but it also can include hiking, reorganizing your room or doing a jigsaw puzzle—anything that involves exercising your brain in an enjoyable way. At its core, creativity “ is a way for us to process feelings from start to finish in a way that doesn’t hurt us,” shares Monroe.
There’s a reason that parks are so popular, campgrounds are coveted and hiking trails are heavily trafficked right now: Spending time outside is usually restorative.
“I like to go on walks,” shares Emma O., 19. “ Last month, GirlTrek had a walking meditation for 30 minutes each day where they would talk about a specific important Black woman in history. It was a great way to just come back to the present.”
This, too, shall pass
Remember this: just because things are hard right now doesn’t mean they will be forever. “ It’s really important we realize we are resilient and we get through things. This is part of our biological makeup,” says Monroe.
So whether it’s last another week or another year, the stress of the pandemic will eventually come to an end. Until then, the most any of us can do is keep going. One day at a time.
Article originally published on Girl’s Life Magazine