Adolescent Mental Health in the ‘New Normal’ Times
Adolescence is a crucial phase in every individual’s life. The transformation from being a child to now preparing for the role of a responsible young adult is marked by physiological, psychological and social changes. Often the adults around them attend only to their non compliant behaviours, labeling this teen as rebellious.
What appears to be a ‘difficult’ adolescent to handle is just the tip of the iceberg. They experience a range of emotions and their mental wellness is on a continuum of being calm and composed at times to being agitated, feeling low confidence on one hand to being absolutely certain about which career option to take up ahead. While a teen is still in the process of exploration and experimentation, anxiety surfaces as a common emotion.
In the prevailing circumstances where the pandemic has taken a form of global concern, fear of future is affecting most of us. An adolescent who is already battling his/her anxiety, is bound to come in the grasp of this social panic. Lot of our daily routines have changed drastically - work from home, moving out of stereotypical gender roles, missing out on gym, etc. Even the face of academic learning has been digitalized.
While the definition of “normal” is changing as well, it can be an add-on challenge for a teen who is already distressed. Not being able to socialize or step out of the house can leave them feeling lonely, anxious and disappointed. However, practicing self-care exercises/activities come handy when it comes to looking after their mental health. Here are few tips for our teens.
1. Name the distressing feeling
If school/college being closed is causing discomfort or restlessness, you are absolutely normal. Most of the adolescents are experiencing anxiety in the current scenario. In fact, anxiety is important, it prepares us to take measures in threatening circumstances.
However, the first step would be to get in touch with this discomforting feeling. The best way to do this is by bringing your awareness in your body; trying to locate that feeling in your physical self. Once you have done that, ask yourself “what does this feel like?” If possible give it some form, a shape or a colour. This exercise helps you identify and acknowledge the toxic feeling.
2. Follow the 3 C rule
Although it feels good to be with quarantined with your family, it might start getting onto few. The thought of ‘being stuck’ can result extreme emotional outburst like crying, screaming, throwing things, fighting. When faced with such moments, start with Contact – a physical contact; touch a pillow, hug a family member, squeeze a stress ball. Next, Communicate how you feeling in terms of your thoughts.
For instance, if you feeling disappointed with your mother’s reaction on completing the cleaning task assigned to you, go up to her and express this feeling in words. Reach out to a mental health professional if the need be. The third C is Connection; connect with a friend over a call, connect with your journal where you could be writing down your thoughts, connect with a pet or plants in/around your house.
3. Give yourself the priority
Use this available time to decide on goals, which aren’t time specific. For instance, setting up a goal to finish reading a particular book is a good idea but setting up a deadline can add to your stress. Go easy on yourself while setting targets, do not overdo it. Also, making small goals on short time intervals is great way to go about for now.
For example, set goals for today, a task to be completed in next one hour; on completion it will give you a sense of accomplishment which adds on the “feel good” factor. If there is any hobby or skill you wanted to learn or develop expertise in for a long time, go doing it now. Being productive is the key.
4. Monitor your digital intake
Digital world has become a necessity and not just a luxury any more. It is a great source of information, and is playing a catalyst in forming and maintaining social contact. Unknowingly this virtual media is also impacting your physical as well as psychological health. Excess screen time can cause irritation in the eyes, give headaches; bad postures can result in backaches.
Moreover, prolonged exposure to the screen can disrupt the circadian system which manages your sleep cycle. If the urge to check your inbox often or to look for number of ‘likes’ you have received on your post or picture is uncontrollable then it is time to treat yourself with a digital detox. Fix a particular time frame during the day where you are away from the internet and the other gadgets. A great way to implement this ‘no-virtual-media’ zone is by tagging other family members along.
Lastly, remember that we all are different and we all indulge in different coping styles. Be conscious and aware of the words you use, the behaviours you show, making sure you aren’t emotionally wounding your family members, your friends or your virtual acquaintances during this challenging phase.
(The author is a Ph.D. Psychology, MBA-HR and Developmental Psychologist, Clinical hypnotherapist, and Arts Based Therapy Practitioner. Views expressed in the article are her own)