With the spread of COVID-19 and the global response to the pandemic, we are facing challenges of epic proportions. The tension, anxiety and fear in the world is palpable. We are all being faced with navigating a new territory of change and uncertain times.
As a mother of a teenager, I can see and feel the tremendous anxiety my daughter is experiencing and know there are so many parents out there wondering what they can do to support their teens navigate these uncertain times.
"Teens may be experiencing the most significant impact from social distancing."
Brain development in teens is specifically wired for social connection with peers and distancing from their parental and family relationships. This stage of development is important as teens begin to step into adulthood and learn how to navigate the world on their own without the constant support of their parents or caregivers. Their peer relationships become their primary social and support network. It is essential in their development that they create their own tribes and social "families" in order to move out into the world and have a sense of safety and support.
"Social distancing, though it may be a necessary measure at this time, could cause our teens a great deal of anxiety, anger and isolation."
We may see responses from our teens that feel frustrating or that appear self-absorbed to us. They may complain about having to stay home and not be with friends, express all of the things that they are irritated about and act like this is all a tremendous inconvenience to them. We as parents may be inclined to tell them that they should be thinking of someone other than themselves or tell them that they're lucky to have a family to be home with or even a home at all. Even though we may be thinking and feeling these feelings, this response is not helpful. When our teens feel anxious or overwhelmed by circumstances they can't control it can often come out in ways that are difficult for us as parents to understand. We may see acting out, irritation or isolation.
Here are 6 ways to help teens maintain mental well-being through the impact of COVID-19
1. Talk with them truthfully about how you're feeling.
Teens are intuitive beings and can pick up on our anxiety as parents and caregivers. We may believe holding our emotions in and not telling them how we feel is somehow protecting them but as parents we lead by example. Sitting down with our teens and validating the magnitude of what's happening in our world right now and how it is impacting us gives them permission to feel and express their feelings. We truly are in an unprecedented time. It's also a good time to discuss the importance of avoiding watching too much news or reading articles on social media. Too much can be toxic to the nervous system and there is a lot of information floating around that is not based on facts.
2. Sit down with them and explain about the nervous system's response to stress.
Having a conversation with our teens about how our brains and nervous systems respond to stress can
help them understand why they may be feeling the way they are feeling. Teach them about the Fight/Flight/Freeze response and how it is understandable given the current circumstances that our nervous systems may go in overdrive Fight/Flight or shut down Freeze. Let them know that so many people in the world are experiencing these survival responses right now. This brings a sense of "normalcy" to what they may be experiencing.
Here is a great video explaining anxiety to Teens
3. Create a RESOURCE list.
Right now, the best we can do to support our nervous systems is resourcing. Finding things we can do to help ease our nervous systems and bring them to more of a state of calm. Ask your teen to write a list with you or on their own of activities or things they access that support them and help them feel grounded. Tell them you will also write a list for yourself. Some activities might include art, journaling, reading, face-timing/snap-chatting with friends, doing a puzzle, sports, spending time with the family pet, listening to music, doing tik-tok dances, etc. Allow them to be the ones to come up with their own resources. Resources must be meaningful to them in order for them to be helpful in any way.
4. Work with them to create a routine at home that gives them a sense of predictability and purpose.
Often when feelings of anxiety arise, idle time can add fuel to the fire. Many teens will be home and still have online classes or lessons they have to complete for school. They will also have A LOT of extra time to fill in their day where they would be socializing and connecting with their peers, doing sports or school activities, working an evening job, etc. Many of us who experience underlying anxiety need to mobilize in order to release that tension and built up energy. This is also true for teens.
Work with them to develop a routine that feels right to them. Ask them to list some activities that could be integrated into the day to help mobilize and get some movement. Bring the conversation back to the nervous system and the importance of creating a routine with movement integrated throughout the day in order to support their NERVOUS SYSTEM.
5. Offer Grounding practices to help ease the anxiety.
When we experience anxious energy, movement can be important in helping release that energy from the body. Grounding practices can also be quite helpful in soothing the nervous system and bringing some of that anxious energy down. Listed below are suggestions for grounding practices.
Bring attention and awareness to the part of the body that feels most connected to the earth. Ask your teen to just notice where they feel most grounded in the body and invite them to be with that feeling for a bit.
Have them cross their arms and place their hands on their shoulders and feel the weight of their hands. You can also place your hands on their shoulders and apply a small amount of pressure to support with grounding.
Have them place a weighted pillow or something with weight on their lap to help them ground.
6. Share Yoga Poses that help with grounding and calming the nervous system.
Standing poses - Standing poses support with grounding and connecting to a sense of stability and strength.
Forward Bends - Forward bends can help quiet the mind and offer proprioceptive input that can support in calming the nervous system.
Inversions - Inversions offer a different perspective and can be soothing to the nervous system.
Ultimately as parents and caregivers of teens it can often seem like we're speaking a different language and it can be a challenge to understand and have patience with their many moods, emotions and responses from one day to the next. When we feel frustration and reaction arise in our own nervous systems it's a great opportunity for us to practice some of the grounding practices suggested and be the CO-REGULATORS that our teens need, especially during these times of change and uncertainty. Most important, just remember that you and your teen are often doing the best you can and just holding a loving and compassionate space for your teen and being a calm presence for them is the best thing you can offer as a parent...and if you slip up here and there, forgive yourself...we're all human and we are all in this together.
Shawnee Thornton Hardy is a C-IAYT, Certified Yoga Therapist, M.Ed. Intermediate Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, the founder of Asanas for Autism and Special Needs and the Founder/Director of Yoga Therapy for Youth. She is the Author of Asanas for Autism and Special Needs - Yoga to Help children with Their Emotions, Self-Regulation and Body Awareness and the creator of the C.A.L.M.M Yoga Toolkit. She leads training throughout the US and internationally in Yoga for The Diverse Child, C.A.L.M.M Classroom (Yoga in Schools) and a 100-hour Yoga Therapy for Youth with Complex Needs training. Shawnee is in the process of writing another published book Yoga Therapy for Children and Teens with Complex Needs - Embodying a Whole Child Approach for Mental, Emotional and Physical Wellbeing.