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Mental Health

Walking Through the Pandemic

COVID Coping
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Since March 2020, our lives have never quite been the same. COVID-19 has upended our way of life, and students feel it just as much -if not more so- than their parents.

As Coronavirus variants have come and gone, and come again, students are again being buffeted by disruptions to school, social activities, and home life. Many students report feeling as if they've forever lost a sense of normalcy in their daily routines. The ongoing pandemic effects are also influencing teens' view of Community and sense of belonging.

However, many teens are truly struggling — and some are suffering in silence. It is normal for students and parents to struggle in the midst of an unprecedented situation. The future is uncertain, and we are collectively grieving the way things once were.

IS THIS GRIEF?

It may seem strange to label our current feelings as grief, but that’s exactly what it is; mourning the loss of an individual, a condition, or situation. In this case, the loss is our whole way of life, and allowing grief to become part of our COVID vocabulary can help parents and students find ways to cope with losses effectively.

Learning to cope is a process, and it is important to understand what happens in our brains when we experience grief.

Dr. Lisa M. Shulman, neuroscientist, and professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, studied the way the brain responds to grief. She notes the areas of our brain in charge of danger perception, emotion regulation, and memory kick into overdrive during loss.

With our brains working harder than normal, Shulman says, “Triggers in our environment, such as daily reminders of loss, may repeatedly activate the body’s fight-or-flight response.” This overactive response leads to trouble sleeping, nightmares, overthinking, and hypersensitivity to our surroundings.

In the midst of stay-at-home orders and disruptions to our sense of security, those environmental triggers are all around us. They can be something as small as watching the news.

If day-to-day life seems difficult, even in the mundane of staying home, finding healthy ways to calm down our brains is crucial.

HEALTHY COPING MECHANISMS FOR PARENTS AND STUDENTS

Suppressing emotions offers consequences for our mental health. When we allow ourselves space to express and evaluate our grief, we can manage it better.

Students and parents can participate in these healthy coping mechanisms together:

EXERCISE: Regular exercise is good for the mind and body, even without the presence of a major stressor. Exercise releases endorphins, the brain’s natural, feel-good chemical. WHAT PARENTS CAN DO WITH STUDENTS: Go on a bike ride, walk around the neighborhood, follow an in-home exercise video or play an active video game like Just Dance.

CALL LOVED ONES: In the age of video chat, talking to loved ones virtually has never been easier. Human connection is not gone just because we can’t be together physically. WHAT PARENTS CAN DO WITH STUDENTS: Set a designated time to call a loved one each day or week, and stick to it. This will keep connections alive and establish a sense of routine.

JOURNALING: Writing down our feelings helps us understand them better. Journals also serve as windows into history, even if no one else ever reads them. WHAT PARENTS CAN DO WITH STUDENTS: Follow a daily journaling prompt and allot time to share the responses with each other.

REMEMBER - THIS IS A SHARED EXPERIENCE: There is comfort in knowing we are all affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Our shared experience lends itself to empathy and genuine conversation. WHAT PARENTS CAN DO WITH STUDENTS: Talk to them, and be intentional. Ask them specific questions, engage with their responses, and don’t be afraid to talk about the hard stuff.

Hang in there. We’ll get through this together.

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