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We’ve all been so worried about keeping our kids safe from Coronavirus that we’ve forgotten to keep their mental health safe from seclusion. Check in on your teens and little ones, they are not alright. Not even close. I put my girls in therapy last April at the beginning of the pandemic and they are still struggling. We can’t shelter them from the world but we can try to ease the weight of the world so many of us are feeling. Below are some Tips to Help your Teen Survive Depression, Anxiety and Pandemic Burnout.
It’s not fine. We’re not fine. They’re not fine. The kids are not alright.
We’ve been quarantining since March 9th. Our life went on pause and everything we had planned for the spring and summer was canceled. Nothing is like it’s supposed to be. The new normal absolutely sucks. We are a family of huggers and kissers. Friends are family and family is everything. We’re explorers and adventurers. We celebrate life in the small moments but this past year has been hard to find the silver linings.
Disclaimer: Firstly, let me start by saying I am not a therapist or a trained mental health professional. I’m just a mom who is very self-aware, has years of therapy under her built and pays a professional to treat her children. A good licensed mental health professional to follow for great tips is Katie Hurley.
Bella turned 15 last March 10th and 16 this year. March 14th , 2020 was supposed to be her quinceañera. We planned for years for her big day. Everything was ready to go. The dress, the court, the venue, DJ, photographer and videographer. It was going to be the quinceañera she had been dreaming of since she was a little girl. Friends and family from around the country were flying and driving in to celebrate our special girl. I can’t even put into words the devastation I felt taking that away from her. It hurts to even think of it now, especially since we rescheduled it to August 8th and had to postpone once again. Instead of getting the quinceañera of her dreams, she didn’t even get a proper birthday celebration. Her birthday was basically skipped for the past two years thanks to CoVid.
Gabs turned 13 last May, the day after what was supposed to be last day of school. There was no party. No family and friends to hug and play with. There’s no theme or games in the backyard. There was no bbq with 50 of her favorite people. There was a birthday drive-by parade which made her pandemic heart break with gratitude for those who showed up. She felt alone and forgotten. The smallest gestures mean so much when human contact is few and far between.
But how do you help your teen survive pandemic burnout?
We’ve learned not to take things for granted. We know the worth of our freedom to move throughout the world safely. We know the value of a hug and human interaction in real time. Virtual is a poor substitute but it may be the only thing offered at the moment.
Our kids are resilient. They are strong and they are amazing. They carry on even when they want to give up but everyone has their breaking point, even you and I. I’ve been doing everything that I’m supposed to do and still, people I love are getting sick. People I know are dying. My heart is breaking but I’m trying hard to keep my mental stability. Manic mom has even made an appearance this pandemic and I was hoping to never see her again. I’m trying to be strong for the Big Guy and the girls but even I notice that while I’ve had to adopt the let it go, one day at a time mentality, I am also holding on to things. I’m holding on to things and anxious about things I don’t even realize.
I’ve started clenching my jaw and my fists in my sleep from stress. I wake up sore. I’ve started finding myself angry for no reason at all or maybe it’s for every reason under the sun. Why would I think my girls are any different? They are younger with less life experience and more hormones. How could I forget that?
Check in on your kids. They are not alright.
My girls have been overly silly. At first, I was annoyed by this but then I realized this silliness is what is allowing them to get through this unbelievably stressful time. If they need to regress and find joy in the simplest things, who am I to judge? Right now, all bets are off. We’re all just trying to get through this pandemic. We’re in survival mode and that’s ok. Unfortunately, all that silliness has begun to give way to anxiety, depression and burnout and not just for them. I am burnt out too.
I’m so over virtual learning. Not only have my girls been virtual all year long, so have I. I had the bright idea to get a masters and enrolled a month pre pandemic. I’ve been struggling with burn out myself for the past couple months but watching my girls buckle under the pressure and anxiety of this non-stop pandemic life is too much. I hate it for them and can do very little to make it better other than pay for therapy and give out random hugs and encouragement all day.
Worse, I feel like I’m failing at that because I’m struggling myself. I hate all of this. There’s 2 weeks left of school for the girls and I feel like we’re all drowning. There’s no down time and days and nights are just one long exercise in never ending lists of shit to get done. I want to scream but I’m afraid if I start, I’ll never be able to stop. F*ck you pandemic and all the people who aren’t doing their part. I’m tired of my cage. I know this will pass but watching my girls struggle is the worst.
Tips to help your teen survive depression, and anxiety and overcome pandemic burn out.
- Create calm times of the day, preferably an hour or longer.
- Spend time with them doing silly and fun things like playing a game, being outdoors, cooking a fun meal (this helps kids calm down their nervous system so they aren’t so triggered by stress), or just plain talking.
- Structure helps kids know what to expect which always improves stress.
- Sleep and eat well (less sugar).
- Help them write about their feelings.
- Get them a therapist, many are offering virtual right now. Do it.
Anxiety specific simple but effective grounding techniques
Grounding is a technique that helps keep someone in the present. They help reorient a. person to the here-and-now and in reality. Grounding skills can be helpful in managing overwhelming feelings or intense anxiety. They help someone to regain their mental focus from an often intensely emotional state. Grounding skills occur within two specific approaches: Sensory Awareness and Cognitive Awareness.
Grounding Exercise #1:
Begin by tracing your hand on a piece of paper and label each finger as one of the five
senses. Then take each finger and identify something special and safe representing each
of those five senses. For example: Thumb represents sight and a label for sight might be
butterflies or my middle finger represents the smell sense and it could be represented by
After writing and drawing all this on paper, post it on your refrigerator or other safe
places in the home where it could be easily seen and memorize it.
Whenever you get triggered, breathe deeply and slowly, and put your hand in front of
your face where you can really see it – stare at your hand and then look at each finger and
try to do the five senses exercise from memory.
Grounding Exercise #2:
• Keep your eyes open, look around the room, notice your surroundings, notice
• Hold a pillow, stuffed animal or a ball.
• Place a cool cloth on your face, or hold something cool such as a can of soda.
• Listen to soothing music
• Put your feet firmly on the ground
• FOCUS on someone’s voice or a neutral conversation.
Sensory Awareness Grounding Exercise #3:
Here’s the 54321 “game”.
• Name 5 things you can see in the room with you.
• 4 things you can feel (“chair on my back” or “feet on floor”)
• 3 things you can hear right now (“fingers tapping on keyboard” or “tv”)
• 2 things you can smell right now (or, 2 things you like the smell of)
•1 good thing about yourself
Cognitive Awareness Grounding Exercise:
Re-orient yourself in place and time by asking yourself some or all of these questions:
Where am I?
What is today?
What is the date?
What is the month?
What is the year?
How old am I?
What season is it?
Tips for parents
Build coping skills. One thing kids and teens need to hear on repeat is that all emotions are okay. There is no right or wrong way to feel about this global pandemic. Parents should get in the habit of checking in with each child privately throughout the day to give them an opportunity to verbalize feelings and talk about triggers.
Learn how to manage anger. Now is the time to figure out some techniques to decrease negativity in the home. In other words, stop yelling. Parents have a lot on their plates, and it is difficult to juggle work responsibilities, parenting responsibilities, keeping the family physically and emotionally safe, and running a distance-learning school. Chances are, you feel like you might snap at times.
Adjust expectations. To hear social media tell it, this is a time when everyone should be enjoying every moment and learning new things as a family (a privilege not everyone shares). And parents suddenly find themselves in the driver’s seat for their children’s education, expected to manage distance learning regardless of resources, finances, work schedules and child-care struggles. Then there are the expectations parents have of their kids regarding learning, training for extracurricular activities and being “productive” during this time away from school.
Practice empathic communication. There’s a lot we don’t have control over right now, and that can trigger negative emotions, but we can control how we respond to and communicate with others. One thing I hear on that tiny screen day after day during my sessions with kids: I just want my parents to understand me.
Tap into technology, and stay connected. Many parents spend a fair amount of time trying to manage and limit screen time. There are positives and negatives to technology, though, and now is the time to tap into the positives. It’s still important to focus on balance and make sure that kids and teens are getting exercise and engaging in activities that don’t involve screens, but technology can be a source of support, connection and education.
Parents, don’t forget to take care of your own mental health. It’s hard to help your teen survive depression, anxiety and pandemic burnout if you are holding on by a thread yourself. Believe me, I know. Find yourself some coping mechanisms and a licensed therapist.