By Lisa Wood and Sandy Bundy
As we reflect back on the past six months, there is no doubt that there has been a lot of uncertainty in all of our lives. Many parents worked from home, supported their kids with online learning and all of our routines came to a skidding halt. We readjusted to a new normal, hopefully had a bit of a break over the summer and are now heading into fall.
Fall usually brings a new excitement for our kids, going back to school, seeing their friends and extracurricular activities. Fall of 2020 is going to very different. School routines will be changed whether you are choosing to send your children back for face to face learning or opted for online learning. Many parents are continuing to work from home, or need to adjust to a new work schedule.
With COVID-19, there is a lot of uncertainty for families and teens as we all move forward. This presents its own challenges, stressors, fears and anxieties. On top of this, teens are still dealing with the many day-to-day issues that affect their lives, such as school, the routines of homework, time management, and making the right decisions for course selection. This year, many high schools are accommodating their schedules and introducing quad-mesters, keeping safety in mind for their students, which will bring new and unknown challenges. This brings an added stress, as kids are worried about not seeing their friends on a regular basis and possibly worried about bringing the virus back to their home environment. Our kids are also worried about relationships with friends, parents, teachers and siblings. Teens are often thinking and asking themselves, “Do they like me? Am I a good enough friend? What if I mess up and disappoint my parents?” These are normal and common thoughts. The teen years also present many firsts such as getting their first job, getting their license and increased responsibilities, which can all add up and increase their stress levels.
With all of these pressures, it is normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed at times. However, when stress isn’t managed well, it can often lead to anxiety. It could be a single incident or a specific situation that brings on stress and it keeps happening over and over again. Anxiety causes distress and unsettling physical feelings. It isn’t very pleasant and it can feel like you are panicking, feeling frazzled, worried or under a lot of pressure.
Teens often don’t recognize that what they may be experiencing could be anxiety. This is because they are already in a period of transition that includes rapid physical changes, increased need for sleep and enhanced social pressures. Teens are often confused about what is going on when they initially experience symptoms of anxiety, and it may not occur to them that this is something important that they should seek help for.
A positive thing about anxiety is that you are not alone. Anxiety is the most common mental health issue amongst Canadians. 1 in 3 people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health issue in a year. Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15-24-year-old Canadians, second only to accidents; 4,000 people die each year by suicide. These are the reasons that we need to talk about anxiety and get the word out that you are not alone!
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety?
You may have feelings as though you are in a tunnel, sweating, have a red face and hyperventilate. You may also feel dizzy, have bowel issues or feel like vomiting. Physically your hands may be numb and you may have palpitations and feel nervous, scared, or have tight shoulder muscles.
Anxiety is also accompanied by what we call thinking distortions or negative thinking patterns such as all or nothing thinking, jumping to negative conclusions, mind reading or catastrophizing. A lot of the beliefs that go along with these thoughts are, “I can never do anything right! I have no friends. Nothing is ever going to turn out right. I know that they (my parents, my friends) are upset with me. Or I know that they don’t like me.” An example of this is when a friend is late, you may think this is a reflection of your friendship, when in reality they were stuck in traffic. Or you text a friend waiting for a response and they don’t text you back until a couple of hours later and you think they were ignoring you, meanwhile they were just busy.
How to Deal with Anxiety
It is important to realize that when you are stressed, you need to take a moment for yourself. Take a break and do an exercise class, start a gratitude journal, make a snack, take a deep breath. It is important to look for the stress in your body, take a breath and let it go. When taking time for yourself, try to notice a shift in your mind and thinking. Other ideas to change the scenery may include talking to a friend, listening to music, reading a book or doing some artwork or coloring.
It is very critical to realize that you are worthy of getting help and support and realize the importance of reaching out. Reaching out for help gives you a different perspective on a problem and helps you sort through your thoughts and feelings. Ask for help from family and friends or others that you can trust. This will help reduce stress and anxiety and build resilience in yourself. We learn from uncertainty and realize that we have a lot of strength and perseverance. There are also many professional resources for families and youth (see below). Many of these places offer a safe and comfortable way to share your feelings and get help. It might be awkward at first, but the main thing is get support and remember that you are worth it.
Even though we are all dealing with a lot of uncertainty and this fall will be very different, it is important to remember to take care of each other and ourselves. Added stressors can lead to anxiety and it is important to reach out for help and support. You are not alone!
|Kids Help Phone||1-800-668-6868|
|Canadian Mental Health Association York/ Simcoe||1-866-345-0183|
|Family Services of York Region||905-895-2371|
|Lesbian Gay Trans Youthline||1-800-268-9688|
|York Hills for Families||905-503-9560|
|310-COPE Crisis Line||1-855-310-2673|
|Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health||campusmentalhealth.ca|
|Children’s Mental Health Ontario Centres||https://www.cmho.org/find-help/find-a-centre|