Teens, mental health timelines and cabin fever (How to cope)

Over the last week, I have spoken to more teens and parents who are experiencing the impact of the emotions rollercoaster created by cabin fever. This can include feelings of:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Decreased mood
  • Heightened frustration
  • Increased feelings of being trapped
  • Increased feelings of anger, annoyance and irritability

The realities of cabin fever, are that many of us are feeling exhausted, trapped and annoyed right now, and the quicker we put in place constructive systems to help us manage the feelings and build our resilience that better the outcomes for our mental health.

Some early signs that we need to be aware of, that may indicate your teen (or you) is beginning to struggle are:

  • Sleeping more – or using sleep to avoid things
  • Motivation has dropped
  • Avoidance of activities, interactions or learning
  • Increased screen time
  • Use of electronics to avoid, distract or escape
  • Increased or decreased eating habits
  • Less connected or communicative
  • Hiding away

From collating the feedback, observations, moods of clients and my own knowledge I collated a mental health timeline of possible outcomes for mental health and emotions over coming weeks. Please note that this is my own opinion and not theoretical research, but allows parents an opportunity to monitor and review the mental health and well-being of their children and teenagers.

Please note – this is only the first half of the timeline, I’ll come back to it later! 

We can see, that in the initial stages of lockdown there was a novelty factor impacting after the initial fears. However, as the lockdown continues and cabin fever continues, many will begin a downward trajectory with anxiety, low mood and possible depression being risk factors. However, there is opportunity to interact at any point and support our teens and children to manage this so that they can cope more constructively and build their resilience. Whilst some young people may need therapeutic support, others can be supported at home. This can include:

  • Working together to find solutions and opportunities to solve triggers and barriers
  • Talking adult to adult (avoid lecturing, forcing or coercing) to collaborate and find answers that meet needs
  • Making a planned timetable that covers all needs (emotional, physical, health, nutrition, social and learning)
  • Balance activities
  • Increasing resilience by supporting the development of life skills such as resilience

The core of emerging feeling that things will be ok, is that we foster RESILIENCE. A child, teenager or adult with higher resilience will feel more able to cope, manage and bounce back from adversity. However, to develop resilience is a skill that requires support and role modelling, as well as providing a condusive environment. This can include:

  • BOOST SELF ESTEEM – offer praise when things ae done well, gratitude for help and encouragement to do things to build a sense of belonging and purpose (remember how you feel when a colleague nit-picks at you – its awful and leaves us feeling rubbish – do your best to avoid this and instead focus on the ways to connect and build self-esteem- when we feel we have worth we are more open to communication and ideas)
  • TALK ABOUT EMOTIONS – being open with our emotions (in a child appropriate way) is a great way to role model that we all feel differently about things. If we paint a smile, our children can feel pressure to do the same and bottle up feelings. To express ourselves and talk about how we are going to manage this can offer ideas and opportunities for children to do the same, or to ask for help)
  • SENSE OF PURPOSE – We all need a sense of purpose, and with the routines of work, school and university removed many people feel like a fish out of water. Creating a sense of purpose through a structured routine, planned activities and opportunities means we feel we have achieved something and have a reason. This can also include identifying jobs at home we could do and who would like to take responsibility for them, whether its painting the fence, emptying the shed or baking dessert – purpose gives us worth and increases our mood.
  • PROMOTE SOCIAL SKILLS – We cannot lecture about screen time if we are on Facebook every five minutes, so what we preach – we practice. The households’ actions are under the radar right now, decide on house rules and role model them from the top down. Connect (play games, join activities, help one another, call family members), role model the use of electronics (phones, computers and gaming consoles)
  • OPTIMISM – Developing optimism for the future is vital for resilience as it gives us hope, plans and opportunities. Spend time as a family talking about what ‘normal’ will look like after the lockdown. Are there people you want to see more of? Things you want to do together? Places you want to visit? Things you want to learn or try? Things you want to change? Reflection and planning are a great way to develop resilience and learn skills of logic, rationale and planning.
  • COPING SKILLS FOR PERSONALITY TYPES – If you have a child who is an introvert, they may find this experience very challenging as simply put they need time to recharge batteries because consistent interaction is overwhelming and exhausting. If you have a child who is extroverted, they will struggle with the lack of interactions with friends, social opportunities and time to be loud and vivacious. If you have one or more of each in your house, your introverted child may find this time extremely hard and as their nature is not to talk about things they may not express their struggles. Planning time for them to have quiet, space and time to recharge is invaluable to their mental health. For some, they may need support from an outside party such as therapist to help them find coping mechanisms.
  • REFLECT – Taking time to talk, reflect and plan and share ideas as a family can really help everyone feel that they have a voice. Sitting together to plan timetables, activities or the food shop can ensure that everyone feels that they matter and are included.

Above all, taking care of our self-care, being considerate of needs and taking time to sit with our feelings can help us to be more aware and think about what we need.

For more advice and support visit me at www.astepatatime.org.uk

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