Elshadai Aberra | Web Editor-in-Chief
Q: How should teenagers maintain their mental health during a pandemic?
A: There are many activities that teens can do to create and maintain good mental health. We all need outlets for expressing our emotions, and ideally we need to do it in ways that are more helpful than hurtful. Some ideas for healthy expression are writing, creating art or talking to a trusted person. It’s also important to move our bodies! Physical activity significantly influences our ability to feel good and helps to release built up emotional energy. Connecting with friends and family who care about you and support you is another crucial way that we take care of ourselves, though we need to keep in mind connecting safely in the time of a pandemic.
Q: What mental issues do you think have arisen in correlation to the pandemic?
A: I think one of the most challenges aspects of this pandemic is the unpredictability and the loss of routines. People tend to be more likely to thrive in situations where they can plan and prepare and during this ever changing time, that tends to be really hard to do. Also, people have found themselves feeling isolated and alone sometimes due to social distancing and that can be very hard. As mentioned before, connecting with people is one of the best ways to support our mental wellbeing, so having to stay physically apart in order to stay safe can be really difficult.
Q: Do you think the pandemic did more harm or good when it comes to people’s mental health?
A: I think it has done both harm and good. While some people have clearly experienced distress, others have stated how surprisingly nice the time has been and that they felt less stress due to having their schedules cleared. I’m a big fan of holding two opposite truths at the same time, meaning that it is not all black or all white; the reality lies somewhere in the middle. I think that’s certainly true for most people when you look at the overall impact on mental health as a result of the pandemic.
Q: What are some coping mechanisms or good habits to maintain when feeling affected by the pandemic?
A: There are endless coping skills that we can try when we notice we are struggling and need some help. It really depends what works best for you, and that could be different by the day! Getting outside, moving your body, playing a game, talking to a friend, watching something funny, journaling, and the one I hear from students the most is listening to music. I’d encourage people to give many things a try and see which ones feel most helpful!
Q: Is distracting yourself a good choice?
A: That depends on how we are using distraction. There is a time and place where a little distraction could be very helpful. If we notice ourselves repeatedly thinking of the same thing over and over again and it is upsetting us, finding a healthy outlet to distract ourselves temporarily could be beneficial in moving us forward instead of staying stuck. However, if we are using distraction to avoid being honest with how we feel and hide from our emotions, then it is likely an unhealthy coping technique and one we want to replace.
Q: Have you experienced any mental issues due to the pandemic yourself?
A: I absolutely have experienced personal challenges during this time. Like most people, I was worried about my health and the health of my family, and that caused me to feel anxious. Also, working at home alone every day in the spring made it difficult to maintain motivation, which was hard because I wanted to connect with students and offer them help, but wasn’t sure how to effectively do so online. However, my reactions, and everyone else’s, are totally normal responses to have during stressful situations like the one we have all been living through during the pandemic.
Q: How do you think e-learning is affecting students’ mental health?
A: From what my students share with me, I know many are feeling challenged to keep up with school work when e-learning. It’s difficult to maintain the motivation and drive to complete work when at home and not in the classroom. Some things that help students stay successful during their time learning from home is to make sure they maintain a consistent schedule, especially their sleep schedule! Designate a specific area in your home (ideally not your bed) to complete your school work, change out of your pajamas and maybe put on the clothes that you would wear to school, and make sure to take time away from your computer, and all screens, throughout the day to help give your brain a break.
Q: Are there any resources students should know about regarding their mental health?
A: Numerous resources for teens related to coping with the impacts of Covid-19, and mental health in general, are available online. However, one of my favorite resources was created by the Avon Mental Wellness Team and is our Virtual Calming Space. Students can access it by going to our district webpage, clicking on departments, then clicking on counseling and mental wellness. You can also access it through this link: https://www.avon-schools.org/Page/15150 .
Q: Any last words on staying mentally healthy during these times?
A: I want to acknowledge that getting through this time is really hard. I also want to remind students that we have the ability to do hard things! It’s important to keep doing the things that help us stay mentally well and healthy and also to be kind to ourselves along the way. The best we can do looks different during a pandemic and that’s okay! Keep going and know that this won’t last forever, and also know that it’s okay to ask for help and support along the way if you notice you need it.
If you are struggling to stay mentally healthy at this time, ACSC has created and shared the Mental Health Guidance Flowchart below on AHS’s school homepage, where you may find other resources to help.
Illustration by Elshadai Aberra