The worldwide spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected many different people, including teenagers. While, thus far, a relatively small portion of teens have been directly afflicted with this condition, nearly every teenager in the United States has experienced dramatic social, familial, and academic changes in a very short amount of time.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the medical community has reported “striking rates” of anxiety as a result of this recent outbreak, with teenagers even more likely to self-report experiencing anxiety. This anxiety can be connected to many underlying factors including economic hardships, uncertainty about the future, the lack of meaningful social interactions, and many others.
When left untreated, teen anxiety can result in a variety of negative consequences. Some residential treatment centers, such as Polaris Teen Center in Los Angeles, have noticed that anxiety is often very strongly correlated with other mental health challenges, such as depression. Even before the sudden development of COVID-19, teen anxiety was already identified as a major and growing issue.
In this article, we will discuss eight things that parents can do to help their effectively manage their anxiety throughout the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond. While anxiety can often be very debilitating, it can be effectively managed under the right conditions.
1. Introduce your Teen to Digital Therapy
In a time where social distancing measures are ubiquitous, it can be difficult to encourage your teen to see a psychologist or even get an appointment. However, now is the perfect opportunity to introduce your teen to digital therapy. Digital therapy, which can be done with a smartphone or a computer, allows your teen to speak directly to a licensed psychologist without needing to leave their home. While there are naturally some drawbacks when compared to traditional therapy, this digital alternative may be the “gateway” to professional help that your teen needs.
2. Limit Social Media Usage
In normal times, excessive social media usage can cause teens to experience heightened rates of anxiety and develop a negative self-image. During times of widespread uncertainty, such as those caused by COVID-19, these problems become even worse. Going online and hearing bad news all day will not help anyone overcome their anxiety. While your teen probably doesn’t need to be barred from social media altogether, establishing clear limitations can help minimize the negative impact these platforms have on their well-being.
3. Encourage Meditation
Meditation is something that is free, can be done from just about anywhere in the world, and—most importantly—also has a variety of mental health benefits. Even people who meditate for just five minutes per day can still report higher levels of life satisfaction, along with measurably improved physical health (such as a lower resting heart rate). If you and your teen have never meditated before, help them learn more about the benefits of meditation and how to develop an effective meditative technique.
4. Discover a New Hobby Together
Between schools being closed and countless activities being canceled, many teens across the country are finding they have a lot more free time. When left unfulfilled, this free time can lead to unproductive activities, such as worrying or diving a bit too deep into the internet. Finding a new hobby that you can do with your teen will not only help fill up this time, but it will also help you strengthen your relationship. In fact, finding productive outlets such as art, music, and writing is the foundation of experiential treatment used in many residential treatment centers.
5. Speak Optimistically About the Future
While there is no need to downplay or lie about events that are happening in the world, the way you discuss these events with your teen can have a tremendous impact on their overall worldview. Rather than saying, “it looks like a lot of people are going to die”, say “this is a situation I think we need to take seriously.” It is possible to be honest about world events without burdening your teen with pessimism and the weight of things that are beyond their control.
6. Encourage Healthy Habits
Anxiety in teens—and everyone else, for that matter—can have many different underlying causes, including both environmental and genetic factors. However, as you will find with seemingly every mental health condition imaginable, things that are bad for your health in general will also typically be bad for your anxiety. Exercising, drinking plenty of water, getting on a healthy sleep schedule, and choosing nutritious foods will all help combat the effects of anxiety and also help your teen become generally healthier. While it may be tempting to give up and dive right into the junk food, now is definitely not the right time.
7. Develop Consistent Routines
Routines help build a sense of continuity between our days and also help us feel generally more secure. When your teen is unable to go to school or work, developing routines can be incredibly difficult. To the greatest extent you can, encourage your teen to develop a predictable sleep schedule and choose a few standard tasks that they can complete every day. Even something as simple as making their bed in the morning can help create the sense of stability that they need in order to feel less anxious.
8. Remind your Teen You Love Them
In a world where we are constantly being bombarded with things to worry about, it can be very easy to forget about the good things we have in front of us. Even if they have not been formally diagnosed with anxiety, your teen is very likely concerned about the current state of the world and about their prospects for having a prosperous future. You may not have the answer to these challenges. But if you can remind your teen that you love them, that you are there for them, and that will strive to support them no matter what happens, you will immediately have a positive impact on their mental well-being. Nobody ever looks back on their life and thinks they told their loved ones they loved them too much.
Conclusion – Tips for Preventing Teen Anxiety
The relationship between a parent and their teen is one that can profoundly affect both parties for many years to come. If you are like many parents, you are probably concerned about how the COVID-19 outbreak affects your teen’s mental well-being. While you may not be able to fix everything, each of these eight actions can help make a positive difference in your teen’s life.