Helping young people cope - 5 manageable ways to find perspective in a pandemic

This year has been stressful for us all, however, many young people seem to be having a particularly difficult time. Unlike the older community who have lived through challenging times, for many young people COVID-19 is their first experience of uncertainty.

Their lives have taken an unexpected and unwanted turn and they lack the strategies or resilience to cope. It’s having a huge impact on youth mental health. Bendigo Primary Care Centre psychologist, Lorraine Nicholson shares some simple ways for young people (everyone really) to improve their outlook in these challenging times.

1. Remember it’s normal not to feel normal

When tragedy strikes, it is okay to feel scared, sad, frustrated, anxious, confused; it's okay to feel all these things. It’s normal not to feel ‘normal’ sometimes.

You might be worried about catching the virus, or for your loved ones who’ve lost jobs. You might feel frustrated about study and all the disruptions, or fearful about what the future holds. You could be feeling hopeless, like nothing matters. These are all predictable responses.

But, getting stuck on the bad feelings can paralyse you, and will change very little about what’s happening around you.

Instead of feeling like a victim of your environment, feel empowered about all the things you CAN do.

“Change is often good and almost inevitable, even uncomfortable change,” says Lorraine. “You could argue that we wouldn’t change anything if it wasn’t a little uncomfortable.”

“We wouldn’t leave a bad relationship or a job. We wouldn’t take a risk and explore a new path. It’s often the discomfort that propels us forward.”

2. Avoid the information overload

It’s easy to get stuck in a loop consuming information online. There’s headline-grabbing detail like daily infection and death rates and opinions and theories on everything from masks to vaccines. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of dreadful, dire news with very little balance or context, and context is everything, especially during a pandemic.

If you look at it historically, we're living in a very safe era: fewer wars, fewer deaths from common infections or diseases, childbirth, toothaches, falls, the list goes on. And while anybody can become very sick with coronavirus (COVID-19), most people who contract the virus will experience fairly mild or no symptoms (asymptomatic). Some will, of course, be severely affected which is why we are taking all of these precautions.

Choosing your information sources wisely will help you avoid the overload and overwhelm. You could also try talking to older people in your community or your family about their life experiences. How did your grandparents or parents make it through tough times?

A few good reliable sources to try are:  healthdirect.gov.au/coronavirus and www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus

3. Treat yourself the way you’d treat a friend

Sometimes to solve a problem it helps to step back, separate yourself from the issue and treat it like it’s somebody else's.

What would you say to a friend? How would you suggest they look at things?

Would you remind them to look around at what they do have, like food, clean water and access to friendships and support, rather than focus on what might happen? We may not always be able to control our environment but we can choose how to view it, with gratitude or despair.

Sometimes we can be so upset we lose sight of what’s actually happening and we end up judging ourselves much more harshly than we would a friend experiencing the same thing. Try giving yourself the same support and positive advice you would give to others.

4. Build skills to get you through the next challenge

COVID-19 might be a once-in-a-hundred-years event but guaranteed, it’s not the only time you’re going to face challenges in your life.

We might be trapped at home in stage three or even stage four lockdown but we have two choices. We waste time on "coulda, woulda, shoulda", or we use the time to build skills to improve ourselves and make life easier next time stuff gets hard.

The aim is to become more resilient, not to avoid all possible chance of adversity, so dig deep and be brave.

“Life is a challenge,” says Lorraine. “A useful analogy could be to imagine you are going for a surf. If you stand on the beach with your board you'll be 100 per cent safe, but you'll never learn to ride waves.”

You could try:

  • Cooking a regular meal for the people in your house. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Start with the basics like a great scrambled eggs or hearty sausages and mash and take it from there.
  • If you’re creative, commit to spending time each day working on your drawing, writing, painting, playing music, whatever it is you love, or perhaps have always wanted to try.
  • Thinking of ways to improve the lives of others. If you're feeling anxious, fearful, or disconnected, doing something for somebody else, or for your community, can have a really positive effect.

5. Find a routine

Most people do better with some structure. When there is none we can feel uncomfortable, even anxious.

Maybe you’re not working. Maybe you’ve had to move back home with family. Creating some structure, and consistent activities each day will make you feel more grounded and in control.

Exercise is a great place to start. Even just 20 minutes of exercise each day can diminish symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Other things could be as simple as:

  • Setting a regular time to go to bed and get up in the morning. Google ‘sleep hygiene’ to learn more about how beneficial a regular routine can be.
  • Eating meals at regular times
  • Speaking to a friend each day

Mental health support Bendigo

Are you looking for youth mental health support in Bendigo? If you’d like to speak with Lorraine or one of our other mental health support team speak to your GP about a mental health care plan. A mental health care plan lets you claim sessions with a mental health professional through Medicare.

When you make your appointment tell our reception team you want to talk about a mental health care plan so they can set the right appointment time. These appointments take a little longer than a standard appointment.

Call Bendigo Primary Care Centre to make an appointment (03) 5441 8622 

Image: Lorraine Nicholson, Psychologist Bendigo Primary Care Centre

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