5 Ways to Help Teens Cope With Emotions During COVID-19

Start With Healthy Thinking

The COVID-19 health pandemic is taking us all on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. On a given day, I can quickly go from grateful for all the extra family time to resentful for the lack of me-time. I shift from being hopeful about restrictions easing to becoming fearful about the very same thing. The ups and downs of this pandemic affect teens too. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “​​​The stress, fear, and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic can wear anyone down, but teens may have an especially tough time coping emotionally. Feeling depressed, hopeless, anxious, or angry during the COVID-19 pandemic may be signs they need more support during this difficult time.” Parents must help teens process their feelings about COVID-19. It starts with guiding them to use healthy, balanced thinking. This kind of thinking includes focusing on what you can control and stopping unproductive thoughts. 

Stop Unhelpful Thinking

If your teens are worrying about thoughts related to things they can’t change, it’s time to step in. Catastrophic thinking assumes the direst outcome will happen. And like a sweater with a thread pull, your thoughts quickly unravel into the worst-case scenario. Sometimes this kind of thinking can be helpful as it supports your ability to avoid potential danger. But at the same time, it can become paralyzing and get in the way of your ability to solve problems.

Adolescent medicine expert and CPTC Founding Director, Dr. Ken Ginsburg says, “Catastrophic thinking is at the root of anxiety. Often, it’s about dangers that only exist in your mind. Teens must learn to catch those thoughts that are likely to spiral them down an unhelpful path. Once they can identify a thought as catastrophic, then they can do something about it.” A first step towards steering away from the path of catastrophic thinking is to check in with yourself, he adds. You might say, “I am imagining the worst. I choose to stop this thinking and live in today’s reality. I am going to do something productive instead.”

Worrying about things that are out of your control is not productive. It prevents you from thinking clearly and makes it difficult to solve problems.

Focus on What You Can Control

Worrying about things that are out of your control is not productive. It prevents you from thinking clearly and makes it difficult to solve problems. Help your teens focus on what they can control — their actions in the present moment. Here are five things all within their control. Share the list with your teen and commit to doing at least one thing each day. 

  1. Get educated about COVID-19 by checking in with a reputable source. If the news only makes you worry more, tune out for a bit. Or, agree to check in just once daily. Read this for tips on how to find credible information during a crisis.
  2. Wash your hands, wear a mask, and practice social distancing. For the latest rules in your area, take a look at your local health department regulations. 
  3. Take care of your physical health with at least 20 minutes of daily physical activity, proper nutrition, and ample sleep. This will ensure your body is strong enough to withstand stress, and your mind is clear enough to solve problems. 
  4. Find a healthy outlet for your emotions. Draw, journal, dance, read or exercise to burn off steam. Give yourself permission to enjoy a hobby and escape for a bit. 
  5. Reach out to a friend or loved one. Write a letter, hop on a video chat, or drop a homemade gift on a friends’ doorstep. Feeling connected to others is healing. 

Your teens may feel more in control of what is happening when they learn the facts about the coronavirus disease and do their part to stop its spread. It’s comforting to know there are actions you can take to reduce your worrying during stressful times. By stopping unhelpful thinking in its tracks, teens will be able to ride the twists and turns this year is likely to bring.

About Elyse Salek

Elyse Salek, M.S.Ed. is an Administrative Director of Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Her degrees are in Psychology and Human Development from Middlebury College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Education. She is the proud mother of two children.

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