Written by guest blogger, Juan Rodriguez.
Before 2020, the number of mental health diagnoses in this country was rising in youth. COVID-19 seems to have accelerated it as 46% of parents report their teens had a new or worsening mental health condition since the start of the pandemic.
Postponed or cancelled “rites of passage” such as prom, homecoming, and graduation, brought new feelings of uncertainty in youth. Many teens don’t have tools to cope with their stress, anxiety, anger, and grief brought on during the pandemic. Our youth are experiencing a mental health pandemic. Here are three tools to help your stressed-out teen manage these overwhelming emotions:
Come back to reality using the 5 senses.
Does your child get overwhelmed with anger or stress? Do you notice them daydreaming to avoid their current reality? When teens experience extreme stress, they can lose sense of the present and go into their own world. One technique that can be used to “ground” teens in the present is the 5….4….3….2….1 technique. LOOK for 5 things around you, FEEL 4 things, LISTEN for 3 sounds, SMELL 2 things, and TASTE 1. Watch this video to show your child how he/she can use their 5 senses to help them come back to reality.
Basketball players take a breath before a free throw, soccer players before a penalty kick, and I took a deep breath before writing this blog. Breathing (especially before a big moment) is an essential part of life, but when we become overwhelmed, we tend to breathe harder and faster, causing our body to go into panic mode.
As a teen, I panicked about presenting or taking a test. But I learned a technique to help calm the nerves: deep breathing. It sounds like such a simple task but, it’s effective, and allowed me to remind myself that I was fine and “I GOT THIS.” Practice this 60-second breathing video with your teen before, during, and after they feel overwhelmed so it becomes a habitual tool they can easily access.
Work It Out
I’ve heard the advice, “Don’t run away from your feelings,” but running is how I cope! One of the most beneficial parts of my daily routine is running. It is a great feeling to turn my music on, zone out, and run off the stress. Physical activity improves mental health, but not everyone likes running or working-out.
If your child loves video games, suggest “Just Dance” or PokemonGo, where movement is key to the game. After school, have your child participate in sports, walk or bike outside, or stretch in place. Physical activity should be something that makes your child happy!
Your teen might feel weird trying these coping skills, but I learned that the best way to normalize these techniques is to do it with them. It’s also a great opportunity to build your relationship with your child because actions speak louder than words!