I’d been feeling pretty calm in the face of coronavirus until Sunday, when wave after wave of new information came crashing towards me; my kid’s school closing, all non-essential businesses closing, my parents being told to shelter in place….actually, that was the tipping point into panicking for me. They live hours away and I can’t easily help them with their new needs. Worry started to bloom in my mind. What’s the most reassuring way to talk with my clients? What should I do first- make phone calls? Make food? Talk to my kids?

I want to stay calm for everybody. But I don’t know what’s going to change next.

Teens thrive on change and novelty, and take unpredictability in stride, seeing it as a way to experiment or have fun. That’s something I absolutely adore about having teens in my life; they constantly remind me to try something new. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter that plays a role in how humans feel pleasure from a reward, is triggered in our bodies when we experience novelty. Dr. Dan Siegel, a psychiatrist who explores the mind/body connection says : “this means new things feel really, really good to a teenager”.

Most of the teens I know were, initially, interested and excited that schools were closing. Something new! More time with friends! I can go on vacation and I won’t be missing school! Over the past week though, it’s changed to irritation, sadness, and worry as, like adults, teens are seeing their activities, like favorite restaurants, gyms, sports, and being with friends at school quickly dwindle down to nothing because of social distancing and self quarantining needs. Which leaves them hanging out with family (awkward and annoying). Other stress, like worrying about their older family members, grades, school make up days, and preparing for upcoming AP or SAT tests adds up to snappy and tense interactions.

Yes, we’re in uncharted territory. There are small but helpful things we can do to take care of each other.

Parents: here’s how to ease the anxiety of uncertainty and boredom for your teens and plug in to stress relief for yourself.

  • Encourage your teen to focus on activities they don’t have time for when they’re fully engaged in school, sports, and peers. Every teen has a favorite solo pastime they gave up as they got older and busier that they might be able to revisit. Art, writing, crafts, walks with the dog, auto repair, sledding, sewing, baking, audiobooks, and reading are things most of us miss out on when we are over-scheduled in our busy lives, and reminding your kid about these things could help with boredom.
  • Ease up on screen time control. “Shelter-in-place” eliminates most of our entertainment choices. Most of us need to cut corners so we can get through unfamiliar situations that don’t have an end in sight. Face-timing with friends is engaging and calming, and social media keeps up connections that can’t happen face-to-face right now.
  • Everyone copes a little bit differently. Now is not the time to dismiss or belittle the choices others you love are making because of high emotions and anxieties. Sharing your needs by saying something like “I know this is hard for all of us, but I need….”, or “I hear how stressed you are and I am too. Let’s take turns hearing each other out” means you’re going the extra mile to be kind and respectful; valuable stuff when you’re stuck indoors with crabby, bored teens.
  • Coronavirus anxiety is real, and some teens are feeling it, too. All you have to do is go to the grocery store for toilet paper to realize that. But we can break this anxiety cycle. If you calmly and clearly tell your teen about these steps, you can help them reduce coronavirus anxiety:
  1. When you feel anxious about something, notice the thought you are having. Say the thought to yourself: “I’m worried because I saw my friend at the grocery store and they were coughing and I was standing right next to them!”
  2. Take a deep breath.
  3. Ask yourself to think: “What am I doing to protect myself from getting sick?”
  4. As your brain starts to remember all of these positive things (staying home, taking vitamins, getting enough sleep, talking to my friends so I feel happy), the panicky feelings will be replaced by the thoughts about the reasonable actions you’ve already taken, and you’ll feel better.

I’m sending you positive and healing thoughts on your journey parenting your teen through these uncertain times. Please reach out to Restoring Relationships if you’re thinking therapy might help!