How the Covid-19 Pandemic has evoked anxiety in children and teenagers

By Marilena Andreou – March 2022

Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Article published in Cherubs Magazine spring 2022 edition

Does your child react strongly to change and uncertainty? Have you noticed their emotions have been affected negatively during the Covid-19 pandemic? Is the anxiety affecting their school performance?

During the Covid-19 pandemic, children and young people have been faced with many challenges linked to change and uncertainty. They have had to frequently readjust their lifestyles according to the government guidelines. Everyone may respond differently to change; some may feel excited whereas others may worry. Intolerance of uncertainty is a risk factor in developing generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and other problems; it also plays an important role in the tendency to worry. People who worry excessively react strongly to uncertainty; therefore they appear to be intolerant uncertainty.

Generally children can find it difficult to cope with uncertainty even pre-pandemic. However the pandemic has exaggerated the intolerance to uncertainty for many children, which can cause high levels of distress and can lead to depression and anxiety issues. Understandably this can leave parents / caregivers feeling very concerned about their children.

How do we cope with uncertainty? For those children who are intolerant of uncertainty, the initial response when faced with uncertainty could be to attempt to eliminate or avoid it. For example, by seeking reassurance or avoiding certain activities. Does increasing your level of certainty turn out to be an effective way to worry less? The answer to this question is always no.

Fundamentally by learning how to respond more effectively, this can help children feel more empowered to be able to alleviate their anxiety. In turn, this can improve their interactions with others and overall school performance.

Strategies on how children can deal with uncertainty to improve anxiety:

1. Normalise it - Uncertainty is a normal part of day-to-day life, remember that it is unusually higher during the pandemic. It does not always mean that something bad will actually happen.

2. Learn to tolerate the uncertainty- lots of things frequently change during the pandemic (such as school guidelines and rules about social interactions). Learn to be okay with the uncertainty as a lot of things are out of your control.

3. Refrain from avoiding uncertainty altogether – by actually looking for opportunities to experience more uncertainty (in small steps) this can help you to learn that you can cope. For example by trying an activity you have never tried before.

4. Practice worry time – schedule some time in the day to (up to 15 minutes) to think about your worries that are on your mind and you can also discuss them with an adult , then move on. If you find yourself worrying outside the scheduled time, write them down on some paper, postpone them until worry time and refocus on another task/ activity, then continue with worry time later on.

5. Talk to someone- This could be a parent, a relative or a teacher. It can be helpful to talk about your concerns with someone as they may be able to help. Parents/ guardians can encourage children to be more open about their worries and not to keep them bottled up as this can cause more distress. Seek professional help (if you need to), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the gold star treatment for anxiety disorders.

In conclusion, although the Covid-19 pandemic has evoked anxiety in children it is important to be able to take some practical steps to reduce the anxiety and which could also improve overall school performance.

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