The impact on our children's mental health during COVID 19

By Marilena Andreou – November 2020

Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Article published in Cherubs Magazine winter 2020 edition

The COVID 19 pandemic and lockdown has brought a huge sense of anxiety and stress upon children and young people worldwide. Now young people are faced with returning back to some sort of ‘normality’, with returning to schools and colleges adhering to new rules and enormous changes to their lives. The unpredictability around the globe continues and young people are struggling to adapt to the ‘new’ way of life. For some people, even the regular government announcements reinforces the unpredictability and the notion that things could change again at any moment, including further lockdowns and what implications that could have.

We all have different belief systems and feelings, whilst some young people might be excited about being back at school/ college, others might be angry, anxious or upset about it. Some parents/ relatives or children might even have mixed feelings about it.

Do you ever notice that your child or relative displays symptoms such as: feeling frightened to leave the house, avoidance of social interactions, not wanting to play their favourite game, increased heart rate, excessive sweating or relentless worries about the future?

If you have answered yes to any of those or you have noticed other symptoms not listed above, it could indicate that the young person is experiencing some form of anxiety.

Seven coping strategies that are helpful for worry and anxiety:

1. Normalising the worry

Feeling nervous, anxious and worried at times is a normal human response. It is important for the parent relative to normalise the worry with children and young people.

2. Worry Time:

On a daily basis set aside 10- 15 minutes a day to think about your worries and discuss them (if needed) with another person you can trust. If you find yourself worrying outside of this period of time, write it down, postpone your worries by focusing your attention on other tasks and return to the worries during worry time.

3. Simple breathing exercise:

Take a slow deep breath and hold it for 5 seconds,

Breath out slowly, counting to 5

Breath in again and steady and exactly the same as the one before it and after it

As you breathe focus on expelling all of the air in your lungs

4. Block or reduce reading social media and posts about COVID 19:

Constantly reading and hearing about COVID 19 can be detrimental to one’s mental health.

5. Model brave behaviour:

Parents/ relatives need to understand their own anxieties and contain them when in the company of their children or relatives. It is important that parents/ relatives act brave although they might not feel that way.

6. Challenge unhelpful thoughts:

Negative thoughts can evoke certain emotions such as anxiety. Replace thoughts with more balanced ones. i.e. “ I can’t cope with these symptoms of heart racing and sweating” adapt this to “ the symptoms that I am experiencing are part of anxiety and the fight or flight response and they are not harmful and it will pass like it did last time”.

7. Self care

Playing games, baking, going for walks, playing football, listening to music, drawing or painting etc.

By learning to help ourselves we can also help each other or notice when others need help during such difficult times.