We have had an unprecedented year. As the “pandemic persists, we are seeing the highest level of anxiety and depression reported since March 2020,” according to Paul Gionfriddo, President of Mental Health in America. Nationwide 47.1 million people are living with a mental health condition, a 1.5 million increase over last year, being fueled by isolation and depression.
In my home state of California, 4.6 percent of all teens experience substance abuse and 9.7 percent of youth have severe depression, while others report anxiety. Sadly, 64% of California teens with depression do not get help. In the City of Los Angeles 1 in 10 of Los Angeles’s youth attempted Suicide in 2019.
Not a day that goes by that I do not receive a call from a family in crisis. Since March 2020, my phone has rung off the hook with families crying out for mental health and substance abuse help. Youth are locked on Zoom, glued to their screens, using cannabis, and only coming out to roar like lions. As schools reopen, there are many reports that youth are afraid to go back to school and reentry is an issue.
Likewise, adults are stressed to the max. They are uncertain about earning and worried about losing jobs. They are concerned about loved ones who are exposed to COVID-19 or dealing with the tragic loss of those who have died from COVID-19.
The problem goes beyond California. The CDC reports:
- Alcohol and other drug use has increased during COVID-19 with rates 3-4 times higher than previous years
- Mental Health issues are increasing
- 7% of people contemplate suicide
- Severe interpersonal loss associated with COVID-19, along with social disruption, overwhelms the ways that families cope
The question is: what can we do to help our youth today?
Since the topic is vast, I want to address three common issues that families can address together – Sleep, Decision Fatigue, and Reentry Anxiety.
We know the importance of getting 8 hours of sleep a night. Have you had 8 hours of sleep each night during this pandemic? If so, you may be in the minority.
Why do we need sleep, anyway? Sleep helps us in the following ways:
- Empowers our immune system
- Our work is better after a good night’s rest
- Improves our mental health. Lack of sleep can cause feelings of depression, cause us to lose track of time, and interrupts our daily routines
- Other studies have linked lack of sleep with anxiety, bi-polar, and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Being stuck at home, especially if our space has low levels of natural light, may reduce light-based cues for wakefulness and sleep (known as zeitgebers) which are crucial to our circadian rhythm.
Here are some easy tips to help you get your family on track with sleep.
- Set A Schedule and Routine
- Establishing a routine can facilitate a sense of normalcy even in abnormal times Sleep-specific aspects of your daily schedule should include:
- Wake Up Time: Set your alarm, bypass the snooze button, and have a fixed time to get every day started.
- Wind-Down Time: This is an important time to relax and get ready for bed. It can involve things like light reading, stretching, and meditating along with preparations for bed like putting on pajamas and brushing your teeth. Given the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s wise to give yourself extra wind-down time each night.
- Bedtime: Pick a consistent time to turn out the lights and go to asleep.
- No screen time an hour before bed: The blue light emitted from screens interrupts sleep patterns. Be careful with screen blue light.
- Have Everyday Routines
- Shower and get dressed – even if you are not leaving the house
- Eat meals at the same time each day
- Block off specific time periods for work and exercise
- Change your sheets often
- See the light
- Go outside and bring as much natural light as you can into your home
- Practice Kindness and Foster Connection
- Kindness and connection can reduce stress and its harmful effects on mood and sleep
If we can get sleep under wraps, then we have a good chance of being able to address the Decision Fatigue, which is the mental strain that can come from making too many day-to-day decisions. Decision Fatigue can reduce productivity and efficiency.
Some of the warning signs of Decision Fatigue are:
- Frequent procrastination
- Avoiding choices
- Anxiety - Depression
- Diminished executive functioning
- Physical symptoms such as headaches and digestive issues
While we may have had fewer decisions to make during the pandemic, they were harder because we are frequently unsure about the best course of action - should I go out? Should I stay home? Should I go shopping? Hang out with friends?
As with sleep disturbances, it’s important to:
- Recognize the signs
- Practice self-care
- Reduce your choices
- Wait to consider tough choices until you have the most energy
- Shift your mindset
- Restructure daily life
Reentry Anxiety - which is the level of discomfort created when we are forced to leave the comfortable environment we have created - such as returning to school. We may be afraid of catching and spreading the virus, or maybe we think that we no longer have the social skills to connect and feel awkward, or perhaps the anxiety we felt before the pandemic has intensified
Again, the solutions are simple and yet to actualize it requires determination and commitment. Consider these tips to reduce Reentry Anxiety for your family:
- Take it slow and easy
- Visualize a positive outcome - Think Abundantly
- Stay in the moment
- Don’t confuse temporary for permanent
- Practice compassion
- Be willing to seek professional help for yourself and your family
Diligently practicing these strategies can help ease Reentry Anxiety in all age groups.
There Is Hope
Addressing these three common issues as a family is a great way to improve the difficult situations many of us face. Whether you are reading this as a professional or a family member, please know that there is always hope and always a solution for your teen and young adult.