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  • Writer's pictureHUGH HARMAN

Managing Your Mental Health Through Lockdown - For youth (and everyone)

COVID-19 has impacted everyone and changed how we live, and for our younger population this is even more so. Teenage years are already defined by physical, emotional and cognitive changes. Moreover, this is when young people start to develop their social identity and start forming rich and more complex relationships with others. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has impacted how young people get to learn, interact with friends and placed limitations on how they get to manage their own mental and physical wellbeing. During these restrictive times it is really important that young people and their families become aware that they may be more susceptible to declines in psychological health.

For teenagers who are feeling the challenges of lockdown. Feeling difficult emotions such as anxiety, disappointment and isolation; please know you are not alone. With schools being closed and having to do classwork and assignments by yourself, it is totally understandable as to why you may be finding your anxiety or stress levels higher than usual. During this “temporary” period it is really important to have some strategies in place to help manage your mental health.

Validating your Emotions

It is really important to recognise and validate when you are feeling difficult emotions such as anxiety, sadness and anger. By ignoring one’s emotions or not validating them this can lead further issues with your mental health.

Talking with your parents or friends about how you’re feeling and the challenges you are facing at the moment is a great way to get those feeling outs. You may be surprised that many of the same feelings you are having are shared by your friends or parents.

Sleeping Well

With all the changes to one’s routine at the moment, maintaining a regular sleep schedule is really important. Getting appropriate sleep have been linked with one’s psychological health. Studies are now showing that poor sleep is directly related to developing feelings of depression.

With the current climate it can be really easy to start staying up a little bit later or waking up just before class starts. However, for your internal clock this can have some negative side effects.

This change in regular sleep routines over the long term may make it more difficult to fall asleep, which can lead to higher stress levels, feelings of sluggishness, inability to focus and worsening of one’s mood. So, sticking to a regular sleep schedule is an easy way to improve your mental health. Aim to get enough sleep so you don’t feel tired during the day, you feel alert and are also able to fall asleep within a short amount of time, such as 10 to 15 minutes.

Healthy Eating During Lockdown

Apart from impacting our physical health and energy levels, eating well has a massive impact on one’s mood and ability to concentrate.

Making time to eat is a great way to help reduce the chance of picking up unhealthy eating habits. This means having breakfast, lunch and dinner and trying to reduce grazing throughout the day. Make it a habit to get away from the computer and out of your room to sit down and eat your meals, these small changes can reinforce healthy eating habits during these uncertain times.

Try to focus on having nutritious foods during your meals. The quality of food you put into your body actually impacts how much feel-good hormones we have available within our body. So, aiming to have more fruits, vegetables, lean meats/good sources of protein, and wholegrains instead of processed foods is another simple hack to help improve your psychological health.

Make Time for Fun… and Work

With doing schoolwork from home and doing online learning. It can be really tempting to slack off and perhaps watch movies, use social media or play video games at the same time. In the short term this may not seem like a problem, but in the long term these habits can have unfortunate consequences once restrictions have lifted.

Being able to sit down and concentrate on tasks is a difficult skill. It requires a lot of energy and we aren’t naturally born with it. It is a skill that is built up over time, this is usually why the first day or two back at school after holidays is really tiring.

So, whilst you are at home. Setting out 45-minute blocks of time to focus just on schoolwork will set you up for success. This skill will be highly valuable not just at high school but moving forward at university or TAFE.

The old saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” has merit. Scheduling fun activities with your family, friends or by yourself is also important to help manage your mental health during lockdown. By keeping these two parts of your life (school life and social life) separate will be a great way of managing mental health, and you may find that the workload becomes less stressful over time because of this change.

Start to Exercise or Pick up a New Outdoor Hobby

When it comes to good health, physical activity matters. Exercise and physical activity improve overall fitness, body mass index, and muscular health. It has been shown that exercise can relieve stress, reduce depression and improve cognitive performance.

So, taking time out to go for a run or walk once a day is an awesome way to help improve one’s mood. A great app I have found to make running more exciting is called ‘Zombies, Run!’ . If you don’t like cardio that’s ok, maybe yoga or lifting some weights may be your avenue.

This may also be a great time to pick up a new outdoor hobby such as surfing, kayaking or mountain biking. It sounds silly but research is showing that our mood is actually closely tied to our surroundings. Being outdoors in nature has been shown to improve our mood and have a calming effect.

When to seek out additional support

Everyone has tough days every now again – particularly through these challenging times. If you’re struggling more days than not and you’ve been trying the strategies that are outlined above, it might be time to seek out some additional support. A good starting point is having a chat to your GP and possibly getting a referral to see a psychologist. There are also many online supports available – including Beyond Blue and This Way Up.

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