I see a lot of clients in the high-school-or-close-to-it age bracket, who I tend to think are getting hit worse than anyone right now by this pandemic. Teens, this article is for you. Some of you love that you spend less time in school now, others hate it; some of you are going insane being cooped up inside, and some of you relish not having to deal with people quite as much. Whatever the case, a lot of us want tools (this is probably the thing I am asked most commonly for). While I love talking to people, if it’s just tools you want (and most commonly it isn’t), here are some of my best pandemic tips for teens!
Your Brain and Your Emotions Play Tricks on You
In the 13-22 or so age range, you feel feelings more intensely than your 25+ year old counterparts. It’s just how the brain works. This has both advantages and disadvantages: your lows are lower, and your highs are higher. Your lows will suck, and it’s likely that the adults in your life will struggle to relate to that, try as they might.
What To Do With The Lows
Unfortunately, we are a culture that tends to discourage negative feelings, especially strong ones. Many teens I see believe that there is something wrong with them, or that they are mentally unwell, both which are quite often untrue. While it is taboo to say, a good many of our minds will travel to a place that says we would be better off dead, and the world would be better off not having us. I really hope you’re not there, but if you are sometimes, come talk to us about it. Or to someone else – anyone you trust. It’s surprisingly normal. Please trust me when I say that difficult feelings are important, and worth experiencing (though they are best experienced alongside someone we trust). If you want someone to talk to but don’t want anyone else to know about it, send us an email and we will see if we can help, or point you to someone that can.
Managing Your Highs
Since your highs will be higher, that’s a good thing to take advantage of. You can enjoy a movie or YouTube clip way more than most of us can, you can get more joy from spending time with friends (please do this), you can laugh harder and longer, your runner’s highs will be higher. You can feel closer to your pet than we can, which I’m a little jealous of – pets are awesome (at the risk of making a few enemies, especially dogs). Use that – when you’re up, relish it and use the energy it brings.
If there was a pill that would cost nothing, that you could take that would help you sleep better, improve your mood, boost your immune system, help your brain and memory function better, reduce anxiety and depression, reduce stress, and generally make you feel better about yourself, would you take it? I think everyone probably would. Surprise, there is. Bet you didn’t see that coming in an article on the best pandemic tips for teens, did you?
The Magic Pill That’s Free
There is indeed a mysterious, free pill. Most people get really excited about this until they hear what it is. It’s exercise. I know that trickery was the last thing you probably wanted to hear, but exercise is literally one of the best things anyone can do for themselves, period. Doesn’t matter what it is, just get moving, and if you can, get your heart rate up. It might be hard at first, but the more of it you do, the better you’ll feel. I should also tell you that you should be sleeping more, but you know that already, and you probably aren’t going to. If you want help in that department, talk to your doctor. In addition to exercise, you can also try cutting out screens in favour of books in the couple hours before bed, or at the very least get yourself a pair of extremely trendy blue light blocking glasses.
You Already Have Skills That You Don’t Realize
Because you’re a human being, you have a whole bunch of adaptations the you’ve obtained over the course of a long life. These are great at getting you through tough times. One of my adaptations I used when I was younger was daydreaming, and another was making a joke out of everything. Some other common ones are overthinking/rationalizing, using alcohol or drugs, playing too many video games, or gluing oneself to TikTok.
Some of these are better than others, and they are mostly OK if used sparingly. Though we don’t want to overuse our adaptations, you have them for a reason – they’ve worked before, and they’ll work again. Don’t be too hard on yourself for using them, and I would probably recommend expanding your repertoire to include some more healthy ones.
Exercise (again), art, writing, music, hobbies, gardening, spelunking – the list goes on. If you’re feeling angry or stressed and are already not going to do your homework anyway, you could split your time between something mindless like video games, and something a little more mindful like going outside and collecting a bunch of bugs, or baking some cookies. If your parents hassle you about it, tell them a counsellor said you were allowed to. Probably do the bugs and cookies first – video games are hard to stop once you start. Healthier time-wasters will also give you a little mental boost in case you do decide you want to actually do some homework.
Make Good Use of Your Energy
Try to notice where your energy is going. Maybe you’re worrying a ton about your grades, and it’s exhausting. Maybe you don’t care at all about grades, but your parents do, and a lot of your energy goes to fighting with them. Maybe someone at school is really bothering you and it is eating you up inside. Maybe you’re in love and can’t think of anything else but that person you want so badly to be with. Maybe you’re putting everything you have into YouTube or Fortnite, hoping to make some money off streaming someday.
There is nothing wrong with any of these, but anything can be a drain on your mental and emotional resources. Make a list of the things that are the most draining: your biggest worries, the things you are committed to (sports, etc.), tough relationships. Divide this list into things you might be able to change, and those you can’t. The things you have a little more control over are great targets, and even the things you feel totally helpless about may not be as impossible as they seem. If you have a counsellor, talk to them about these things – it is likely you are burning more fuel in a given area than you have to be. These are also the things that can take you into dark places, or towards less healthy coping strategies.
Be Kind To Yourself
Above all, be kind to yourself. So far, I haven’t spent time with someone I didn’t end up liking, and this is because all of us are likeable. Seriously – I know that sounds stupid, but it’s true. You can’t be perfect, and you’re going to come out on the other side of this ok. As I’ve said already, come talk to us if you would like to – even if we can’t help, we can likely direct you to someone who can.
My name is Nik, and it’s a pleasure to be joining the team at Alongside You for my counselling internship! I will write a little about myself here. In short: I am a highly motivated counselling psychology student and science graduate with hands-on experience supporting people with autism, ADHD, anxiety, and other needs. I am committed to inclusion, mental well-being, and care of the highest possible standard. Please do get in touch if you think I or anyone else at Alongside You may be able to assist you!
Life Growing Up
I grew up in a diverse neighbourhood in Port Coquitlam. I was a quirky kid who did not have many close friends, much preferring the library to the soccer field. My bedroom was full of microscopes, telescopes, and amateur electronics. My love of science was matched only by my love of helping others; I came to be known as a calming and compassionate shoulder for others to lean on in times of need.
After graduating from high school, I had an urge for a change of scenery from Greater Vancouver. My British heritage and innate curiosity about the world helped me decide to study Natural Sciences in the United Kingdom at University College London. This interdisciplinary programme explored many different scientific fields, but I ended up focussing on neuroscience. I was fascinated by how little we knew about the human brain and the magic of consciousness. The brain is still very much “uncharted territory” with many new and intriguing discoveries made each year. However, as I progressed through my integrated master’s degree, I realized that these discoveries come at the cost of long and tedious hours in dark and lonely laboratories. Many of my peers who were a few years ahead in their careers found the work unfulfilling. It is valuable work, and I have much respect for those who do it. Still, towards my fourth year of university I realized I found greater meaning in working directly with real people. I started taking psychology electives and shifted from learning about the physical brain to understanding the mind and the soul.
After completing my M.Sci., degree and researching the presence and impact of autistic personality traits in the general population, I spent several years working in the non-profit social services sector. I primarily supported adults with autism, developmental disabilities, bipolar disorder, depression, and other concerns in various residential and community settings. In 2017, missing my family and the beautiful scenery in British Columbia (and also put off by the rapidly rising financial cost of living in London), I moved back to Vancouver. I started working for Family Services of Greater Vancouver to help children and adolescents with autism, ADHD, and anxiety build life skills and independence.
Finally, in September 2019 I started my M.A. in counselling psychology at Adler University. Now entering my second year of graduate studies, I can say I feel absolutely confident that this is the right path for me. My sincere gratitude to those who join me on this journey!
How I Approach Counselling
My approach to counselling is still very much in development, but right now I find myself oriented towards narrative therapy. This approach helps us unpack the story of our lives, read between the lines to gain new insights, consider alternative interpretations, and regain our sense of authorship to write the next chapter as we wish it to be.
That said, I do not draw exclusively on narrative techniques: the right style of counselling is whatever works best for the client! I also incorporate humanistic, person-centered values, meaning I have absolute respect for your choices, autonomy, and independence. It is not my job to make decisions for you or lead you in any particular direction. We will collaboratively explore options together, but you have the final say in any work we do.
Finally, it is important to me that my work includes well-researched, tried-and-true methods for effective and long-lasting change. Therefore, I aim to offer evidence-based exercises from practices such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (a style of discussion which helps you prepare for change), and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). I also aim to resource my clients (only if they wish) with proven strategies for building resiliency such as mindfulness, grounding techniques, and self-reflection skills.
My interest in research
As an aspiring scholar-practitioner, I believe it is essential to always work towards better understandings of the human mind. I think that this work should be substantiated by reliable data and evidence (although there is undoubtedly a place for intuition too). I am actively engaged in psychology research, keeping up to date on the latest peer-reviewed discoveries worldwide. I regularly collaborate with experienced clinicians and scientists on my own projects.
My current research interests include:
The impact of exercise on cognitive abilities
Relationship between personality traits and mental well-being
Improving the counselling experience for people in alternative relationship structures
Psychosocial development outcomes of using digital technology (e.g. apps, video games, robotics) versus physical toys and in-person interaction for children with autism in educational settings
Mechanisms underlying the transmission of intergenerational trauma
How social media and concerns (or ambivalence) about mass surveillance impact mental health, particularly in young people
Let me emphasize that my counselling clients are not research participants nor the subjects of experiments. I provide the above information just to give a better sense of who I am and what I engage in.
How I practice self-care through hobbies and interests
My energy, my fire, most certainly comes from music. I enjoy listening to most genres and have played various instruments since I was five years old (primarily guitar nowadays, and saxophone on occasion). I’ve found song-writing and composition to be personally therapeutic.
Travel is a large part of my life, and I also enjoy photography, which fortunately go quite well together! I prefer a more adventurous travel style, intentionally making myself uncomfortable to see what I discover about the world and about myself. In August 2017 I completed a challenging but incredibly rewarding 800km bicycle trek from London to Glasgow in five days. In April 2019 I participated in a charity event called The Rickshaw Run, driving 3,000km across India in a motorized tuk-tuk (essentially a 7-horsepower glorified lawnmower) while raising over $3,000 for cancer research. This past summer, my plans to backpack around eastern Europe were thwarted by the covid-19 pandemic. Instead, I took the opportunity to go on a 9,000km socially-distanced camping road trip to the Arctic Circle and back. I am incredibly grateful to have experienced how vast and beautiful this part of the world is! (Gratitude, I believe, is an important and too often neglected value nowadays)
I am also a big fan of fitness — or at least the idea of it! There are certainly many days when it’s challenging to muster the energy or find the time to exercise. Nonetheless, I’ve come to appreciate how vital physical activity is and that a healthy body yields a healthy mind.
Another significant hobby of mine is aviation. When I lived in the UK I learned to fly glider planes with long wings and no engines. We would launch ourselves into the sky and hunt like the birds for warm air currents to provide lift. It was a continuous fight against gravity, but there was something simply magical about the experience of quietly soaring among the clouds. I’ve not had an opportunity to fly since moving back to Canada, but I hope to resume gliding someday.
That’s all I have to say about that
My commendations if you’ve read this far! When I started writing this introduction, I did not think I would have so much to say about myself! Yet, in some ways, this has barely scratched the surface of who I am; we are all incredibly complex beings with indescribable depth. I know I still have plenty of self-discovery and personal development to do. But I hope this gives you some sense of myself, and if we do end up working together, I look forward to learning more about who you are and who you are becoming. I’d love to be a part of your journey.
I never expected to end up working as a counsellor. For a while, I thought I’d be a teacher, then I thought I’d be a journalist. I’ve worked as a custodian, a camp counsellor, in cramped offices and construction sites. None of these jobs promoted the idea of self-care.
The point is, my life has taken quite a few twists and turns, and it’s been very difficult at a lot of times to find a direction and a sense of purpose to what I was doing. And one major thing I’ve learned through that experience is just how important it is to take care of yourself.
When I was studying in journalism school, I very quickly realized being a reporter wasn’t the career for me. But instead of changing gears, I got mad at myself for not being good enough as a journalist and pushed myself towards a job I had no interest in doing. I was very hard on myself back then, and I blamed myself and my own inadequacies and I figured the only way to move was forward, even though I didn’t like the direction I was going.
I felt like I was trapped in this path I had chosen for myself. It was terrible. I pushed and pushed myself until I completely burned out at the end of my first year.
I took my whole body—mentally, physically, and emotionally—to the breaking point because I didn’t know how to take care of myself; I only knew how to continue doing things and never tell anyone how I really felt.
My Need For Self-Care
It turns out, I suffered from depression, anxiety, and a few other mental health issues that made it all the more difficult for me to take care of and go easier on myself. From a very early age, I felt lonely and sad a lot of the time. Even when I was spending time with friends or family, I would still feel a sense of sadness at not fitting in and not being accepted.
One of the ways I coped with experiencing all these negative feelings all the time was to hold myself to an impossible standard, criticize myself all the time, and blame myself for anything that went wrong in my life. I got used to the idea of being miserable and alone enough that I assumed I’d still feel that way no matter what career path I took, which is why I stayed in school and in jobs I didn’t like for so long.
But over time, my depression, anxiety, and negative self-talk became too much and I couldn’t function at work, home, or in social situations. Faced with inescapable feelings of sadness, loneliness, and self-loathing, I could barely get myself up in the morning and do daily tasks, let alone take care of myself.
It was only after I started going to counselling myself that I learned how hard on myself I was being and that it was actually OK to look after myself, take care of my body, and pursue my own interests instead of forcing myself into a career I didn’t fit into.
Counselling Can Help You Take Care Of Yourself
Counselling was so incredibly helpful for me as I began to better understand myself and make positive changes in my own life. I learned that I had a passion for the entire idea of counselling; of someone who is willing to join you when you’re at your lowest and help you find your own path towards understanding yourself, accepting yourself, and thriving as your best self.
I love being a counselling intern, even though it’s the last place I figured my life would take me. I’m excited to be learning these valuable skills as a counselling intern in an effort to help others. Having experienced mental health struggles myself, I know the value and life-changing power of therapy. It’s so important that we all learn to better understand our own mental health needs so we can take care of ourselves and each other.
When Will You Start Your Journey With Self-Care?
If you’re resonating with anything I’m saying in this article, I’d love to sit down with you. I’d love to be a part of helping you see that you’re not alone in your struggles, and that it’s okay to not be okay. We’ve all be there, and it doesn’t have to stay this way. Contact the office if you’d like to sit down together, I’d be happy to meet with you!
From The Directors: Today on the blog, we’re starting a new series. Our daughter, Ava is going to be writing for our blog from time to time. She’ll be talking about some of the issues she experiences and comes across with her friends, in school, and in life, to offer a perspective from a kid. We professionals can be helpful, but sometimes kids need to hear from kids. We hope this is something that some of your kids can benefit from and see that they’re not the only kid thinking of these things or struggling with things in life. We also hope that some of Ava’s tips will help them too!
My name is Ava. I am a tween, and I have a sister and I have a dog named Buttercup – she is 10 years old. I love to do gymnastics and play with my beautiful dog. I love to bake, ride my bike, read, go skateboarding and last but not least, I LOVE TO PLAY WITH SLIME!!!!!!!!
You may be wondering why I love to play with slime, so here are a few reasons why:
I have anxiety and learning disabilities. Playing with slime helps calm me down when I am nervous. I love the feeling of it in my hands and how the texture changes by what I put in it. It can be really smooth, soft, fluffy, wet or stretchy! Just having it in my hands helps me concentrate better.
It helps me be creative and lets me experiment with ingredients such as, white glue or clear glue (optional), hand cream, glitter, clay (but add in after you activate), foam beads and shaving cream. For activator you can use borax, contact solution and tide, but only use one activator for one slime. Don’t use two activators in one slime.
You can do this on your own or while social distancing with a friend. Or, you can make it online in FaceTime or Zoom – I like to do this with my cousins. It is a very soothing activity but it can get a little bit messy! It doesn’t take long to clean up! If it gets on your clothes just put the clothing in a bucket and put it in hot water to soak for 30 minutes to an hour and it will come right out.
I hope you enjoyed my blog today! Every once in a while, I’m going to write a blog that I hope will help some people. I know that I have a hard time with school and with anxiety sometimes, and I hope some kids out there will hear that it’s ok if things are hard. Life can be hard sometimes! I hope that some of my experiences and ideas might help you!
See you next time!
Ava Neufeld is the newest author on our blog. She is a 12 year old student in the Delta School District and wants to share her perspective on life and challenges in the hopes that it helps others.
I feel tired. I wonder if you are too? I am feeling anxious. I wonder if you can relate? I am feeling discouraged. Are you as well? I could use some self-compassion.
There seems to be increased tension if you are brave enough to venture into public spaces. Do I wear a mask? What if I can’t and people judge me? It feels like we are on hyper alert, the slightest cough, sniffle or tickle causes panic and uncertainty. Not to mention the larger conversations around the legitimacy of the pandemic and differing views of safety and the infusion of fear.
We made it through the spring and now the last weeks of summer linger in the air. Fall is approaching and with it comes questions. So. Many. Questions.
What is school going to look like?
Should my kids return to school?
When will this end?
Will things ever return to how they used to be?
Will there be a second wave?
How do I keep myself and my loved ones safe?
There seems to be a collective ‘heaviness.’ We could call it COVID fatigue? I feel it too.
Let’s all just stop.
Whatever you are doing this very moment – breathe.
Take a nice deep breath from your belly. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice your shoulders and lower them, try to ease some of the tension. Try to find a moment of calm.
Contrary to what some may think, Registered Clinical Counsellors are not immune to feelings of overwhelm and uncertainty. I wanted to share a few things that have been helping me lately. I hope that you will find some of them helpful too.
Do The Things That Keep You Well
Many people are feeling tired, sad and even depressed. I have been noticing that motivation is dwindling for many. The things that we know help us and we enjoy doing, are the very things that are falling away. We cannot simply sit around waiting for the motivation to return. We need to do the very things that we so quickly dismiss. May I gently ask you to dust them off and try them again?
Go for a walk. Enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
Pick up that instrument you love to play.
Paint, draw, sculpt.
Read a book.
Go for a run.
Putter in your garden.
Call a friend
Take a nap
These are difficult times. Our hearts can feel weary. There are pressure and demands coming at us from all sides. It is vital to take care of yourself first in order for you to show up the best you can for those you love and are looking to you for support and care. I know that I feel the joy returning when I put on my helmet and take my bike for a ride; I have too many excuses as to why I don’t, but the moment I do…there it is – joy and lightness come trickling back.
What can you do today to help some lightness return?
Engage In Mindful Self-Compassion
I often say “Be kind to yourself,” when I am speaking with my clients. It is a nice sentiment, but what exactly does it mean? A few months ago, I had the privilege of taking an online course on Mindful Self-Compassion with Kristin Neff and Chris Germer. I would love to offer a few helpful points that encouraged me.
Let’s face it, often the way we treat ourselves is terrible. The thoughts and comments rolling around our mind are not kind, in fact they can be downright cruel. The crux of Self-Compassion is this: Treating yourself the same way you would treat a good friend. Typically, we tend to be more understanding and empathetic to others and not as much to ourselves.
There are 3 main components of self-compassion:
Kindness – giving yourself compassion and empathy Mindfulness – allowing yourself to be with the painful feelings Common Humanity – understanding that you are not alone in your suffering
Self-Compassion fosters connection and togetherness as we hold our suffering and realise that we are not alone. Self-Compassion allows us to pause and realise the present experience without judgement. The paradox of self-compassion is that we give ourselves compassion not to feel better but because we feel bad.
When we feel different emotions, we can learn to notice the emotion, feel the emotion, and label the emotion. Offer compassion to yourself as you experience this emotion. Try placing your hand on your chest and offer yourself some kind words, just like you would a good friend. For example: “This is hard.” “This hurts.” “I am sorry.”
Focus on Being Mindful In Everyday Life
Introduce the practice of mindfulness into your daily life. This can look different for each person. From guided meditation, to breath work, to savoring experiences, cultivating gratitude and self-appreciation.
I’d encourage you to check out more suggestions and ideas at Dr. Kristen Neff’s website. She has some great resources that make the introduction to mindful self-compassion much easier to grasp.
Please remember that you are not alone in your pain. It is true that no one know exactly what it is like to experience your pain, yet, we have a collective humanity in that we all go through suffering. There are folks who experience more pain than you do and there are folks who experience less pain than you; it is not a competition. Let’s remember to use suffering as a way to cultivate empathy and connection.
Start Your Journey With Self-Compassion Right Now With Me
Self-Compassion is about taking a moment to check in with yourself – to stop and listen; to feel and to ask, “What do I need right now?” And if possible, to be kind enough to give it to yourself.
Make your mental health a priority. I cannot stress the importance of counselling right now. As physical health and safety is taking a front seat in the news, it is imperative to keep your mental health on check as well. Personally, I have been making my counselling sessions a priority. They are a lifeline during this time of uncertainty. Please know that Alongside You is here to help. We have appointments available 6 days a week – morning, afternoon and evenings. We provide face to face sessions as well as secure video sessions. Please reach out and talk to someone. We are here for you.
Practice Gratitude. There is much to be discouraged about – cases of COVID 19 are rising, there is political unrest in the United States, tensions are high about going back to school, natural disasters surge, and innocent lives are being taken at a sobering rate. I have found myself feeling overwhelmed and struggling to know how to respond. I acknowledge that I am but one person and the need is great. I was asked by my counsellor in our last session, “Where is gratitude in all of this?” I smiled. I can still practice gratitude when there is injustice all around. I can delight in my flowering geraniums on my patio, despite my not-so-green thumb. I can be thankful for my family, for my weekly handwritten cards in the mail from my mom. I can savour a delicious meal cooked at home and delight in the technology that allows me to stay connected with loved ones around the world.
We can hold more than one feeling at the same time. We can acknowledge the pain, suffering, uncertainty and fear we feel. And we can appreciate the beauty, the simplicity, the kindness, the compassion and love that still exists.
Sadly, I do not have a magic wand to make everything better. If only I did. But what I do know is that we can step steps to help ourselves through this time. You are braver than you know. Do the things that bring you joy. You are not alone. Reach out for help. Remember to breathe. And finally – know that you matter. The world needs you.