HEALTH AND WELLBEING // Coping Strategies and Study Tips for Teens in a Global Pandemic
Awesome tips for our teens from Highlands therapist, Meeghan Bourne.
It’s a tumultuous time for our teenagers and tweens, living through major school milestones in a global pandemic – from Year 6 finishers missing out on end of year celebrations, or entire school communities not having an annual concert to work towards and look forward to, through to cancelled or dialled back major school sporting events, excursions or camps.
Everywhere our kids look, something is being changed, re-defined or completely cancelled.
And spare a thought for the older ones in Year 12. It is one of the biggest years of their schooling life and yet it has never been so uncertain.
Super tough for these guys! We spoke to Meeghan Bourne, Principal Therapist at Holus Health Counselling in Bowral who has been chatting to and helping several teenagers navigate a stressful and turbulent year.
She had some great tips for students about to finish high school! Here’s what Meeghan had to say.
First of all, tell us what you’re seeing and hearing from teenagers about 2020?
I’ve been chatting to lots of teenagers about what they’re experiencing. From a young man in Year 12 in lockdown in Melbourne through to high school students in the Highlands. They are all talking about a fear of the future and how to deal with a lack of routine or constant changes in routine. Nothing is set in stone for them, which is worrying them.
That worry is presenting itself physically and mentally in varying levels of anxiety. Now, it’s important to remember that there are some positive elements to anxiety and fear. It can actually be quite motivating. But it’s when that level of anxiety gets to a point where it negatively impacts daily life that it becomes an issue. I’m seeing teenagers experiencing sleeplessness, a lack of motivation, minimal interest in exercise, getting outdoors or self-care, and worryingly, no interest in being connected to other people.
Year 12 students are normally in a highly structured environment with fantastic things to look forward to such as formals, holidays with friends once exams are over, the excitement of moving into a new job, career or onto further education. All of this is up in the air for them, which can be difficult to deal with.
So, how can they focus on studying for important exams when all this is going on around them?
It’s going to take self-discipline and focus. Sure, a bit more than normal because of the additional stressors happening, but it still comes down to being clear with your goals and working towards them. Here’s some study tips I recommend.
Study in 20-minute intervals
Your concentration is at its optimal limit for a time period of 20 minutes. Read, write or study something for 20 minutes, then get up for five minutes – pat the dog, have a stretch, wander around the room – before settling back down for another 20 minutes. Start by revising what you remember from the previous 20 minutes of study then launch into another 20 minutes. This approach worked brilliantly with a client who was having difficulty concentrating.
Diet and exercise are really important
This is absolutely the time to be kind to your body so it will be kind to your mind. Stay away from junk food and preservatives and eat fresh, clean food and drink plenty of water. The best time to exercise is in the morning. A teenager’s sleep train kicks in about 9:30pm and evening or late-night exercise, derails that sleep train and makes it difficult for teens to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Create a sleep routine
Speaking of sleep, having a regular sleep routine will help you manage your energy levels throughout the day. Going to bed at a set time and waking up at the same time every morning – yep! Even on weekends – will give your sleep pattern structure. If your school life doesn’t have structure, then you may as well create it yourself somehow! Late night study sessions will impact your energy levels the next day so a consistent sleep routine will keep your mind active and flexible.
The great outdoors
Another good tip for teenagers is to head outside first thing in the morning. Getting some natural sunlight onto the retinas of the eye stimulates cognition. Did you know it takes two hours for a teenager to be on full alert and mentally ready to fire after waking up? Heading outside for some morning sun will fire up their brain faster.
It is absolutely okay to reach out when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Talk to your peers, your teachers, your parents, trusted adults – saying what you’re worried about out loud definitely helps. A counsellor or psychologist can help you with goal setting, creating and managing a daily routine, treating stress and anxiety, your fear about the future and what’s happening in the world around us.
It’s important to seek help. You are absolutely not alone, and there are amazing people available to help you.
Awesome study tips, Meeghan – thank you! Now, do you have some coping strategies for our teenagers to help navigate this crazy world we’re in right now?
Let it go
The first thing I would say is that we are all getting a lesson in releasing control. And that’s okay! Many teens are missing out on important social, academic and sporting milestones. It’s how we deal with those disappointments that define us. I’m speaking to many young people who are enjoying the extra time with their families or who are redefining what those milestones may look like now. While the outside world is so unpredictable, many teens are leaning inward to their families and finding comfort there.
Healthy sleep patterns
I talked about the importance of sleep in the study tips, but I would like to reiterate how important it is in helping teenagers cope with stress. The optimum sleep time is 7 – 9 hours for teenagers. To get a good night’s sleep, I recommend turning off all devices 30 minutes before going to bed, dimming the lights, running through some breathing exercises and avoid stimulants such as sugar, coffee and alcohol after midday.
There are some great wellbeing apps that have been created for teenagers. Australian psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg has launched an app called ReachOut WorryTime that encourages teenagers to manage unhelpful thinking patterns by making time via the app to write them down, give them airtime and then move on with the rest of the day – this stops them ruminating on something and taking over their whole day.
The ReachOut Breathe app is fantastic for teaching kids how to breath and slow down their heart rate when they’re anxious or worried. Smiling Mind is another great app that helps students manage symptoms of anxiety.
Anything else you would suggest?
Planning out your day, scheduling time for self-care and ‘me time’ will help create the routine the uncertainty of the world has taken away. And staying in touch and chatting often with friends and family, or a professional counsellor will help alleviate anxiety and stress levels.
And it’s absolutely okay to lower your expectations of yourself at the moment. It’s a tough, unpredictable time to be living through, so please don’t be so hard on yourself.
Holus Health Counselling Bowral provides professional and discreet mental health and counselling services, and individual, relationship and family counselling and psychotherapy. There’s never any shame in reaching out. If you need help, get in touch with Meeghan.
This blog features friends and advertisers of The Fold Southern Highlands and is fully endorsed by The Fold Southern Highlands. We strongly believe in the businesses and all the information we share with you on The Fold and we're excited to share the amazing stories and adventures of our local businesses. We want to say a BIG thank you to you for supporting our sponsors who help make The Fold possible.