Pandemic fatigue is real. For many teens and young adults, they are on their 8th month of social distancing and remote learning. And they’re tired of it.
My own high school junior, remote learning since last March, said it best:
“It’s all the stress of school with none of the good parts.”
Passively listening to teachers lecture through a screen. Breakout rooms where all your classmates have their videos and microphones off. Up to 6 hours a day on video calls followed by hours of homework.
No chatting with friends over lunch. No Friday night football games, choir or band practice, school club meetings. No walking down the hall or across campus wondering if you’ll see your latest crush.
Uncertainty as to when/if you’ll be back on campus. No part-time jobs available. SATs or that summer internship? Who knows.
At first, the pandemic didn’t seem so bad. A few weeks off school? Sure, sign me up! Stuck at home without friends? Not so bad, that’s what Snapchat and TikTok and Discord are for. No sports or activities? Well, at least the summer weather meant we could hike or camp outside.
But more than 7 months in, with no clear end in sight, pandemic fatigue is settling in.
And our teens and young adults are struggling more than anyone else. Recent data (links below) suggest that over half of youth ages 13-24 are reporting clinically significant depression or anxiety. Over 6 in 10 report increased loneliness as a result of COVID. And self-injury and suicidal thoughts are skyrocketing, with the CDC reporting that up to 25% of individuals under age 24 are reporting serious suicidal thoughts.
How can we help support the mental health of our teens and young adults during this time? We have to double down on our efforts to battle pandemic fatigue, especially heading into the shorter darker days of winter. Below are a few strategies to renew efforts to improve mood, reduce stress, and build social connection.
1. Less is more – when stress goes up, our capacity for learning and coping goes down. Goals and success should be adjusted accordingly. What we were capable of in pre-pandemic times might not be what we’re capable of right now. Encourage self-compassion and set small daily goals for school, home, and extracurriculars.
2. Get creative – creative, artistic, and playful activities have been shown to reduce stress and improve mood. Now more than ever we need creativity to break up the monotony of pandemic fatigue. Not an artist? Remember that creativity isn’t just about art. Think about a fun craft to decorate a holiday table, try a new recipe, take fall photos on your phone, move furniture around to reorganize a room.
3. Chase the light – with days getting shorter, darker, and colder, finding ways to get fresh air and daylight are even more important. Natural light helps regulate circadian rhythms, and simply getting out of the house can improve mood. Try to get outside EVERY DAY even if it means pulling on the winter boots and coat!
4. Look ahead – having things to look forward to can help us cope with current stressors and hopelessness. Make lists! What are 5 things you’re looking forward to during the winter? 5 things you’re looking forward to post-pandemic? 5 things you’re looking forward to in 5 years? It might be as simple as sipping hot chocolate with marshmallows on a snow day or as exciting as imagining an exotic place you’d like to travel to.
5. Get moving – literally. Between remote learning and colder days, many of us aren’t leaving the house for days. That means our movement can be as little as walking from bed to desk to fridge and back again. But even when we feel too tired to exercise, the data is very clear that movement actually improves energy. It doesn’t have to be a big 45-minute YouTube fitness video. Just adding 5 minutes of walking, stretching, or exercises every couple of hours will help you feel more focused and less tired. Not motivated? Set a timer on your phone to remind you every 2 hours to get up and move.
6. Connect – With daily opportunities to connect with people reduced to nearly zero, we all have to work harder to build social connection. Every day, try to reach out to one person you know – classmate, teammate, old friend, new friend. Send a snap, shoot a funny meme by DM, ask a question about class, check in to see how they’re doing. Not a joiner by nature? Maybe this is the year you try something new. Join an online school club, volunteer remotely for a local agency, or find an online gaming community of your peers.
7. Ask for help – many middle school, high school, and college students are struggling right now. The stress of remote learning plus the lack of social activities and fun means depression and anxiety are on the rise. If you’re struggling, ask for help. Ask a parent, a close friend, your primary care doctor. UpLift also offers a number of online resources. And in case of emergency you can always call the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255 ) or text the Crisis Line (text HELLO to 741741).