NFF Youth Blog: September
September- the month that signifies the end of a long ‘break’. Summer months usually bring vacations, hanging out with friends, and a much-needed mental break, but not this year. I’m not sure about you, but after having the world seemingly shutdown overnight, I am not ready to restart. These past two years haven’t been full of vacations, or friends, or any sort of break. It’s been full of unknowns, sick family and friends, news anchors shouting out terrifying numbers, and absolutely no routine for most of us. Students are finally going back in person, and as exciting as that is, it's just as terrifying. Luckily (and it feels weird to say) that I have had some experience with anxiety even before covid started, so I know where to go to access support if I need it. Unfortunately, many students aren’t sure where to access those supports or even that they exist.
At this point staff and students must work together to ensure both are keeping mentally healthy as it is just as important to take care of your mental health as your physical. After talking with a group of students (who will remain anonymous) that are slowly trekking towards the inevitable, I uncovered something unexpected - many agreed that the lack of opportunities for physical activity affected them negatively. Some lost the motivation to exercise at all. I wonder how this affected those who had a scholarship because of their extracurriculars.
What are some of the most significant or common struggles that youth have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic? I remember struggling with things like project due dates, being invited to social outings, and other normal things like that. Now students have to worry about whether they’ll be able to keep up with the speed of classwork, ignoring distractions as it was easy to check their phone and not care at home. Not having a place for a mental break as many now associate home with the stress of schoolwork and learning. I remember a few students struggling with their mental health when I was in school, but I am worried about how youth will handle things amidst a pandemic.
As I mentioned before, I have had some practice with dealing with anxiety, and after speaking with the group of students, I learned how some of them have dealt with it as well. I think it is important to outline just how crucial self-care is, not only during a pandemic, but outside of it as well. One of the students I spoke to told me how they realized that having a set sleep schedule, even on weekends, was very important. Many students did not get enough sleep when they had to go into school every day, and it only worsened when they no longer had to get up to beat the bell. I was bad for staying up all hours of the night watching Netflix, especially when it seemed like making sourdough bread was the only other option available. Another youth mentioned that they started practicing mindfulness, and that it would be helpful if teachers were trained in this as well and could help students with it- maybe even add something like a mental health Monday to support students. Breathing exercises, saying a mantra, support groups, understanding one’s personal boundaries, and being kind and patient to oneself and others are some of the keys to keeping mentally healthy.
There are still many unknowns, but what we do know is that every young person’s experience with our new normal is going to look and feel very different. If students, educators, and parents work together on practicing patience and kindness, providing support and engaging in honest and open conversation- I am confident in the resiliency of my fellow youth.