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We know that young people have lots of questions and worries about the coronavirus (COVID-19). This is understandable – normal life has been completely changed with many of you now learning at home, dealing with the lockdown and the impact that this has on seeing your friends and family, and on doing the things that you enjoy.
Keyworkers, scientists and other adults are working on ways to deal with the virus and reduce the impact that it is having on everyone. However, it is normal to have different worries about how the coronavirus is affecting you and the people you care about.
The “Lockdown Lowdown” Report (produced by The Scottish Youth Parliament, YouthLink Scotland & Young Scot, 2020) talks about young people’s worries about COVID-19 and the impact it has on their lives. This page explores the common worries highlighted in the “Lockdown Lowdown” Report. We offer possible explanations about why you might be worrying about specific things, ways to think differently about your worries alongside activities you can do to help boost your mood.
You can read through these common worries on your own or share them with a friend or an adult. It is best to talk through worries with someone else; if we keep them to ourselves, it can feel as if worries become bigger and out of control.
COVID-19 and the steps taken to control it have had a huge impact on almost every part of our normal lives – from seeing family and friends, going to school or doing our favourite activities such as playing sports. This experience is new to almost everyone, so we don’t have previous experiences to help us to predict what will happen or know how best to deal with everything.
Feeling more worried and anxious than usual is a very normal and common reaction to what is going on in the world, especially as we are surrounded by messages about danger and uncertainty. It is further challenging as we can’t do many of the things that would normally help us feel better. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong or that you are the only one who feels this way.
However, we know that it doesn’t feel good to be anxious or worried too often or for too long, as this can have some horrible side effects on our physical bodies like in the picture below and on our emotions e.g. feeling grumpy, snappy, overwhelmed, disconnected from people/situations or “numb”.
But there is good news – having a good understanding of what anxiety is and how it affects your body can help you control it.
Feeling anxious about things is completely normal – everyone feels anxious sometimes. Do you know what is really going on inside your brain and body when you’re feeling anxious?
Anxiety is a reaction that can sometimes even be helpful – this can happen in different ways that are known as the Fight, Flight or Freeze responses.
Back in the caveman times, anxiety helped us humans to stay safe. If cavemen came across dangerous animals like a sabretooth tiger, an instinct known as the ‘fight or flight response’ would be triggered by the body and brain. It would happen automatically without the need for any thought.
When the ‘fight or flight system’ is triggered, hormones such as adrenaline are released to help the body prepare to either fight or run away from the perceived danger (e.g., tiger). As a result, we tense up and become alert. Our hearts start to beat faster, and more blood is sent to the muscles, making us ready for action! In some cases, our body might also respond to the stressful situation by ‘freezing’. We feel as if our mind has gone blank and we feel unable to move. I’m sure you know of some animals that use this ‘strategy’ to remain hidden from predators.
In this way the fight, flight or freeze response developed to keep us safe. Confused? Here are a couple of YouTube clips explaining anxiety and how it links to the way our brain evolved to help us keep safe:
So, some anxiety when there is real danger can be really useful. For example, if no one was worried about COVID-19 they probably wouldn’t follow the health advice that is keeping us safe.
However, sometimes we must face something that makes us anxious that we can’t fight, run away from or hide from. All of the adrenaline is still in our body (making our heart race, palms sweat, legs shake etc) but has no way out. Our brain is trying to protect us but leaves us feeling anxious and panicky instead.
The more our brain-based alarm system goes off, the more sensitive it gets and over time we can feel more and more anxious. This can result in us avoiding things that could be fun, worrying about what other people are saying about us, thinking badly about ourselves, finding it difficult to be away from our parents or getting angry and upset.
So now that you understand a little more about what happens in your brain and body when you feel anxious, let’s think about some ways to help you control it.
When we feel anxious, it often feels like our emotions and physical feelings impact on our thoughts – making them negative, self-critical or assuming that the worst will happen. But it is actually our thoughts that come first, even if we are not aware of them. What we think impacts on how we feel, and then on how we behave.
It therefore makes sense that just telling ourselves “not to be anxious” doesn’t actually help!
We can also end up in negative thinking cycles which keep us feeling anxious. When we are stuck in these cycles we often fall into ”thinking traps”. Do any of these sound familiar?
(adapted from Stallard, 2002. Retrieved from https://blogs.sch.gr/fmarvel/files/2014/04/Paul_Stallard_Think_Good_-_Feel_Good_.pdf 05.06.20)
If you notice yourself falling into a negative thinking trap, here are some ways to challenge your thoughts:
While it is human and healthy to feel negative emotions sometimes, it is good to have a personal bank of strategies to help you feel calm and in control of yourself.
Remember it takes at least two weeks to form a new habit and managing anxiety can be tricky. You are re-training your brain after all! Give some of these strategies a go for a few weeks and keep a record of how you get on.
It can feel difficult to feel connected to others while we must physically distance during lockdown – make plans to stay connected with the people you care about.
This doesn’t have to be through video calls – you could write them a postcard, do an online challenge together, play a game on Xbox/PlayStation online, or send them a voice note.
Being informed about COVID-19, and the measures in place to manage it, is good. However, too much exposure to news such as death tolls and other things that we can’t control can make us overly anxious. Consider switching off the TV/radio if the news is on in the background and make time to check the news when you feel prepared. Make sure that the news you have access to is reliable – for example posts from other people on social media may not be factual and could cause you to worry when you don’t need to.
Feeling out-of-control can make anxiety worse – having a routine will help you predict what is coming next and have a sense of control. Writing this down using colour-coding can help us feel more organised and in control.
Simple things like having a set time to get up and dressed by can make a surprising difference to our mood!
While it is good to develop your skills in recognising and challenging thinking traps, sharing your worries with someone can feel like a load off your mind. That can be a friend, a family member or an adult outside your family e.g. school staff. You could try writing your worries down, texting them, drawing them or using memes/GIFS if it is too difficult to talk to start with.
When we feel anxious it can start to take over. Make time to do the things that you like and look after yourself. When we enjoy something that we are doing we can get into the “flow” – where we don’t think about anything other than what we are doing.
When our brains are busy with enjoyable activities, they don’t have time to worry. You could use this time to try and learn a new skill or do something you’ve never had the time to do before. The 5 Ways to Wellbeing can help you with ideas to support your wellbeing. These are:
Be active Give Take notice Learn Connect
We know that one thinking trap is “filtering” – where we stop noticing positives and only notice negatives.
Try to purposefully think about positives in a situation – this helps you have a realistic view of the situation rather than only negative. E.g. try to identify 3 things you have appreciated in the day that have made you feel good.
Having a plan and feeling prepared can help us manage our anxiety. You could make a list of the things you are worried about and make a plan for each of them (if they are worries that you can’t control see section “I’m worried about something I can’t fix”). Having a plan for dealing with general worry and keeping yourself feeling good is also helpful – see the downloadable ” Wellbeing recovery action plan” here
When we are anxious, our thoughts often turn to the future. Practising mindfulness forces our brain to disengage from the worry and focus only on the present. See section 4 “Key Relaxation Strategies” for ideas. This is a tricky skill to develop but can have a positive impact on anxiety levels.
If some apps ask for payment, click the “filter apps” and select “by price” then “free”.
These strategies help us focus on something other than the thoughts that are making us feel anxious and can help our brains get out of the fight / flight / freeze state by sending it the message that the danger has passed. This restores our ability to think and problem-solve.
At times, we all worry about something that is out of our control and that we can’t change. During COVID-19 it may feel that there are more things that are out of our control than normal e.g. our health, money worries, or the future.
Separating the things that we can and can’t control can help us focus our energy on making positive changes where we can. It also provides us with the opportunity to learn to manage and cope with the uncomfortable feelings that can come with something being out of our control.
The “Circles of Control” exercise is one way of mapping out what you can control and change vs. what you can’t. You can easily create your own, here is an example of one about COVID-19 worries.
Take a moment to think about the worries that you think you have no control over – first check out the previous section and consider if you are falling into any Thinking Traps and use the questions to challenge these if you are. For example – are you catastrophising the worst possible outcome? Being aware of these thoughts and making an effort to change them can have a huge impact how they make us feel, even when the real-world situation stays the same.
Some of the worries may feel out of your control because you are looking way ahead into the future – some of these may be “real worries” that you can do something about, even if it does not fix the whole problem. Some may be “hypothetical worries” which means they MIGHT happen, rather than will definitely happen and may be out of your control. Using the decision tree below can help you work out if there is something you can do about a worry.
Right now, perhaps the reason you have decided to look for help on this website, is that thoughts about coronavirus are taking up your mental space and no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot keep those thoughts from popping into your head. Read on…
Living with uncertainty is difficult and can be scary. When we have unpleasant feelings, our brain goes into action mode, and it starts to actively look for solutions to our problem. If there is a problem, our brain wants to solve it so that we can feel better again – this takes up a lot of your thinking space.
You might find yourself trying to concentrate on your schoolwork just to find your mind has “wandered off” AGAIN thinking about friends and family and wondering when this will all be over. This can stop us from concentrating on the ‘here and now’.
Does this ring true for you? If this is the case, forgive yourself and try not to blame yourself for not being able to concentrate. If you are trying to concentrate and your mind wanders, it might help to:
Sometimes it may be hard to focus on learning because you just don’t see the point or feel motivated to do it. Motivation is a rollercoaster that can be high one day and low another day, this is normal. In times like this it can be even more tricky to motivate yourself. Learning at home is different from in school – in school you get constant feedback from your friends or teachers about your work and how you are getting on, it can be difficult to feel motivated without this form of positive feedback (even if you didn’t really notice it before).
Understanding your goals and the reason you have them is a good way to kickstart your motivation again.
Top tips to kickstart motivation:
For more information on “How to stay motivated during lockdown” visit BBC Bitesize at https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zvyhpg8
Are you having lots of those ‘bad’ days when focusing on your schoolwork seems impossible? You have tried all the tips above, but it is not helping. Perhaps you’re finding it difficult to get started on creating a routine and a plan? What to do:
It is normal to worry about friends. You care about them and you want to know they are OK. If you’ve come to this website looking for a few ideas about how to support a friend who is feeling a bit down, then here’s a few top tips:
Perhaps, you are quite worried about your friend? He or she is more than a little bit down. The best thing to do is to speak to an adult that you trust and share your concerns. If you do not have a trusted adult to speak to, you can visit the following websites for more information about how to support a friend as well as contact details should you wish to speak to someone directly.
If you have concerns that you or someone that you or someone care about is experiencing domestic abuse, please visit the following websites for more information and support.
A death changes lots of things and this makes people feel confused. It is normal to feel confused about your feelings; you may feel angry, upset, anxious, guilty, or you may feel none of these.
This is normal and it is important to remember that everyone grieves in their own way. You might notice that the people around you are reacting in a different way than you expect, some people are visibly upset while others prefer to go about their usual routine.
Below are links to leaflets on bereavement for young people which may help to answer some of your questions. If you feel you need further support speak to a trusted adult. If you don’t want to speak to an adult you know, there are also websites and phone lines you can contact anonymously. Link to Fife council Bereavement and Loss Leaflet – Click here
Winston’s Wish is information, advice and guidance on supporting bereaved children and young people during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
www.winstonswish.org – Freephone National Helpline 08088 020 021
Childhood Bereavement UK brings together guidance and information to help support you at this difficult time.
www.childbereavementuk.org – Helpline 0800 02 888 40
Bereaved people may have to deal with increased trauma, and may be cut off from some of their usual support network. Those who are already struggling with bereavement, or whose relatives or friends die through other causes will also be affected.
www.cruse.org/.uk – Helpline Helpline 0808 808 1677
We have heard lots of young people talk about feeling worried about losing touch with their friends during lockdown and about what their friendships will look like in the future. During this time when we are not able to see our friends or family, it is normal to feel disconnected. You’ll probably find that most of your friends are feeling the same (but perhaps not saying).
It is important to remember that everyone is in the same position of having few chances to see the people they usually do, for example at school or at work, however this won’t last forever.
In the meantime, there are ways in which you can stay connected to your friends:
A lot of the time we wait and feel bad if someone doesn’t contact us – be brave and take that first step to reach out. There may be an explanation for them being quiet e.g. if they are finding lockdown tough. Reaching out can mean a huge amount to someone, even if you think it’s just a small or easy thing to do.
As lockdown eases there will be more opportunities to become social again even if the guidance advises us to be physically distant. You are not alone in your worry, and it is likely that your friends will be just as happy to see you as you are them. If you’re feeling really worried about reaching out to your friends, talk to a trusted adult or an older family member e.g. sibling/cousin/family friend.
During this time of uncertainty, many of us are searching for answers on how everything is going to unfold. There are so many unknowns that it can cause a lot of anxiety for many people. Unfortunately, there is a lot of inaccurate information out there or “fake news” and it is important for us to know that the information we are looking at comes from a reliable source. In other words, you can’t believe everything you read to be true, so here are some top tips to avoid getting stuck in the pitfall of fake news.
Speak to a trusted adult such as a family member, Guidance Teacher or class teacher who might be able to give you some advice or signpost you to someone who can help.
If you have concerns that you or someone that you or someone care about is experiencing domestic abuse, please visit the following websites for more information and support.