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By Abby Betz, LSW- October 7, 2020-

During difficult times in our lives, specifically a global pandemic, we can easily become overwhelmed with simply trying to take care of ourselves. With multitudes of websites and books on self-care and countless “how-to” guides, it can be tough to decide what works best.

The purpose of practicing self-care is to find the best method to manage our mental well-being in a constructive way without adding more stress to our already busy lives. In a time when we are asked to limit contact with others as much as possible, we need to step back and revisit the basics so we can best care for ourselves and our loved ones.  

As a school social worker, my job is to help students learn positive coping skills to manage their feelings. Simply put, coping skills are what we think and do to help get us through difficult situations.

There are several coping skills that anyone can learn in order to overcome stress, anxiety, and depression. The key is to not overthink it, which just adds more unwarranted stress!

Counting to 10 is a great coping skill for anxiety and anger. It gives you time to calm down before responding to a stressful situation. During this time when you are slowing your thought process, you can decide to make better choices.

Taking three deep breaths is similar to counting to 10, as it is also a great skill to use when battling anxiety. The key is to take slow, deep, breaths and focus on breathing IN through your nose and OUT through your mouth. You can repeat this exercise until you have returned to a resting, calm state.

Finding a positive distraction is also a good way to help alleviate stress. Squeezing a stress ball can help relieve tension as well as improve concentration and focus.

Coloring and drawing are other constructive distractions that enable you to use creativity to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Any type of artistic activity is a wonderful way to cope with stress because it lets you be creative and anyone can do it – no matter your skill level.

Taking care of your body is also extremely important and can be as simple as drinking plenty of water. Eating healthy and being active are also vital components to our emotional and physical well-being and can help decrease stress. An example I like to use with my students to show the importance of eating a healthy meal is to imagine they are a car and breakfast is the fuel for the car. If students don’t have enough fuel for their morning classes, they could run out before lunch and will lose focus and motivation.

Another great way of promoting positive thinking is to imagine a happy place or think about your favorite memory. It may be at the beach, at your grandma’s house baking cookies, or at school playing with friends. Thinking positive thoughts can replace negative thoughts, which makes this coping skill a great tool to have. 

At the end of the day, if things just seem too overwhelming – ask for help.  Reaching out to loved ones or someone we trust is an important coping skill that all of us should use. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; in fact, asking for help is a powerful sign of strength and self-awareness.

If you or someone you know is in need of help – please do not be afraid to reach out.  Youth First is here for you! We will get through this difficult time together.

By Jenna Kruse, LSW – September 23, 2020 –

Being a parent of a teenager is difficult enough without adding the stress of navigating a pandemic. After being stuck at home for several months, most teens are ready to stay in school, see their friends, and return to any sense of normalcy.

As guidelines continue to change, here are ways you can safely support your teen during these trying times.

It’s safe to say that teen and adult worries are very different. “I’d look stupid in a mask” and “I need to see my friends” might not be thoughts that cross your mind as an adult, but understand these concerns are vital pieces of a teen’s social development.

It is important to remind yourself that your teen is living in a socially distant society as they are attempting to establish their own identity and independence. Have a clear list of your expectations instead of reciting government-issued mandates that they may not understand and are likely to ignore.

Empathize and validate your teen’s worry and anger. Teenagers are likely to feel the weight heavily; it feels unfair that the pandemic has happened, that it is still happening, and that life cannot yet return to normal.

By validating your teenager’s feelings, you grant them the opportunity to be open and expressive with their feelings. Try phrases such as, “You are right, this is unfair” or “I feel that too, but it’s important that we do what we can to keep others safe.” Validating a teenager’s feelings will make them more accepting of whatever you say next.

Your teen may feel frustrated that they have new restrictions placed on them when they have not been directly affected by this virus. Help teens make the connection by outlining the increased danger for older family and friends. This helps students understand that your fears aren’t far-fetched, and that what we do now makes a big difference down the road. You may also use the mask mandate and current restrictions as a way to teach compassion and the importance of keeping ourselves safe so we can keep others safe.

If your student is going out with friends, incentivize them to comply with safety measures. Let them know if they are willing to take safety precautions seriously, they will have more freedom to spend time with friends.

Make safety fun by practicing what talking to a friend from 6 feet apart looks like. Allow them to pick out a cool mask in which they can express themselves, and sit down with your teen to create a list of outdoor places where they could safely spend time with friends. Remind your student that your family rules may be different than their friends’ rules, but they are still the rules they must follow.

During these trying times, it is important to remind your teen (and yourself) that even though we are in the middle of a difficult time, this pandemic, like other difficult times, will pass. Work as a team and keep communication open, factual, and honest with your student. Remember, what we do now will determine what will happen next.