The month of May is the month of mental health awareness. And even though it is over, I need to ask you, “How are you doing?
I’m doing OK. I have moments of buoyancy and then moments of flatness. I guess it’s really because I am starting to know people in my circle who have
- Contracted the Covid – 19 disease or
- Have been lost to this disease.
We have spent a lot of time focusing on adults. Some of us are anxious, with high stress levels. Some of us, unfortunately, have lost our jobs, and we’re not too sure what the employment scenario will look like in a few months. Some of us have had reduced incomes since 2020.
Financially and emotionally we’re taking a hit.
While that is relevant I am wondering what it’d be like if we spent some time looking at the effects of the pandemic on children and teenagers.
Think about when you were a teenager. Yeah, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 10 years ago when you were a teenager. What was life like for you? Where did you spend your free time? I’m sure that most of us, when we were teenagers, used to hang out with our friends, go to the mall, go to the movies, pile ourselves in somebody’s parents’ car and go to some event.
Those of you who are willing, I invite you to even go further back to when you were a child. What was school like for you? I was never a fan of school, I liked recess and I loved lunchtime and of course, after school to be with my friends for a while before I went home.
When I think about children and teenagers in this time, I shudder.
When I was a child/ teenager I tuned into my mother’s emotions. Sometimes I would actually feel guilty when I irrationally concluded that I was the cause of her emotional pain.
I often became a container for my mother’s emotions, even though she nor I was aware that I was doing this. Looking back, I understand that this was my process as a kid.
So I’m wondering about the teenagers and the children, who like me, may be taking responsibility for their parents’ emotions.
What burdens are they carrying and how are they feeling?
We talk about parents who have to work from home while their children are attending on-line school and how challenging that is for parent. What about the children?
Adolescents and children have not been doing what they naturally should be doing at this age and stage of their development.
Teenagers tend to get together in groups and now they can’t. Children love to hug and touch each other and now they can’t.
If you notice that the teenagers/ children in your household are acting out, or sleeping a lot, or lethargic or disinterested, or have lost interest in online school or are having flare ups, or throwing tantrums, or have regressed in development ( finger sucking or bed wetting) then view this as evidence that they are also being affected by the pandemic.
I’m calling on all adults, who have teenagers or children in our lives to spare a moment for them and think about what they must be going through in this situation.
Yes, they will bounce back. Yes, kids are resilient. And right now in the here and now, they may be suffering.
The invitation is for you to check in with those young people in your life, and ask them what is going on.
Give them space to talk to you, give them space to express their emotions. Encourage them to have video chats with their friends. Encourage them to reach out to their family members via video calls. You can arrange an online games night for them and their friends.
I encourage you to spare a few moments and think about how difficult it must be for them. It’s difficult for us as adults. So imagine what it must be like for them.
This brings me to the topic on hand – loneliness. Some of us are being adversely affected by being lonely.
There is a difference between being isolated and being lonely.
People who live or work alone, people who have to quarantine are isolated from their friends and family This is different from people who experience perceived isolated
Perceived isolated can happen when we are in a crowd.
I’ve been there, when I was with a group of people, not having fun. As my mind drifted I realized that I was not connected to anybody in the circle, so I left and went home.
It could happen in a relationship, though everything looks great on the outside one partner is disconnected from the other and feels quite alone in that situation. Sometimes it happens on the job – we have no connection to any of our team members and if we didn’t work with them we would not speak to any of them.
We have all been in situations where we have experienced this perceived isolation. We were disconnected, and felt part from the people in our social network.
Perceived isolation is the expression of loneliness – a state of mind in which we feel apart from other people.
Research shows that teenagers and older people, are more severely impacted by this feeling of perceived isolation, i.e. loneliness. (Hence the reason I asked you to check in on your teenagers and to keep checking on them.)
Loneliness can lead to a downward spiral. We have been isolated and therefore we get a feeling that no one wants to be around us.
Whenever I spend long periods of time by myself, guess what? I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to see anybody. The more I stay home is the more that I want to be at home. That’s because I begin to disconnect with others and I don’t want to connect.
The paradox is that even though we don’t want to connect there is a part of us that yearns to connect which makes us internally conflicted and confused.
Unfortunately, the first person who reaches out to connect with the lonely one gets the brunt of his/her confusion and it is an awkward interaction.
The lonely has lost the practice of connecting. The lonely has lost the practice of having the social interaction and therefore is uncomfortable.
The person who reaches out to the lonely, also leaves the interaction feeling just as uncomfortable. And guess what? That person does not was want to interact with the lonely again. What is the result? The lonely is left in his/her our loneliness.
Loneliness leads to antisocial behavior because we are out of practice of connecting with others.
There are physical effects and impacts of loneliness. For those of us who like to take a little drink in the evening, ask yourself if you are drinking more or less than you usually do or more or less frequently, than you normally do.
Those of us who may have an addiction, this is a time where past and, present addictions may flare up.
Research has shown that people who live lonely lives, are more prone to cardiovascular disease and strokes. They also are at risk of a shortened lifespan . Lonely people have increased stress levels, high levels of anxiety, and poor sleeping habits. They may be unable to sleep or have intermittent awakenings during the night.
Loneliness can also lead to depression and in extreme cases, levels of suicide.
More than half of adults have reported that during the pandemic there has been a negative impact on their mental health and loneliness is on the rise.
What do we do if we’re feeling lonely whether or now we are living alone?
We need to reach out.
We need to practice connecting with people.
We need to talk to each other.
We need to make the calls.
We need to do online games.
We need to stay connected.
We need to deliberately speak to the teenagers who are fading away, and to our children who have lost their voice.
Those of us who are not lonely we need to check in with others, we need to be deliberate in speaking to them.
We all need to listen effectively. We need to listen without judgment. We need to listen in a way that allows the lonely person, the teenager, the child, to speak for 80 % of the conversation.
We need to become containers for each other. Imagine yourself as a container and allow that child, that teenager, that lonely person to pour him/herself into you.
I want to encourage everyone to a speak to a counselor, find a therapist, find someone a friend or someone who you can trust and keep having conversations with them about the way that you feel.
If you can’t speak to anyone, then in your Fortress of Solitude, you can write. Write down how you feel. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be a poem.
I’m really concerned about myself. I make an effort to reach out to my family, and connect with my friends on a daily basis. It’s part of my routine and I’m encouraging you to do the same.
Do not sit alone. You may live alone, you may have to isolate, you may have to self quarantine. You don’t have to enter the lonely state of mind.
You can reach out to anyone and yes, you can reach out to me – email@example.com or on facebook or Linked in
My intention is to fuel your leadership speak so that together we can bring real change to the systems that we live, work and play with.