Remembering that there is a light at the end of the tunnel

OPINION

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A decommissioned salt mine in Warsaw, Poland (Photo courtesy of Tadhg McDonogh Cunningham, @inactiveactivist)

The world today is drastically different than it was a year ago. The climate is on a rapid decline, political turmoil divides the country, and the COVID-19 pandemic looms over us all. Everyone’s lives have been dramatically disrupted, especially those of high school students. It is shocking and overwhelming. We have been in this for almost a year, surviving the day, and the effects on teen mental health are staggering.

The CDC has found that since the pandemic hit, the number of children ages 5-17 going to the hospital for mental health related visits has increased approximately 31% compared to 2019

The CDC concludes that the reasons for this are most likely tied to the fact that the pandemic has led to mental health concerns in children being exacerbated by stress, which means that the added stress has worsened previous concerns or created new ones. This stress comes from the sudden changes in daily life, anxiety surrounding the disease, social isolation, and a drastically different method of learning. 

Isolation and stress can be crushing and suffocating, and no one deserves to have those experiences. You feel as if there is nothing to look forward to, no hope that you will ever escape the overwhelming anxiety or the emptiness.

The New York Times reported that, “Research shows that adolescents depend on their friendships to maintain a sense of self-worth and to manage anxiety and depression.”

Online club meetings have been one way that students have continued to connect with and be supported by their friends.

Lane student Julia Augustyn, Div. 170, is a part of Lane’s Urban Eco and Environmental Clubs, and while the well being of our planet is on a steep decline, she and her clubs have been meeting and creating activities to at least lessen the negative environmental impact of Lane’s students and families. Working to create a supportive environment within our school has given her purpose during online learning.

“I do have a lot of hope, but I do think that we need to act now,” Augustyn said.

Another Lane student, Taya Brown, Div. 350, is a part of the sophomore BIPOC committee. 

“We wanted to make sure that Lane is a safe space for everybody,” Brown said.

However many Lane students do not have groups, as Augustyn and Brown do, that give them motivation, or are there to support them. During these tension-fraught times, when connection and stability are scarce, not being a part of these types of communities means that many students are left without organized support from friends.

Now, the ability to be supported by friends has been altered and is very challenging to navigate.

One pressing issue teens face when asking for help from friends is just that: asking the question. This is oftentimes because it means admitting vulnerability, feeling like a burden, or sometimes even feeling as if you do not want or deserve happiness. 

Based on research completed by University of Houston professor Brene Brown, as people, we tend to see vulnerability as a weakness within ourselves, Greater Good Magazine reports.

“Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me,” according to Brown.

You deserve to be celebrated and appreciated, and so you must congratulate yourself for opening up, the same way you would congratulate others. As well as this, even though reaching out can make you feel like a burden, remember that your friends care about you and sincerely want what is best for you. The same applies to those who feel that they do not want or deserve to feel better, even though the idea of “better” can be terrifying because it means entering the unknown; you are worthy of, and deserve, hope and happiness.

So, when taking that first step towards a brighter future, mental health writer and advocate Sam Dylan Finch suggests texting a close friend, teacher, or counselor. You want to ensure that you set a time to talk and emphasize that you are not doing well. An example of something you could say when you need to feel connected is, “Can you check in with me (on date/every day) just to make sure I’m alright?”

In addition to connecting with others, building a sense of stability and peace in your immediate surroundings will be a safety net for the times when those who you would usually turn to are unavailable

When first looking at how to create structure in your life, Lane counselor Ms. Bantz says to look at what is in your control.

 “Focus on you, your family, what’s in your control, because there’s so much that it’s not in our control,” Bantz said.

One of the things that is in your control is sleep.

The Sleep Foundation suggests that one of the first things you want to do is set a fixed wake-up time as well as budget time for sleep. This would mean giving yourself extra time to wind down before going to bed, say, an hour in which you would do things such as wash your face, brush your teeth, and get comfortable, as well as avoid being on any sort of screen.

If falling asleep is still difficult due to racing thoughts or stress, try focusing on relaxing instead of falling asleep. Relaxation techniques include controlled breathing, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery.

However, do not stop at just a nighttime routine; a daytime routine is also critical to finding a sense of calm amid the chaos. 

This daily routine does not need to be a rigid schedule that you must adhere to constantly, because that in itself can be stress inducing; instead build into your days things that you enjoy. That could include drawing, exercising, reading, baking, and more. 

Movement and fresh air are also excellent ways to boost your mood. 

Two options would be walks, which are great for getting both fresh air and movement, and yoga because it allows for time to check in with your emotions and find a sense of peace within yourself. And when motivation is scarce, just invite a friend to do it with you, whether this be in person or online. 

But most of all when trying to get through the day, when trying to maintain hope that things will get better, remember that there are so many people who will support you and assist you in finding balance and who will be with you always.

Know that despite the chaos and confusion, you are loved and appreciated, but most importantly, that you are not alone. 

And as Bantz says, “Try to embrace every moment that you have.”