Sewickley Academy's School Counselor Lynn Sanborne, MSW shared the following advice with Senior School students to help them navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been eight weeks since our lives have been turned upside down and sideways. We are all challenged to be living in this time of unimaginable uncertainty and anxiety. I am keenly aware that young people may be especially overwhelmed. Adolescence is typically a time of existential questioning: “Who am I? Why have I been put on this planet? What is my path?” Such questions now carry additional weight.
For some teenagers – especially those in mainstream American culture – adolescence is also a time of individuation, of increased pulling away from parents and less sharing of daily life. All the “family togetherness” of the “stay at home” directives may feel constraining and dissonant.
And for many adolescents, intense friendship and romantic relationships become prominent and especially meaningful – social distancing certainly curbs the richness and comfort of these meaningful connections.
I just want to say that my heart goes out to each and everyone of you, and I know your teachers and parents feel the same way. We want to wave a magic wand and make all of this go away and let you have the “ordinary life” you had pre-COVID-19.
That said, I feel compelled to offer a few suggestions for wading through these murky waters – and Head of Senior School Dr. Lau asked me to . . . so here goes:
From my personal perspective as a current school counselor and former child and family therapist (and a mother of three grown children) there is no “right way” to manage our complex emotions, thoughts, and actions, especially during the extraordinary time in which we find ourselves. With that in mind, here a few ideas that might be worth exploring:
During this time of immense uncertainty, build in as much certainty as you can manage.
Create as many routines as possible: a “waking up ritual,” a “getting down to the business of a Virtual School” ritual, a routine for exercise or getting fresh air . . . Find ways to continually affirm how you are “getting through” things: “I think I will only need one more hour to complete my school work today and then I will reward myself with . . .”
You don’t need to be rigid about this and you can change things up, but creating and celebrating experiences of certainty and rituals of everyday life can be immensely grounding.
Slow down: This is an intentional prescription that can be self-soothing and inspiring. Consider that many religious practices over the centuries celebrate slowness as a path to peace and enlightenment. Our quarantine provides us with so much more free time than we are accustomed to, so it’s a bit easier to practice slowing down.
Wake up slowly: As you lie in bed, give yourself time to imagine the day ahead and how you will approach it. Consider a more deliberate and relaxed approach to going to bed – you now have the time to do this without counting the six hours of sleep you are lucky to squeeze in before a 6:30 a.m. alarm. Sleep – a solid 8-10 hours – is the ultimate celebration of slowness and its rejuvenating powers. Pay attention to colorful dreams – much more vivid during COVID-19, according to experts. Can you find particular meaning or guidance from your dreams?
Eat slowly: Chew slowly. Sip a hot drink slowly – noticing the flavor, temperature. Accept comfort and safety wherever you can find it. (I’m a big fan of weighted blankets. Holding and brushing an attentive pet can provide similar benefits).
Notice things outside of yourself and try to make this a daily practice: I find I am noticing the sound of the woodpecker each morning and the rabbits that frolic in my backyard as I sit at my laptop, engaged in Zoom sessions. I am so enjoying my 27-year-old son, who came home from D.C. to work remotely. I listen to his Zoom calls and understand and appreciate even more the important work that he is doing (prison reform). Observing – closely and intentionally – the daily routines of pets or even pesky siblings can provide much needed distraction, detachment, and humor.
Be kind and forgiving of yourself and others: This is not a time to expect perfectionism or ever semi perfectionism of yourself. I might even suggest that striving to put forward your best self is an unrealistic and unattainable ideal. Accept that it’s enough to just be “good enough” and accept that that’s enough. Examples:
“I just spent a half hour with my little brother helping him with his math homework and I tried to be helpful and supportive – and that’s enough.”
“I know that if life wasn’t so complicated, I would probably be able to focus a little more on this assignment and write a really well crafted and thoughtful essay, and what I’ve written is good enough. Now it’s time to click submit.”
Appreciate your own personal circumstances and use your resources: If you are feeling overwhelmed with intense emotions that you can’t seem to manage: sadness, distress, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, roller coaster mood swings . . . know that you are not alone and it’s okay to ask for help. Director of Support Services Dr. Herring and I are both available to provide telephone or Zoom sessions or just email “consults.” We can also refer you to psychotherapy practices that offer tele-therapy. Reaching out for help is a huge strength and acknowledgement that “This is just too much for me and I deserve to feel better than I am right now.”
Sending strength, peace and hope.