Although teens are experiencing many emotions in this tumultuous time, I want to address the increased disassociation I am seeing in my teen clients. Dissociation is a break in how your mind handles information. Teens (and others) experiencing dissociation may feel disconnected from their thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. It can affect their sense of identity and their perception of time. You may simply observe this as increased “zoning out” in your teen. Rather than go into the reasons you may see increased disassociation in your teen, I am choosing to share information related to what teens’ are reporting they need and where they are doing well. I will finish with suggestions for grounding exercises to help teens that are disassociating.
Grounding exercises help teens return, more fully, into their bodies and to the present moment.
They may resist this if they are avoiding uncomfortable feelings (such as fear or anger). However, with ample support, they can also process those feelings with a trusted adult or therapist.
On June 10, 2020 GENYOUyh, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to creating healthier school communities, released the results of a national survey of America’s youth detailing the impact of COVID-19 on their everyday lives, the disruption it has caused to their plans for the future, and the support they need from adults to help them cope in the weeks and months following. (Results below from GENYOUth survey)
Resilience and Positivity:
Despite major disruptions in their lives, teens are displaying a surprising sense of resilience and even positivity during the pandemic, much of it driven by the strengthening of family bonds and the strong support of parents during quarantine. Key drivers of resilience found include:
- Teens have perspective– with a majority agreeing that most of the pandemic’s impact on their lives will not be felt much beyond the end of the pandemic itself.
- Adults are listening and offering support– Four out of five respondents say their views are taken into account when adults make decisions that affect them. Adults are also offering access to necessary technology (64 percent), keeping kids informed (60 percent) and providing reassurance (57 percent).
- The pandemic’s silver lining – From sleeping more (45 percent), to experiencing less school pressure (43 percent) and less packed schedules (40 percent), kids see some positives of life under COVID-19.
What Teens Need:
As time has gone on, the pandemic has put teens coping abilities to the test. Even if adults don’t have all the answers, they still can help young people navigate the challenges they are facing. The survey points to six key elements of an effective support response that can help the majority of youth to cope better, especially those who are hurting the most.
- Keep youth informed – Teens crave information on what’s happening and what it means. If you are concerned about your teens’ anxiety, please consider approaching sharing information in the following format: (1) Here is what we know now… (2) Although we may not know the exact plans and outcomes, we still know that there will be progress toward our shared goals of health and well- being.
- Help teens cope with uncertainty– Adults need to monitor their anxiety and help kids build routineas well as give them a sense of agency. Adults also need to help young people feel that the pandemic response is in the hands of capable and competent leaders who will make the right decisions.
(Note: If you believe your teen is experiencing clinically significant anxiety, please contact our office and set up and appointment so that a therapist can help your teen learn how to manage their anxiety.)
- Offer relief from the boredom–Although many parents are fearful of allowing their teens out of the house, teens need stimulation other than online classes. They also need to experience agency in the activities they choose.
- Focus on athletics– Kids should be empowered and equipped to skill-build and train; stay in shape independently; and study playbooks, films or other resources to get smarter about their sport.
- Address financial concerns– Parents/caregivers should keep teens appropriately informed about their family situation and even engage them in finding resources that may help their family via online sites like SAP4Kids (www.sap.com/sap4kids), while utilizing available support like PSD meal programs and food pantries.
- Get youth input to problem-solve and make decisions together– The crisis has sparked dialogue in many life areas, including education. Asking kids to help re-imagine what schools might look like next year, and beyond, will make them part of the dialogue and provide a greater sense of control.
In a nutshell, the survey results suggest that, first and foremost, adults can best support and guide youth by listening to them. Rather than making flawed assumptions about what youth are feeling, trust teens to articulate what helps them cope the most, what they are not getting that they need and where they are feeling the most distress.
The other thing I would like to reiterate is the importance of teens’ agency at this time. Agency refers to your teens’ ability to take action and produce an effect. (This can be in big ways or small ways. If your teen wants to redecorate their room, it would be helpful to let them.) Allowing agency will help deter feelings of powerlessness which has negative lasting effects.
Step away from social media or scrolling on your phone.This can be incredibly trancing for some without realizing it. Sit your phone across the room and spend at least30 minutes doing something entirely different.
Crack a window (this is particularly useful in a car, but works at home, too). Feel the wind and notice the new sound by your ears.
Stretch.Open up your body so wide and press your feet firmly into the ground. Orient yourself in your body from the top of your head to the tip of your toes.
Dance. If you have the room to do so, do a silly dance or even a serious one. Notice as you regain your balance and coordination from when you started.
Take your dog (or cat 😉 for a walk…Or just walk yourself!
Pet a cat or dog or other animal that may be around.
Eat something. Notice all the different flavors and textures and scents. Perhaps choose something with a lot of flavor.
List or write down your feelings in the moment. Describe your feelings in extreme detail. If they were a color, what would they be? If they were a weather condition, which would you see? A temperature? A texture? Loud or quiet? Animate or inanimate? Soft or sharp?
Wash your face or brush your teeth. Do a face mask or use some other self-care toiletries to freshen up. Notice all the smells and textures. Notice how they feel on your skin and how refreshed and alert you feel.
Take some ice in your hands or place it in a baggie and hold it for a little while.(Make sure you’re at least grounded enough to know if it’s too extreme. This is not intended to damage your skin…only to make you more aware of it.)
If you’re struggling with de-realism, start naming all the things you know to be inarguably true.You know what name is on your birth certificate/how old you are now/ where you live/where you are standing/that it is either day or night/that you are either alone or in the company of people. Continue on until you feel yourself becoming more rooted in reality. Then, you can start challenging the things you weren’treally quite sure about. (You may need a friend to help you and that’s okay. If you’re a Hunger Games fan, you can think of it as the Real or Not Realgame with a loved one or friend.)
Squeeze or massage your muscles. If this isn’t triggering to you, deeply dig into the muscles in your shoulders and down your arms. Move your thighs and calves around until you feel all that fresh blood finding them. Notice all the new sensations you feel now that you weren’t feeling before.
Drink a carbonated beverage.Notice all the fizzies in your nose and down your throat.
LAUGH.However you can, by whatever means, try to do something that makes you laugh. It’s one of the most fail-proof ways to get more grounded (even for those whose default coping mechanism is humor and avoidance). Laughing wholly and authentically with your body can make you feel more present and grounded.