People of all ages are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, and teenagers, as a group, tend to experience emotions especially intensely. If you are raising, teaching or otherwise caring for an adolescent who is feeling very nervous about it, here are five things you can do.
- Normalize Anxiety
Anxiety can be healthy. But not all adolescents, or adults, know that it typically acts as a useful and protective emotion. Accordingly, teenagers sometimes fear that their heightened nerves signal the onset of a full-blown anxiety disorder. They become worried about the fact that they are worried.
Adults can help young people appreciate that healthy anxiety has a purpose: It alerts us to potential threats and helps us move toward safety. “Feeling some anxiety,” we might say calmly, “makes sense right now. You’re having the right reaction to the emerging news about the coronavirus.”
From there, we can encourage teenagers to channel their discomfort into useful action, such as learning about and following the recommended health guidelines.
- Offer Perspective
For psychologists, anxiety is unhealthy only when it occurs in the absence of a threat — when there is nothing to be worried about at all — or when it reaches heights that are grossly out of proportion to the threat involved, such as when a teenager experiences a panic attack over a minor quiz. We can help adolescents keep their worries about the coronavirus at an appropriate level by making sure they don’t overestimate the dangers or underestimate their ability to protect themselves from those dangers.
Toward this end, we might say, “Right now, the health risk from coronavirus is very low for most Americans.” To this we can add, “And there’s a lot you can do to lower your risk even further: Keep your hands clean and away from your face, avoid anyone who might be coughing or sneezing and protect your immune system by getting enough sleep.”