As Covid-19 drags on and second waves threaten many countries lucky enough to have escaped the first, the more intangible consequences of illness, lockdown, and quarantine are becoming gradually apparent.
According to a disturbing new survey from ‘Save the Children’ reported by Bloomberg, the pandemic’s impact on the youngest generation has been deep and detrimental — and is getting worse.
The 37-country survey taken from May through July 2020 of 17,565 parents and caregivers, and 8,069 children aged between 11 and 17, revealed how the pandemic’s psychological impact has intensified over time.
The survey states that while 63% of children experienced an increase in “negative feelings” during the initial weeks of school closure, this rate rose steeply as the lockdown continued. Indeed, by month five of closure, 95% of children reported greater negative feelings — the same rate as their adult parents or caregivers.
If this emotional burden persists, it could well become a formative psychological scar for “Generation Covid”.
Stress and its impact on Covid Generation
Defining stress and how it acts upon us, psychiatrist Dr. Sanjay Chugh says, “The human brain exists or tries to exist in a state of equilibrium and when something happens to disturb this state of equilibrium that is what is termed as stress. The event that happens is not stress, the event is merely the stress factor. Stress is the way the brain or body is reacting to these stressors—external as in the case of the pandemic or internal when you have an illness.” So, the neurological or microcircuits inside the brain are forever trying to bring the body back to a state of equilibrium and this ability of the human brain to bounce back is called resilience, explains Dr. Chugh.
How adolescents are affected by stress
Typically, when there is a stressful situation, it tries to disturb the brain’s equilibrium. Initially, the brain’s resilience kicks into action, and the teenager is able to bounce back. However, when the stress factors keep adding or the magnitude of the stress is too large or if genetically, there is an inherent lack of resilience in an individual, these are the type of people to develop problems with an anxiety-provoking situation. Dr. Chugh says that when a child shows signs of anxiety, insomnia, depression, these are manifestations of a skewed state of equilibrium. Under these circumstances, medical intervention helps and one needs to help the child to build on their ability to build greater resilience. Aerobic exercises and yoga are must for kids as it helps the brain to build up the resilience needed to fight stress.
Fighting stress 101
Dr. Sameer Malhotra, Director, Dept of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Hospitals, speaks to Times NIE and gives a complete guide to parents, educationists, and students on how to combat stress.
What can parents do?
- Follow a healthy lifestyle as what you do, is what kids would follow.
- Maintain a helping attitude and a positive healthy bond between themselves as parents provide a healthy environment for the children to learn how to cope with pressure, life skills, and adapt.
- As parents, try to spend time with your children, make yourself available to them, listen to them patiently without rushing to conclusions/ quick judgments/ overreactions. It allows the children to bond better with the parents and develop a sharing approach. It also helps them ventilate their stress/ tension.
- Try to engage the children in constructive hobbies of their interest.
- Avoid excessive negative news discussions/ consumption.
- You could also plan a safe car ride once in a while with due precautions.
- Try to follow and encourage a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
- Try to engage in some physical exercise during the day. Promote some activities like bicycle rides, watering the plants, connecting to nature, watching the sky, spotting the birds, and listening to their chirps.
- Try to engage in some family indoor activities like playing board games.
- Try to share life experiences through anecdotes/ interesting stories appropriate to their age.
- Internal mood state is also reflected in the kind/choice of music, art, and poetry they may engage in.
Be watchful for signs of significant depression (persistent sadness, lack of interest, irritable mood, lethargy, crying spells, low confidence and self-esteem, disturbed sleep and appetite, withdrawn behaviour, voicing pessimistic thoughts or engaging in self-harm), anxiety (persistence of or frequent occurrence of significant anxiety, restlessness, physical manifestations of anxiety like palpitations/ racing heartbeat, cold sweaty palms, irritable bowel with increased frequency of passing stools, frequent urination; voicing apprehensions, disturbed sleep, low self-esteem and avoidance behaviours), obsessive-compulsive behaviours like repetitive hand washing, checking, or voicing irresistible intrusive thoughts. Be watchful for changes in behaviour and seek timely professional advice.
What is Sleep Hygiene that one should follow
Sleep hygiene that involves: defining a bedtime, preferably around 10.30-11 pm, avoiding the use of mobile phones /gadgets in bed, trying to wash feet with warm water before retiring to bed, clearing the bladder before retiring to bed, if milk suits, one could have warm milk before bedtime, avoid late-night coffee intake, try to listen to gentle instrumental music that helps to induce sleep.
What can children do?
- Try to develop and encourage an attitude of gratitude
- Try to define some meaning and purpose to life - a balance between hobbies, fun activities, responsibilities, exercise and relaxation
- Try to challenge negative thoughts with positive rational and meaningful thoughts
- Organise self and follow a healthy sleep-wake schedule
- Try to follow and encourage a healthy lifestyle amongst peers: try to make it a norm - avoid unhealthy comparisons and making fun of others
- Engage in group activities using technology: like developing group projects, artwork, connecting online with respect to learning
- develop and encourage a problem-solving approach
- try to develop self-help skills
- try to take out time to learn or pursue healthy hobbies
- avoid procrastination
- discourage gaming addiction
- discourage substance use/ high risk behaviours
- try to help grandparents, parents, siblings, and friends
How can teachers help?
These are challenging times but have also brought out new ways and tools , innovations and adaptations in teaching. Teachers are like parents. They are mentors, role models and guides.
- Make sure that the students are well connected with you.
- Ensure participation from students. At times some students are actively involved in learning and prefer to give all the answers to the questions raised. Whereas there are some who prefer a passive role and some who are not interested or avoid studying/ actively engaging in the teaching session. Try to make the sessions interesting and try to ensure the participation of the entire group of students.
- Try to give practical examples, and try to make learning as interactive and interesting as possible.
- Encourage the students to ask questions.
- Do also take out some time within the session on character building and developing a healthy value system within the students as that shall help them cope with life better.
- If some student is missing the classes, do try to find the underlying reason. A teacher’s concern is imprinted in a positive way in the developing minds of students.
- Try to give some group activities to children to connect and complete as homework before your next class. It is indeed a testing time for all. Avoid giving extra workload during these testing times.