little girl thinking with question mark over her headRise and Shine shared that January tends to be a time when many people feel gloomy: increased sadness, low motivation, low energy, and irritability. It’s dark and cold, winter stretches ahead and there’s a long period before another break from school/work. For youth, it’s also a stressful period during school, with high demands.

This year, there’s a persisting unwanted and all too familiar stressor: COVID-19. With new variants, there has been a return of many COVID-19-specific stressors: outbreaks in schools, some schools returning to virtual learning, increased virus testing, increased fear of getting/spreading COVID-19, and quarantines. Many youths are experiencing increased frustration, irritability, anxiety, anger, worry…and fear. There is fear of unknowns and fear of prior experiences, fear of missing events, fear of quarantine, and fear of being infected or infecting a loved one.

Importantly, many youths and their families are afraid of the continued negative mental health impacts they have experienced since March 2020. Children, adolescents, and young adults have experienced increases in clinical anxiety, clinical depression, thoughts of suicide, and substantial distress since the beginning of the pandemic. There is also significant disappointment that the pandemic is still ongoing and still disrupting life. There have been expectations that we would be past COVID-19 by this point.

Mental health protection strategies

As we approach the new year, we should all consider the following mental health protection strategies:

  • Daily exercise. Even if it’s only a 15–20-minute walk (yes, it’s okay to bundle up and walk!), daily exercise and increasing your heart rate boosts your mood.
  • Protect your sleep. Ensure that you maintain a regular sleep schedule and get enough hours of sleep each night. Try to set a bedtime and a “screen bedtime” 1 hour prior to bed. This gives time for your body and brain to prepare for bed and prevents getting sucked into social media or media outlets that may prevent early bedtime.
  • Get outside. Get outside every day. Check the mail, go for a walk or bike rides, sit outside to read a book, watch the sunset in a park. Getting outside can boost your mood.
  • Make a recharge list. Make a list of ways that you re-energize and de-stress: yoga, meditation, golf, running, reading a book, listening to music, playing an instrument, painting, watching a movie, calling a friend. It’s important to notice when we are starting to feel overwhelmed by stress and pause to insert time for your recharge strategies.

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