Updated: Oct 20, 2021
Most, if not all, people have experienced increased levels of stress during this ongoing pandemic. It is difficult to not be overwhelmed by our uncommon circumstances and uncertain future, and especially as young people most of us have no idea how to approach this stress. This is why I decided to interview Miss Alina Constantin, psychology teacher and school counselor in ISB, and find out why we are stressed, as well as what we can do about it, hoping that we can all learn something and get rid of at least some of the worries constantly on our minds.
What effect does self-quarantining and social-distancing have on a teenagers mental state?
It is very well known that teenagers have a bigger need for social interaction than adults because this offers them a sense of belonging with people of the same age, with similar values and interests, which is a very important source of validation for most teenagers.
During the quarantine probably a lot of teenagers find themselves in the challenging situation in which their social interactions are restricted to the online environment but also in the situation in which they spend a lot more time with their families than usually. For some of them this might lead to limited privacy. As we know, personal space, privacy and autonomy are very important for any teenager and when they are limited, the effects on the individual’s emotional state and behavior might not be late to appear.
However, the degree to which a teenager copes with the quarantine is influenced by a number of factors, all having their contribution: the adaptability of the person to challenging situation, how extroverted or introverted they are, their relationship with the family members, their proficiency in using technology (indispensable for socializing these days) but also the quality of the already existing social relationships.
How can the lack of time spent outdoors affect our stress levels?
According to many researches, there is a direct correlation between time spent outdoors and the level of stress one experiences. Apparently, even 10 minutes spent outdoors can have a positive impact on stress level reduction. The situation that we are experiencing at the moment is an unprecedented one where we are forced to adapt to a number of significant changes: replacing going to school with online lessons, limited or not social life, not being able to do a number of activities or hobbies.
So the stress that people might feel, probably comes from a number of sources, the lack of outdoor time being just one of them. For this reason it is important for everyone to keep their windows open as much as possible in order to have a constant flow of fresh air and for who has the privilege of having a garden, to take advantage of it and spend some time outside daily, ideally doing something physically active.
What activities are actually the most effective in relieving stress during this time?
When it comes to stress relieving activities, there is no recipe that would work for everyone. It all depends on the type of activities that each person has a preference for. It is recommended that people get involved with activities that bring them joy. For example someone who does sports, would probably find it refreshing to exercise regularly. Or someone who enjoys making Art, might find out that slowing down the pace they live in would help them with their creative process. I would say that as long as it is an activity that people enjoy and it relaxes them, it could be anything.
If anyone is currently struggling with increased stress, where should they start in improving their situation?
First of all, it would be important to identify the source(s) of stress. Then it is helpful to try to think of the stressful situation in terms of finding a solution by asking themselves: “What is in my control at the moment that I can do in order to improve my circumstances?” In some cases we might come to the conclusion that we cannot really change the exterior circumstances, or not majorly. But one thing that is always in control to change is our perspective on things.
Another thing that is very useful to be done is to get involved (to the extent that the circumstances allow it) with activities that help you stay focused on something enjoyable or something that helps you learn something that you have an interest for.
It is also very important to have a strong support system: friends and family with whom to share your struggles but also with whom to share pleasant moments.
And last but not least, you can always seek professional support for situations that you feel you cannot handle on your own. Reach out to a school counselor or a mental health specialist from your community. They are there to help in difficult times like these.
What should people stay away from during stressful times like the ones that we are currently in?
In these challenging times, it is very important to look after ourselves even more than before, from every point of view.
If we were to think about a number of things that perhaps it would be best to avoid at the moment, one of them would be conflicts and tense family dynamics, at least as much as it is possible and in our control to do. Another thing that we should avoid is a disorganized routine. With lessons starting later and without needing to wake up early in order to get to school on time, it might be tempted to stay up late watching movies or playing video games. But having a well defined routine and a healthy sleep schedule are just as important now as ever. Screen-time is another aspect that is very hard to avoid since most of our school/work activity is dependent on the use of technology. But now more than before, it is important to try to limit the screen-time to what it is necessary. Having regular breaks and not using any device at least one hour before going to bed can make a significant difference.
Vice wrote an article describing “allostatic load” as the phenomenon experienced by many during this time. It is when one feels exhausted, not because their body is overworked, but because their brain is. What is your opinion on this and how do you think one can combat this?
We live in a time when we are exposed to more information then ever in the course of the history, when everything is one click away, which seems revolutionary for the way we evolve as a society. But the effects of course are seen also at individual level. Being bombarded with information that changes more rapidly than it takes us to process can lead to a feeling of mental overload. Topping this up with the fact that young people’s activity is mainly intellectual and they spend a big number of hours each day using their brain intensely, it is very common to end up with this feeling of mental overload. It is a very big effort to be selective with the information you choose to allow to reach you: publications you subscribe to, celebrities you follow, adverts that invade you without a choice, number of social media platforms you choose to be active on. But in order to keep a sense of control over this issues, it is important to do this exercise and ask ourselves regularly: “ Do I really need to see these posts every day? Do they bring any added value to my life?, Do I ever open all these emails from websites I subscribed to?” and try to “clean up” a bit our information intake. Apart from this, it is vital to try to keep a balance between: school work, hobbies, social life, time spent with the family, healthy eating, sleeping well because every one of them plays a role in how overloaded we feel or not at the end of the day.
In your opinion what advice should everyone hear during this stressful, uncertain time?
I think it is important to acknowledge that this is an unprecedented situation in our life time that none of us were prepared for. In this situation I think that is very important for everyone to realize that each one of us does the best they can in the current circumstances, with the available resources. Some people are making the most of this time and they dedicate more time to their hobbies and they grow in directions that they have an interest for. But this is not the case for everyone and that is ok. It is ok not to be as productive as you thought at the beginning of the quarantine, it is ok that sometimes you lose motivation or that you get overwhelmed with uncomfortable emotions. They are all an indication of the fact that you are here, you are present and you are doing the best you can to cope at the moment. And very important, we should all be a little kinder and more generous to ourselves and cut ourselves some slack on those days when nothing seems to fall into place. A crisis requires a lot of adjustments and it may not be for everyone a time of efficacy and progress. But we shouldn’t forget that simply by going through this, we are growing to become more resilient and we might just discover that we are stronger and more adaptable than we thought we are.
Thank you so much Miss Alina Constantin for giving me the opportunity to carry out this interview. Hopefully this brings you some peace of mind during this challenging time. Remember to not beat yourself up for feeling down and not constantly being productive in our current circumstances. Make sure to check up on the people in your life and stay safe.