Lauren Gallegos

By Lauren Gallegos

It feels as if overnight the coronavirus changed the way we live.

It has been a little over a month since we started sheltering in place, but it feels like a lifetime since I was last living my usual life outside of my home. Since that ominous Friday the 13th, I have been in survival mode, trying to balance working from home while caring for my baby, helping my two teenage kids navigate distance learning and social isolation, and grappling with this “new normal.”

We are living in a time of uncertainty and increased stress. While we know the importance of social distancing, isolation can have serious impacts on our mental health. Those with the diseases of mental health and substance misuse may find this even more challenging.

This new normal also has a huge impact on our teens, who are missing transitional life events and social experiences, extracurricular activities, and the in-person support they get from peers and school professionals.  

Ronald W. Manderscheid, an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, states, “One of the lessons of managing all crises—wars, pandemics, terror attacks, natural disasters—is that our ability to respond will be predicated upon our ability to keep large populations in good mental health and to mitigate panic while we all ride out the storm.”

If we are able to maintain good mental health and find ways to support one another through this public health crisis, our community can come out of this more resilient and stronger than before.

Research following the 2003 SARS outbreak (which had little impact in the U.S., but similar impacts in other countries) found that while the epidemic was traumatic, many people experienced positive changes, including improvements in family relationships and social supports.

I have seen many positive posts about how this pandemic is bringing families and friends closer together. Many people are finding time to focus on their families and themselves and to improve their mental health hygiene.

Mental well-being is particularly important when we are trying to support friends and family.

Here are some tips to support mental well-being:

  • Limit your time reading or watching the news—While it’s important to stay informed, try to focus more time on activities you enjoy. 
  • Connect with your community—Facetime, Zoom, and Google hangouts are all great ways to connect through video to your friends and family. Many people are having virtual happy hours, concerts, and dinners. My relatives introduced me to Jackbox.tv, and we spent several hours playing games through a shared screen.
  • Take care of your mind and body—Get fresh air when possible, exercise and eat well, practice meditation and mindfulness. There are many free apps for meditation, including Headspace, Insight Timer, Mindfulness, Breathe and Calm.
  • Give and accept help—If you know of a family struggling, offer support. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Recognize signs and symptoms (trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, recurring headaches and stomachaches) in yourself and others. Adults and youth can experience mental health and substance misuse problems related to the stress of an infectious disease outbreak.
  • Seek outside help, if needed—Call your doctor, get connected to resources at 211.org, or mental-wellness.bewelloc.org/concerned.
  • The Wellness & Prevention Center is offering no-fee telehealth services to adults and youth. Email info to wpc-oc.org or call 949.680.0516.

As mentioned above, youth are suffering from grief and loss at this time. The lack of social connectedness and cancellation of important events in their lives puts their mental well-being at risk.

Help your teens find ways to connect, be flexible with schedules, and encourage them along the way.

The Wellness & Prevention Center is proud to be a part of Project Pandemic Override, a series of Zoom classes hosted by Community Outreach Alliance to engage youth in creativity, exercise and social connection.

Weekly classes include origami, baking, physical fitness, Dungeons and Dragons, art and more. Youth also have the opportunity to hear from professionals about drug and alcohol prevention, coping with anxiety, and building healthy relationships.

For schedule information, please email communityoutreachalliancesc@gmail.com.

For up-to-date information on activities and support of teens, join our Facebook group ParentingSouthOCTeens.

Lauren Gallegos, ACSW, is the Community Prevention Director at the Wellness & Prevention Center. She leads the Wellness & Prevention Coalition and cares deeply about the mental health of fellow community members. You can reach Lauren at lauren@wpc-oc.org.

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