Published on March 23, 2021

Two teen girls sitting on a bench taking selfies.

Helping teens cope with change and uncertainty

The pandemic forced many people to put their lives and dreams on hold. Teens graduating from high school, college students, and those starting their careers, experienced disruption at a critical time.

"Teens and young adults have faced a lot of uncertainty," said Stephanie Pattengale, a psychotherapist with ProHealth Care. "In normal times, school, sports and socializing are stabilizing influences. Over the past year, young people had to adjust and readjust to multiple changes."

Some young people are ready to get back on track after having their plans delayed by the pandemic. Others may feel stuck and be unsure of the best way to move ahead.

"Dealing with the pandemic has naturally caused young people to focus on limitations and concerns," Pattengale said. "It has also interfered with the critical thinking skills that help us get out of a rut – just when these skills are needed."

It may seem difficult to look ahead and even frightening to take calculated risks in hope of future returns, yet these activities are important and can still occur.

Hitting the reset button may result in a realignment of goals and getting back on track. It can also include venturing in a new direction. Simple things like expanding your virtual social network and getting outside to safely exercise and meet friends can do wonders for shifting your outlook.

No matter how long it takes to set and reset individual life plans, it’s important to take an initial step toward the future. Recognize that your plans have been affected. Move at your own pace and allow room to grow.

Pattengale advises young people to:

  • Access learned skills. Tap into coping mechanisms that worked in the past.
  • Avoid overthinking. Worrying may not reflect reality.
  • Be mindful of the present. Consider what you can do to improve a situation.
  • Focus on attainable goals. Make plans for the short term.
  • Look to routine. Schedule time for a daily run, journaling or other activity.
  • Try something new. Take a different trail, start a hobby or study a new topic.
  • Connect and reconnect with others. Reach out to new friends and old ones.
  • Balance expectations. Realize that it will take time for life to get back to normal.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Teens need up to 10 hours of sleep a night, and young adults need eight to nine hours.
  • Eat healthy. Make vegetables, fruits, legumes, berries, seeds and nuts a regular part of your diet.

"Give yourself credit for what you have been able to do, despite the challenges," Pattengale said. "Hopefulness can be useful for constructive decision making."