Is Your Teen Showing These Signs of Anxiety? New and Increased Worries Teens Are Talking About – Which May Be a Result of the COVID Pandemic

Posted by on October 27, 2022

by Teresa Bansen

Here at the Toronto Counselling Centre for Teens, we have the unique privilege of connecting with tens of teens on a daily basis. We are grateful that our teens feel safe enough to open up about some of their most challenging moments. Often, teens voice feeling that they are the only ones in their friend group experiencing a particular struggle. As it turns out, there are many common and overlapping themes that we have picked up on when discussing the impact of the pandemic.

1. Teens report having a lower social battery, requiring more time than ever to recharge

It is no secret that the pandemic has left lasting impacts on our families, communities and relationships. Though the impact may look different for each of us, a common thread has been weaving its way through the stories our teens are sharing about re-engaging in their social worlds. 

Many teens have expressed excitement to be attending school and social gatherings in-person again. However, they may be out of practice. This excitement can sometimes wear down into exhaustion, as the social stamina they once had may not be as readily accessible. 

Some report needing to retreat to their rooms, isolate from family and friends or scroll endlessly through social media in an attempt to recharge and better understand what they’re experiencing.

The two years spent in isolation – which is a lifetime, developmentally speaking, for adolescents – has undoubtedly caused increased stress, anxiety symptoms and low mood. Not being able to connect with friends and support systems in the same way throughout the pandemic has left many teens feeling lonely and less equipped to ask for help.

So getting back into school, sports, social gatherings and their communities should help then, right? In the long run, yes. But it is not surprising to hear that this transition into ‘post-pandemic’ life, despite a positive transition, has been hard.

2. As teens reflect on and take stock of the memories and milestones they’ve missed, they also share feeling unmotivated. Here’s why that makes sense:

Transitions are hard. Even good ones. Your teen has likely been waiting for things to ‘get back to normal’, to see friends and to attend school in-person. Perhaps they envisioned life eventually going back to the way things used to be. 

And while they are returning to some sense of normalcy, they’re also returning with a backpack full of pandemic-related experiences. Experiences that include loss (of graduations, proms, friendships, or perhaps even loved ones), which can feel confusing and deeply upsetting.

Returning to normalcy can inadvertently highlight the reality of the past two years, the depth of the loss experienced, and also provides space for our teens to begin to process the ways in which their lives, and the lives of everyone around them, have been turned upside-down. And they’re trying to navigate all of this with a brain that has not fully developed yet.

3. Some teens report a preference to continue wearing a mask – though it may not be for the reasons you think

Reengaging in-person may come with social challenges. . If your teen leans towards being more introverted or often feels self-conscious, the return to in-person can increase their level of social anxiety. 

In particular,many teens share that they feel incredibly uncomfortable having others see them without a mask on. They have become accustomed to turning their cameras off during online classes, and hiding their insecurities behind their mask when they see others. Additionally, teens who made new friend groups during the pandemic, are having friends see their entire face for the first time. They’re worried they won’t look as others expect.

As we move  further into the school year, many teens have adapted  to being with their friends without a mask. However, take notice if your teen has a strong preference to wear a mask, especially when others aren’t. This could be a sign that your teen is struggling with anxiety or significant insecurities.

What you can do:

  • Talk to your teen. Get curious about their experiences of the pandemic and their return to school, social groups, sports, etc.
  • Normalize that all transitions, no matter how seemingly positive, can be hard.
  • Work to validate the experiences they share with you. Validating why it makes sense they would feel the way they do goes a long way in helping to disarm your teen and allow them to feel heard and understood.
  • Reflect on your own experience of the pandemic. What was hard for you? What have you noticed about others’ experiences close to you?
  • Don’t shy away from conversations about loss, grief, sadness and anxiety. Try leaning into their expression of their experience, despite how hard it might be to hear. As the saying goes, you’ve got to “feel it to heal it”.
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