Laura Berlinsky-Schine 6 min read Coronavirus

High Schoolers: Protecting Your Mental Health During Coronavirus

Back in February, you had one foot into the new semester and were looking forward to the weather getting warm, prom, graduation, sports games, conquering your finals and SATs, and a relaxing summer vacation. If you’re a senior, you were expecting to head off to college in the fall.

 

COVID-19 has changed all that. Your classes have moved online. You’re at home all day, every day. The events you’ve been anticipating, maybe even for years, probably won’t happen the way you wanted them to, and you may be coping with additional challenges, including the emotional toll the pandemic is taking on many of us.

 

Everyone, of course, is dealing with frustration, sadness, and even anger. As a high school student, you may be especially impacted by this crisis and feel like your entire high school experience has been derailed. While there are plenty of concerns on your plate right now, including staying on top of your coursework virtually, it’s important to prioritize your mental health most of all. Here are 5 ways to protect your mental health during COVID-19.

 

How Coronavirus is Impacting Students’ Mental Health

 

DoSomething.org is conducting a weekly survey on Gen Z’s (people ages 13-25) reactions to quarantine and the COVID-19 pandemic. The top sentiment among respondents as of April 1 is “frustrated” (63%), with “sad” at a close second (55%). Forty-eight percent feel disconnected. These percentages have all increased since the first survey conducted on March 18. 

 

You may also be feeling lonely and isolated from not having in-person contact with your friends, stressed and helpless due to family financial concerns or ill relatives and friends, and sad about missing some of the “typical” high school experiences most students get to have. You might even feel guilty about having these emotions considering the larger issues at play (according to the latest DoSomething.org survey, 9% of people surveyed do).

 

Your feelings are valid. It’s an extremely difficult time, and for you, it’s happening during a formative period in your life. Grief, anger, and fear are all normal reactions.

 

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During Coronavirus

 

1. Focus on What You Can Do, Not What You Can’t.

 

You can’t turn back the clock to an easier time. You can’t make coronavirus disappear. You can’t make legislative decisions enabling you to have prom.

 

If you focus on the things you’re missing or what you’re unable to do because of the pandemic, you’ll only become more upset and frustrated. Instead, make a list of what you can do while in quarantine. You can connect with friends virtually. You can start working on your Common App essays if you’re a junior. You can keep up with your schoolwork. You can continue some of your extracurriculars virtually. You can view this as an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and figure out what you can accomplish entirely from home.

 

This is more or less a way of reminding you to look at the glass as half full. It’s a hard mindset to adopt, especially when the world feels like it’s in chaos, but you’re only going to drive yourself crazy wishing for things to not be the way they are. This is not to say your feelings aren’t valid — they 100% are — but at some point, you need to try to make the most of what you have, so when this is all over, you’ve built a foundation to move forward.

 

2. Start a virtual study group.

 

If you’re feeling lonely or struggling to keep up with the work in an unusual (virtual) learning environment, a virtual study group can help you kill two birds with one stone. You don’t have to actually study together during the group, either; just keeping each other company online while you do your own studying can give you and your classmates a way to keep yourselves accountable.

 

You can also discuss the challenges that come from having your classes entirely online and try to develop solutions together. This will give you face-to-face time with your peers while also helping you improve your study habits and ability to learn content in a new setting.

Stay up-to-date on the COVID-19 situation

The impact the current Coronavirus situation is having on high school and college admissions is constantly changing. We're posting up-to-date information at our COVID-19 Information Center.

3. Continue Your Extracurriculars or Start New Ones Virtually.

 

There are some extracurricular activities that may be difficult to do virtually, of course, but not all are impossible. For example, you can probably keep many clubs going on Zoom. If you play a sport, you could even hold virtual  home workout sessions. This will allow you to interact with others, which will help prevent you from feeling too isolated.

 

Check our list of 50 extracurriculars you can do at home if you’re struggling to come up with ideas — there are many you can do with other people, even remotely. You may even be inspired to come up with a new activity.

 

4. Create Resources for Your School and Community.

 

Your classmates and peers are all going through similar experiences. Find activities to support one another, helping everyone’s mental health during a difficult period. Plus, starting activities will show leadership and initiative, something colleges look for in students.

 

You might, for example, start a peer counseling group. Talk to your guidance counselor and school psychologist about how you could facilitate this with their help. Another idea is to start a campus newsletter with tips for getting through COVID-19 and quarantine. You could also help make masks, gather nonperishable food for hungry families, or join other relief efforts. 

 

One of the reasons coronavirus is so hard to deal with is that it’s easy to feel powerless, so doing what you can in your community is a great way to combat that feeling of helplessness and make a difference in others’ lives.

 

5. Give Back.

 

According to a study published in the Journal of Adolescence, helping others can increase teenagers’ feelings of self-worth, especially when their altruism is directed at strangers. Giving back can take many forms, although your options are somewhat limited while you’re in quarantine. 

 

Still, you can take on projects like fundraising or creating marketing materials for a local charity or organization. You can also talk to organizations about what they need and how you can support them remotely. Perhaps you could tutor students via Skype or FaceTime, for example, or write to medical patients.

 

6. Stay in Contact with Your Friends.

 

It’s important to maintain some semblance of your normal social life, even when you’re social distancing. This will help curb loneliness. You might have one-on-one calls or FaceTime sessions, or you could use apps like Houseparty, which allows you to play games as a group, to give you something to do while you’re spending time with your friends virtually (after all, there’s only so much to talk about when everyone’s days are more or less the same now).

 

Whatever you choose, don’t just stick to texting. Seeing people’s faces and hearing their voices is much more intimate than reading a quick message, and will help you feel more connected.

 

7. Take a Break.

 

Don’t forget about self-care and relaxation. If you’re struggling with your mental health during this genuinely difficult time — and even if you’re coping well — it’s important to take a break. You may feel pressure to keep up with your schoolwork, complete a world-altering project, and get started on your college applications, all of which are important activities, but giving yourself the time and space to do enjoyable things, too, is essential.

 

What do you usually do to unwind? Read a book for fun, watch a movie or TV show, give yourself a pedicure, or go for a run (if you can maintain a six-foot radius from others, of course). If you like to cook or bake, make your family dinner. You can’t be totally productive 24/7, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to. In fact, it is productive to take care of yourself, because that will give you the energy to tackle the rest of the activities on your plate.

 

A Final Word

 

If you or someone you know is dealing with a serious mental health issue, abuse, or neglect, you should reach out to a teacher, your school counselor, or another trusted adult immediately. 

 

In the case of depression or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also find resources for youth on the NSPH website. If you or someone you know has harmed themselves or someone else or is planning to, call 911 immediately.

 

Those dealing with abuse or neglect should contact their state’s Child Protective Services. You can find additional resources through the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

 

For more resources on how to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic as a high school student, visit CollegeVine’s Coronavirus Information Center. We’ll continually update this page with new information and news.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.