Oh my goodness, along with the Covid 19 pandemic, there has been a significant uptick in anxiety, among my patients with headaches, especially the teens and young adults. This has been clear since about mid-October.
Historically, there is the usual ramp up of anxiety, worry, lack of coping, that tends to happen around this time of year. At the start of the school year, the kids have to get used to their school situation, whether it’s a new school, new grade, new teachers, and/or new expectations. This is the normal flow of things. Then comes mid-October-November, and they are now faced with feeling overwhelmed with the amount of school work they have to do, being over-scheduled, and having their mid-term exams.
But this year, 2020, has brought a new level of existential angst to the mix. Along with the usual school worry, the kids are faced with an increase in Covid 19 cases (and worried about more lock down), an unsettled political election season, and not knowing what is going to happen with the holidays. Who wouldn’t be worried? We are receiving a tremendous number of distress phone calls and office visits.
So what can we as providers do to help our patients, their parents, and ourselves? Well, I have learned over the years, that the better the parental coping is, the better the child’s coping will be. I expect that also applies to providers as well. The better we are coping, the better we are able to diffuse and support our patients and families.
There are a number of ways to help parents support their kids and teens. These include: exposing them to accurate, age-appropriate information, presented in a safe and supervised way; modeling appropriate behavior and coping mechanisms; providing reassurance; being available to answer their questions; demonstrating and including the kids and teens in your strategies (doing meditation or yoga, working on puzzles, baking or crafting together, dancing to fun music).
I think the hardest thing is dealing with uncertainty and the unknown. We as providers may also be feeling adrift and worried. It is OK to let the kids know this, but that we are not being overwhelmed by it (hopefully we are not). There are no guarantees about what is going to happen but we can present as being hopeful for the future, if that is how we truly feel. Being our authentic selves will go a long way to ease anxiety, gain trust, and promote wellness for our patients and their families.
I had a virtual visit with a longstanding young adult patient of mine just the other day. She does have some baseline anxiety but does an excellent job with a healthy lifestyle and stress management. We had a check in visit because she was experiencing trouble with sleep and shutting off the worries and her brain at night. We talked it out, about all the stressors going on in life for all of us. I reassured her that she had all the skills and tools to manage these issues. We came up with some concrete ideas to help with her individual situation. We had a few laughs, and she felt better with some strategies in her pocket to get through this hard time. That’s what she needed. And because I know her quite well, I could be my authentic self in relationship with her.
That’s what we offer our patients- the ability to make true honest connections, which allow us to provide accurate information, good strategies, real support and reassurance. Isn’t that what we all need?