Written by Nathan Trevitt, psychologist.
School holidays can be hard at the best of times for young people as they are away from their friends and usual school supports. While the holidays can conjure up a picturesque view of quality family bonding and relaxation time for some, for others it is not unusual for this change in routine to be an anxious, stressful and upsetting time due to complex family dynamics at home. For carers, holidays can often mean a lot to juggle, including entertaining and managing the energy levels of their children, co-parenting with an ex-partner, and managing their own needs.
However, when an unprecedented event occurs such as the outbreak of COVID-19, leading to restrictions on leaving the family home, cancellation of social and sporting activities, and question marks about work and return-to-school dates, this stress can be amplified. It only takes a quick glance at the local news services to see how vast the devastation of COVID-19 has been, and it is entirely possible for the current isolation restrictions to be extended beyond the school holiday period.
For young people, this may mean missing out on the biggest moments of their lives thus far including sport grand finals, parties and school formals. Single or partnered carers are also potentially attempting to balance working from home and a reduction in income as well as isolation from other family members and work supports. Nor should we ignore the fact that increased tensions at home can lead to family conflict not only in the form of verbal altercations, but in incidences of physical and emotional domestic violence.
Working as a psychologist in a secondary school, it is good practise to encourage a young person and families to develop their own self-care plan prior or during each holiday period. Like any good plan, it does not have to be rigid. It should always be able to be reviewed and altered. Also, given each plan is unique to the individual who creates it, it should emphasise and encourage the use of their own interests and strengths.
A formal copy of the plan and an example of my own plan is attached at the end of this article for you to download and use. Clients of mine are encouraged to reflect on and write down each of the following:
- Signs they might be stressed (e.g. poor sleep, experiencing panic attacks, becoming argumentative)
- Coping strategies to relieve this stress (e.g. exercise, cooking, phone-call with a trusted friend)
- A list of people and services to depend on for support if needed (e.g. Family, OTLR, Kids Helpline)
- Daily activities to help relaxation (e.g. art, walking the dog, having a morning coffee)
- Places to go to feel calm (e.g. a special spot in their backyard, local park for exercise)
- A list of things to be grateful for to remind ourselves that we are lucky in very many ways even if sometimes we forget them (e.g. good health, access to the Internet, and food)
This plan, although basic, can act as extra support for a young person, empowering them initially to manage their own stress. If they don’t find their personal strategies are effective in the moment, they can then contact their supports. I encourage a young person to complete a plan with a trusted family member to help open lines of communication about what they need while at home. In doing this, a carer may learn that their young person interacts socially with friends online when they game for one hour in the afternoon while a young person may learn their carer needs 30 minutes for a coffee and chat with a relative each morning to manage their own stress. It is helpful for this plan to be stuck up on their bedroom wall, or another location which is easily accessible.
In times like these, if the stay-at-home period is extended across Australia, or families choose to keep their young person away from school, self-care plans become increasingly important to manage stress and anxiety of a young person and their family.
Please remember, more than ever, be kind to yourself and others.
If you do find yourself struggling, just know that help is always available via the following links and numbers. Feel free to even add these as your supports on your self-care plan:
- In an emergency: 000
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
- Headspace: 1800 650 893
- MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
- Parentline: 1300 30 1300
- QLife: 1800 184 527 (LGBTQI+)
- 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732 (domestic violence)
Nathan is a fully qualified psychologist who has worked with adolescents in secondary schools for 5 years. He has strong interests in the use of social media and its impact on mental health, sport and performance psychology, and he enjoys encouraging healthy wellbeing strategies and technology to assist with mental health difficulties. If not in session, you can find him out running or rock-climbing somewhere in Melbourne trying to implement his own strategies to improve performance.