1. Media Distancing
“Don’t believe everything you read! Don’t react to everything on your feed!”
Every media organization thrives when their audience engages or views their content. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is to arouse powerful emotions in their viewers. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, we have seen a dramatic rise in sensationalist news media, often lacking quality or nuance. Social media has increasingly become a polarizing battleground over controversial topics. Much of news & social media content can in fact be harmful to mental health, and may generate increased anxiety. Some students may not be able to put what they are seeing or hearing into context or may themselves get into conflict situation on social media. Educators are not immune to the effects of the media, and students are quick to pick up on anxiety and stress that teachers may be experiencing. It would be useful to critically assess how we use media, and whether we need to change our own patterns of media engagement. As much as physical distancing may be helpful to our bodies health, media distancing may help maintain our mental health
Sometimes, when news arises that is important to discuss, media distancing is not the solution. In those cases, our Brain Bite – How to talk to Students about Scary News and Difficult Topics – can help you strategize the best way to approach the topic with your students.
2. Coping but not eliminating anxiety
“Can I cope with the anxiety I have?”
Anxiety is a feeling that helps people prepare for an upcoming situation, or to be cautious around an activity that could be risky. Experiencing a manageable amount of anxiety that helps us to avoid harm can be adaptive and helpful. However, when anxiety levels become overwhelming and constant, people can find themselves unable to study, work, or rest. We can help students with their anxiety by focusing on developing skills to better cope with anxiety, and helping students to reduce their anxiety to more manageable levels. We should help students appreciate that it is unrealistic to think we can completely eliminate anxiety. Students should be able to identify situations where their anxiety levels are the highest, and also have a list of activities that they can try to help them to better cope.
Students appreciate it when educators:
- Validate what they are feeling:
- “A lot of students are worried, do you feel worried? Are there things that really worry you, or make you anxious?”
- Help them explore coping skills:
- “Some students say music and exercise help with anxiety, are there things that you do that help you?”
- “We are going to teach breathing exercises to a group of students, would you like to try it out?”
- “What kind of things do you do at home to relax or chill out? Can we find a regular time during the day where we can try that together?”
- Engage groups or the class in a discussion, and avoid making a student feel singled out or shamed. The reality is that many students are struggling with anxiety. You can even reveal what kind of things can make you or other teachers anxious, and how you cope.
- Help them to see that there is no “wrong” answer to talking about anxiety. This can help foster a positive conversation.
3. Emotional Checks
“How am I feeling? What can I do to feel less worried?”
- Lack the vocabulary to describe their emotio1ns
- Be unaware of the intensity of their feelings
- Display their emotions through other behaviors such as sleeplessness
- Be shy or feel shamed when trying to discuss their anxiety
When and where you check in with students can make emotional checks predictable and potentially a source of support. Teachers can check in with students around emotion checks at a particular:
- Time of the day: start of the day, or after lunch
- Activity: after a particular assignment or class
- Event: after a particular event has affected the class or school
Educators can always ask students “How are you feeling?”. However, some students will respond better to the use of emotion thermometers, or visual anxiety scales. Educators could also consider encouraging students to ask about the emotions or feelings of others around them, and model effective ways of supporting their peers.
Asking about emotions can always be followed up by asking about how a student copes – “What do you do to make the worry go away?” – or how a student could try to cope in the future – “What else could you do when you get angry?”. Sometimes having a visual or written list of ways a student can cope with intense emotions is helpful to them as a reminder.
4. Creating Structure and Routine
“I know that this week has been tough for the class, but remember we have our regular art class this afternoon and on Friday”
One of the greatest effects of the pandemic is the turmoil that it brought to people’s daily routines. Children and adolescents benefit immensely from having structure in their daily lives. Knowing what can give students a degree of reliable certainty, especially when so many other aspects of their lives can seem to fluctuate on a daily basis, is a crucial step. This is especially important in adolescence, during which dramatic hormonal and emotional changes can combine with a lack of daily structure to expose students to risky activities such as using drugs or alcohol.
Teachers can incorporate fun activities or study breaks at particular times of the day, and they can also provide students with a clear schedule of what the day or week ahead will look like. These actions will help students to retain some sense of normality.