Teen Post-COVID Struggles: Adapting to “Normal” Life Again

While some may be thrilled with the anticipation of being able to shed the mask they’ve been required to wear for over a year, not all of us are looking forward to a restoration of normalcy.

For those who struggle with social anxiety, the mask has been more than just a way to offer protection from the spread of the virus. In fact, the mask has become a liberating accessory for those who have anxiety.

The social anxiety may be overwhelming for your teen who is returning to school and social situations without the requirement of wearing a mask.

How the mask has helped with social anxiety

When you struggle with social anxiety, you live with a persistent fear of being judged by the people you encounter. Your teen with social anxiety may spend countless hours being worried about the things they said. They may obsess over whether it was appropriate to have said those things, and of course, they will be concerned about what people think about what was said.

Constantly feeling judged or stared at can also be a concern.

The reality is that no one is likely giving anything a second thought, but anxiety is not based on logic.

Wearing a mask can help to relieve some of that social pressure. Not only does the mask create the physical barrier you expect it to, but it can also serve to create a psychological barrier. Your teen’s fabric mask can feel like a guard or possibly a shield that protects him against the stares and judgments of other people. A level of anonymity and being able to hide can be a benefit of wearing the mask.

Your teen with social anxiety can start to dread the day when everyone is freed to go outside and go to school without wearing a mask. He may feel decreased levels of anxiety and increased confidence when wearing the mask. The mask will render your expressions, identity, and physical features insignificant. This can dramatically remove the anxiety surrounding even everyday tasks and social obligations.

Underlying concerns of social anxiety

While it is certainly great that your teen feels more confident with his mask in place, this is a temporary fix to a chronic mental wellness concern. Masks can give him that psychological barrier he wants, but it does not help him with his anxiety.

One of the concerns with social anxiety is that it can be accompanied by feeling intense shame. You mustn’t make your teen feel more shame when you recommend getting help for anxiety.

Now is the right time for him to begin working on his social anxiety. The mask can be used as a temporary way to step outside of his comfort zone as he works through how his anxiety develops and presents.

What does his anxiety look like?

Here are some of the signs of a social anxiety disorder when confronted with uncomfortable situations:

  • Feeling nauseous or having other stomach troubles.
  • A rapid heart rate with no other apparent cause.
  • Blushing and sweating.
  • A blank mind, with no idea what to say.
  • Avoiding eye contact and speaking softly.
  • Fearing meeting new people.
  • Feeling uncomfortable even around known people.
  • Feeling constantly judged.
  • Avoiding going places where other people are.

Being isolated for over a year due to the pandemic could have potentially reinforced the social anxiety your teen already had. If his social anxiety and other mental wellness concerns are not addressed, they could potentially get worse. He may find it increasingly difficult to face other people and could withdraw more. The risk of developing depression and more severe anxiety is high.

Another concern is that your teen may have a form of health anxiety that has been made worse by living through a global pandemic. He may start to fear that being back at school, participating in sports, and being around other people will make him sick.

Steps to take to return to normalcy

Whether your teen likes it or not, steps are being taken to restore a sense of normalcy to all of our lives. This could result in increased anxiety as he faces returning to school.

There are some steps that you can take to help him get through this difficult phase:

  • Returning to school. Is homeschooling an option for your teen? If it is, you may want to consider this to help give him more time to work through his anxiety and stress about returning to school. If homeschool is not an option and a hybrid schedule isn’t available either, additional options will need to be considered. It is important that homeschooling not be a way to completely isolate himself from other people. The goal should be to return to school and normal social interactions within the school setting. Work with the school to determine the right return schedule for your teen, even if it starts with one class a week.
  • Stepping out of his comfort zone. While the mask can offer a measure of comfort and strength for your anxiety-infused teen, it can also be something keeping him from finding a solution to help with how his anxiety is controlling his life. This is an excellent opportunity to put the mask to good use. As he steps into new experiences outside of his comfort zone, the mask can give him some of the boldness that he’s otherwise been struggling to find. He can begin with going to grocery stores or meeting up with friends when it is safe to do so.
  • Therapeutic solutions. Exposure therapy and encouraging your teen to step outside of his comfort zone can prove helpful. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can also prove helpful for struggling teens. Individual therapy can help your teen learn more about the source and management of your anxiety. Family therapy can help the whole family learn more about how to best support your teen as he works through his anxiety.
  • Medication options. While not the solution for every person, some medications can help those struggling with social anxiety. Working closely with mental health professionals, you and your teen can find the right solution that works well for them.

Returning to normalcy is something that many of us will struggle with as we come out of this pandemic. For a teen that struggles with anxiety, it’s going to be even more of a struggle. Getting him the right help can make a world of difference.

Therapy can help your son develop healthy coping mechanisms and manage his anxiety, as can time in a residential treatment facility. Normalcy is on the horizon for us all, getting your teen help now can ensure he’s better mentally equipped to step out into the post-COVID world.

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