Marissa Esquibel, LMFT

Where were you mid-March 2020 when you got the alert that your college campus was closing? Or maybe that your office was going virtual? Or came to realize that you would be cozying up with your mom and dad for the next few weeks (or months) as a 20-something working from home?

Now that it has been about 4 months since that initial jolt, a lot has changed: my college-aged clients have returned home, I have powered up my ring light, and our work has continued via telehealth.

What’s gone down the past few months has made a significant impact on Gen-Zers (or zoomers?) mental health. In sessions with my clients, I have noticed certain coping strategies that have helped them deal with these extraordinary circumstances. This blog is my effort to share them with readers, normalize what you are going through, and provide you with some strategies to weather this unprecedented storm.

You’re going through the Stages of Grief

Whether you have lost a loved one to COVID-19, lost your job, or have been saddened by the death of George Floyd and police brutality—we are all dealing with grief.

The six stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Sadness, Acceptance, and Meaning. These have been seen when we heard others say “This is being blown way out of proportion. I don’t need to wear a mask,” (denial), in the increased arguments 20-somethings are having at home with their parents (anger), our attempts to bend the rules by going out with friends “but I won’t touch them or anything” (bargaining,) and feeling lonely or missing our daily get-togethers with friends (sadness).

20-somethings are not only having to grieve what was, but also having to let go of what could have been: those graduation plans, summer trip to Italy, and the Bucket List you had #goals to complete in 2020.

The six stages are fluid and we tend to jump up-down-and-all-around between the initial four on our way towards Acceptance and Meaning. The kicker is we cannot really get to Acceptance since this whole situation is still unfolding. However, we can work on accepting things as they are now and come out of this experience feeling more grounded. Once the dust has settled, we will be tasked with making meaning of all this: do we want it to mean isolation or solitude? Socially distanced or spiritually connected? A time to point fingers or to reflect?

Coping Strategies:

  1. Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. This will trigger your parasympathetic nervous system (the one that helps you relax) and will communicate to your muscles and organs that “Everything is going to be okay.”
  2. Create a routine. You had one before and you can make one now. 20-somethings have been complaining or poor sleep routines, not working out since gyms are closed, etc. We have to adapt to a quarantine schedule: maintain a class or work schedule, bedtime and morning routines, make time to exercise, and select meal times. You can find workouts on Youtube and explore Yoga, Zumba, HIIT, etc. Nelson Mandela maintained his shape even when he was imprisoned in an 8 x 7 foot cell! #belikeNelsonMandela.
  3. Boundaries. If your family is driving you nuts, create a boundary. Tell them, “I’ll be “at work” or in class all morning so please don’t knock if my door is closed.” If your phone is blowing up, set a timer for 30-60 minutes and tuck it away in order to focus. Also, if you find yourself in close quarters, the bathroom is ideal for escape. You can pretend your taking a long #2 or turn the shower on and give yourself some time to re-center.
  4. Connect with your friends via virtual coffees, teas, and/or happy hours! Call them, FaceTime, or start a Houseparty. This will trick your brain into thinking you are getting the social connection it craves and release all the positive endorphins we get when we interact with friends. You can also vent about feeling like you are in high school again.
  5. Grieve. Write a eulogy, light a candle, say a little prayer to “let go” of whatever it is that you lost. You can write a eulogy for anything—not just funerals. Start it out by writing “Here lies all my [insert whatever you are grieving]” and keep writing. For example “Here lies all my hopes and dreams for my Spring semester…It had such promise…It will be missed…”
  6. Talk to a therapist! Most therapists, including myself, are offering telehealth sessions where you can meet on Zoom and other video-conferencing platforms. Get the mental health care you need in the safety of your home.

This too shall pass, dear reader. Be kind to yourself. Take care of your emotional health.