The overwhelm from COVID-19 is real. And the thing about COVID-19 is it's not just one thing - it's everything. I wanted to share one of the techniques I have been using with my middle schoolers and teenagers during Tele-Play sessions to help them try to make sense of the impact of COVID-19 on when it is SO HARD as adults to wrap our heads around.
When I am doing a COVID-19 worry web, the session usually starts with a check in of how a young person's week is going. When I can hear the overwhelm and exhaustion I will usually stop and ask them if it’s okay if I chart out what I am noticing as they talk. I usually use a plain white sheet of paper and pen and get to work! I haven’t had anyone say no at this point, but I guess if they did I would pivot and on to the next activity that would make sense.
As they start talking we brainstorm all the things that might be leading to the feelings of overwhelm, confusion, stress, exhaustion, the changes that have been happening in their lives, and things that they took for granted that they would do anything for now. I have had SO many young people who really disliked school for one reason or another (social anxiety, bullying, learning difficulties) who are actually wanting to go back to the classroom. OR hated running errands with their parent - but now are craving to go to a store - any store - even the hardware store! How confusing is that for a young person?
Usually I start with a circle in the middle (like the picture above) with COVID-19 inside. The bigger categories I have found as young people are talking usually look something like this (but are definitely not limited to):
And from here – the sky is the limit. The picture above is just a tiny fraction of what someone might have on their COVID-19 worry web (don’t worry this web is not based on any specific client). The ripple effect is enormous. I have to social distance, so I can't go to school, and I can't see my friends, and I don't have their information so I have barely any social connections outside of my family. OR I have to social distance so I can't go to school, which means my softball season is cancelled, and I can't participate in my senior year of sports so I may never play softball again. So powerful. So much grief.
After we have exhausted all the possibilities and connections, which a lot of the time takes up most of the session, I then hold up the drawing for the young person to see. The final product looks like a less polished and put together version of the picture above, with scribbled words, smushed together bubbles, and frantic lines. Usually we sit with the feeling in our bodies of what it is like to look at this web. There is often first surprise or shock and then a settling into understanding. Understanding of why they might be so overwhelmed, angry, want to cry, or just want to sleep all the time. It's a moment where they can reflect - "Oh I guess I do understand why I am feeling this way - it all makes sense now."
We then process that sometimes with a big worry web like this we can feel stuck in the web, much like a spider web, and we can talk about what it feels like that every move we make or want to make is connected to this web in some way. It’s so important to sit with the feeling of stuckness and honor it.
Then – on to solutions! How the heck are we going to get unstuck? And this my friends, is usually a whole other session. Perhaps some reflective homework? Most definitely!
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC,