Teaching Teens Self-Compassion During Big Changes Amidst COVID-19

Date Published: 03/23/2020

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The COVID-19 epidemic can be particularly tough for teenagers. With schools closed, spring sports canceled, and beloved activities on hold, teenagers—who are already navigating a world of physical and mental changes—may feel more anxiety than ever.

Karen Bluth, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and faculty fellow at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, is author of The Self-Compassion Workbook for Teens: Mindfulness and Compassion Skills to Overcome Self-Criticism and Embrace Who You Are.

Bluth offers these simple self-compassion tips for teens coping with uncertainty as the world navigates COVID-19:

Meditate on music

Play a piece of instrumental music that feels relaxing. Get comfortable—stretch out on your bed or a couch, and closely pay attention to each note of the music. When your mind wanders, which it will, bring your attention back to each note until the song is finished.

Enjoy the outdoorsTeenage girl sitting outside

Go for a walk, engaging your senses as you identify the objects that make you smile. Notice the look, feel, smells, and sounds of the object. Spend time acknowledging those senses, and then take a picture. Start an album of these happy pictures and refer to them when you need a lift.

Sketch it out

Try 'mindful doodling.' As you draw, notice the sensation of the pen in your hand and as it drags across the paper, the weight of the lines or curves in your doodles. If you're disappointed in your work, acknowledge it, but let it go without judgement, as 'thoughts are not necessarily facts.' Bring your thoughts back to the sensation of drawing.

Show your support

We give hugs or wrap arms around friends, and we pet our cats and dogs, but we don't do this for ourselves. Place a hand over your heart or on your cheek, cradle your face in your hands, gently 'hug' yourself or stroke your arm with your hand. Supportive touch releases oxytocin—your body's feel-good hormone—to help you feel better.

Take it easy

This is a hard time for everyone. When you hear a judgmental inner voice saying 'You should be getting more done! You’re such a slacker!' respond with your other inner voice—your kinder one. Think of what you might say to a good friend who is struggling and try saying those same compassionate, supportive things to yourself.

Download a shareable and printable tip sheet in English

Download a shareable and printable tip sheet in Spanish

Learn more about the Frank Porter Graham Program on Mindfulness & Self-Compassion for Families