COVID-19: Youth & Teens Dealing with Change and Uncertainty

young girl on phone unhappy

It’s the Summer of COVID.


This year, youths and teens across Ottawa are experiencing a summer like no other.


The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced most Canadians to stay home and practice “social distancing” for several months.


For youth, that means a significant part of their lives has been uprooted or even taken away. The remainder of the school year in Ottawa and across Ontario has been cancelled. Friends haven’t been able to see other friends. Sports, recreational and social activities have been curtailed.


As we slowly restart our lives, what is this “new normal” that people are talking about? What will life in the continued COVID era (we’re not in post-COVID yet) look like?


In the era of COVID-19, there’s only one thing we know for certain: Our futures are filled with more uncertainty than they have been in a long time.


This uncertainty and high degree of rapid change are the bases for much anxiety, worry and frustration among adults, teens and youth. In this article we’ll explore what effects change and uncertainty have on mental health, and what can be done to make it better.


How COVID-19 Has Changed Life for Youth


teen boy worries about uncertain futureLife’s plans were suddenly halted or drastically altered for millions of youth across the world.


In Ottawa, that has meant a sudden and early end to the school year.


It’s meant friendships carrying on by phone, text or FaceTime instead of in person.


For many kids and teens, the slowdown, lockdown or quarantine has meant being cooped up at home, stuck with their families. This has been especially frustrating for parents and teens alike, suddenly spending much more time (forced) together than ever before. While some quality time is a lovely thing, nobody wanted this much, this soon.


Usually when we get to the point where families have been cooped up together all winter long, at least there’s the summer to look forward to.


Summer in Ottawa with COVID-19 Not Gone Yet


girl ponders futureBut now, the summer looks a lot different.


What we know at the time of this article being published is that this summer is going to look and feel like no other. The usual summer activities, such as camp or athletics, have either been cancelled or significantly (in some cases drastically) changed.


We’re now able to spend more time outside, out and about seeing friends, but we still have to maintain physical distancing.


Also, what does the future hold in store? While it’s true that the answer to this question in general can always be “nobody knows,” the uncertainty about COVID-19 returning in a “second wave” later this year has many wondering whether we’ll have to go through some, much or all of this upheaval once again.


Even for adults who have witnessed periods of change, uncertainty and economic downturn over the years, it’s never a good feeling. For teens and youth in Ottawa, the uncertainty can produce (and most definitely is producing) feelings of unease, worry and anxiety.


BLM & Protests Against Racism in the US & Canada


Speaking of upheaval, another big change going on in society right now is the racial violence we’ve seen in the news, along with the resulting worldwide outrage and protests.


What does this mean for teens and youth in Ottawa?


For starters, while it’s a positive development that we’re becoming more socially aware, the reality of seeing bloodshed and violence – even if most of that is happening south of the border – can be hard to digest.


The protests and societal upheaval are also another indicator of major change.


Take the change and uncertainty of COVID and combine that with the change brought about by these protests and societal movements, and it may all seem overwhelming – for adults and youth alike.


The Human Tendency to Fear Change (vs. the Need to Embrace It)


teen boy in therapy sessionWith all this change coming about in such a short period of time, you may have had someone (probably an adult, maybe a parent or a teacher) tell you to “embrace change.”


“Lean into it,” some will say.


“Change is inevitable,” others will try to convince you.


They’re… not wrong.


That is to say, for the people who say these things, their intentions are good. They’re trying to help.


What they are either forgetting or ignoring, however, are the basic fundamentals of human nature.


Our tendency is to fear change, avoid change, and/or outright reject change.


Why is that?


Well, change represents the unknown. Unless we are dealing with controlled situations where we are largely in charge of the changes taking place – and even then, there is some natural adjustment period to be expected – the way we respond to change is dictated by our fear of the unknown.


teen girl in therapy sessionSubconsciously, our minds start asking questions.


  • What will happen with this change?
  • How will my life be different?
  • Will I have the same level of enjoyment, pleasure, contentment or satisfaction as I do now?
  • Will I be worse off when the changes take place?
  • Why do I have to leave my comfort zone?

Along with change, human beings tend to react very negatively to uncertainty.


Author Tim Ferris points out that “People would rather be unhappy than uncertain.”


That’s a powerful statement. Controversial? Maybe.


But is it that hard to believe?


Uncertainty is logged in our brains as discomfort.


Having things looming over us tends to feel worse for most people, believe it or not, than being in a negative but stable situation.


COVID-19 is largely a negative change


The coronavirus pandemic represents a major departure from our previous way of life, sacrificing many of the things with which we were comfortable and contented.


young girl in therapy sessionIt also means the possibility of ourselves or a loved one getting infected, becoming ill or even dying.


While the contrarians tell us to look for the bright spots in this kind of upheaval, that’s a difficult task for most people.


The uncertainty of our futures brings on a lot of questions for youth and teens in Ottawa:


  • What will my summer be like?
  • Can I spend time with my friends again?
  • Will school start in the fall and be like it used to?
  • Will COVID-19 return for a “second wave”?
  • Will we have to do this all over again?
  • What will my future look like? (education, career, etc.)
  • Will my mom/dad who got laid off find another job?

These questions of change and uncertainty are all very real, and any one of them – not to mention the combination of ALL of them – would be enough to cause worry, frustration, discomfort and/or anxiety in anyone (young or old).


How to Deal with Change & Uncertainty


The response to change and uncertainty varies from person to person.


There are people out there – you may know one, you may be jealous of her or him (we certainly are!) – who just seem to have a natural tendency to deal with change in a more effective way.


Maybe they do, or maybe they don’t. Outward appearances can be deceiving.


But let’s say for argument’s sake that some people actually can cope with change and uncertainty more effectively than others – be it through their “nature” / “personality” or through a concerted effort (a debate best left for a whole different conversation).


No matter what others are doing, you can only change how you react to something.


That’s true in general, by the way. But it’s especially applicable for the strategies and tools we need to deal with challenges that life can and does throw our way.

Going it Alone: Dealing with Change & Uncertainty on One’s Own


shutterstock_1397487092Your first option is to deal with change on your own.


Well, some might say that your first option is to ignore the problem, just “push through it’ and you’ll be fine.


But that strategy rarely if ever pays off.


Realistically, the problem is still there whether you address it or ignore it (the latter often makes the problem worse).


There is a wealth of information out there concerning change & uncertainty, along with suggestions, recommendations and “advice” on how to deal with it.


There is, in fact, an entire industry built on this: Self-Help (but again, a topic best left for another time).


You might find books, articles, podcasts and/or other media that “speak to you” and help you get through these challenging times.


You might also find yourself asking more questions:


  • Where do I start?
  • How do I sort through it all?
  • How do I know what’s “right” & “wrong” – and whom to believe or follow?

If you’re asking these or other questions, and you still have doubts or concerns about how to get through this challenging time of change and uncertainty, there is another way. A proven way.


How Ottawa Youth Counselling Can Help with Change & Uncertainty


Talking with someone – a counsellor, psychologist or registered social worker – is a highly effective way of working through the issues brought about by periods of change and uncertainty.


Whether you’ve never experienced emotional/mental health issues before, or you have and now it’s being compounded by the change and uncertainty of COVID and more, seeing a counsellor can help you sort through the issues and figure out ways of getting through and moving forward.


Nobody can wave a magic wand and make it better, unfortunately. And that’s not what therapy or counselling are about.


Youth counselling can, however, help put life into perspective. It can give you a restored sense of confidence and self-esteem. And it can help prepare you with proven methodscustomized to your personality, situation and goals – to approach life in ways that are positive, productive and constructive.


To get started on Ottawa youth counselling, contact us today.


We now offer e-counselling, with sessions by video, phone and other means.


Don’t let change and uncertainty hold you back. Take the first step towards living your best life.