for better mental health

Managing your feelings about changes to lockdown – for young people

Information for young people who are struggling with their feelings about lockdown changing, and want to know how to cope and adjust.

This page is also available in Welsh (Cymraeg).

Managing your feelings about changes to lockdown

Lockdown has been hard for lots of people. And even though the rules are starting to change, there’s still a lot we can’t do, that we’re missing out on, and that we’re still worried about.

Lots of change and uncertainty can feel really stressful.

We’re here to help you understand your feelings, and give you some positive ways to cope.

This page covers:

To find out what the rules are right now, see the UK Government’s page if you live in England, or the Welsh Government's page if you live in Wales.

"Rules aren’t clear and are constantly changing and I’m scared I won’t adjust quick enough."

Changes to lockdown

When we were in full lockdown, the rules were the same for everyone, and what we each went through may have felt quite similar. We stayed at home, and we did all our socialising online. 

Now the rules are less clear, and apply to everyone differently. We've also seen some areas of England and Wales go back into lockdown. All this change can feel really hard to deal with. 

Recognising that the process of going ‘back to normal’ will rise and fall like a wave is a good step, and will help you to cope during this time. 

"I’m a very creative person and I'm finding it hard to release this creative energy, it makes me feel a bit crazy."

Do I need to wear a mask?

To help stop the spread of coronavirus, we’re now being asked to wear face masks or coverings in some public places, like on public transport.

The rules on where and when you need to wear a mask are slightly different in England and Wales. For example, in some areas of England, you might need to wear a mask in school. You can find out the rules for England here, and the rules for Wales here. 

Anyone over 11 years old should wear a mask, unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to, like: 

  • if you're not able to put on, wear or take off a mask, because of an illness or disability 
  • if you need to eat, drink or take medicine
  • if putting on, wearing or taking off a face mask will cause you a lot of anxiety or distress (this only applies in England).

If you think any of these reasonable excuses apply to you, speak to a family member or your doctor and they can support you to explore different options.

Remember that it’s important to be kind to yourself, and also to other people. Try not to judge anyone who isn’t wearing a mask, and focus on what you can do to keep yourself safe and well.

What might I be feeling about lockdown changing?

Everyone will be feeling different about lockdown changing.

You may feel excited or hopeful when you hear about the rules changing where you live, or you may feel worried or angry. You may not know how you feel, or feel a mixture of emotions.

For example:

You may have felt safer from the virus during full lockdown, and now feel afraid that the changes could cause a rise in infections, or that lockdown could be tightened again.

Or you may have enjoyed schools being closed and now feel worried about returning. This could be because you’ve felt less anxious during lockdown, or that lockdown made you feel safer from bullying. Maybe you’re feeling relaxed after a break from studying and are now worried about the pressure of returning to your studies.

You may have also felt closer to your family, neighbours or local community during lockdown, or had better housing during this time, and don’t want this to end.

You may be feeling sad because you’re missing your friends, girlfriend, boyfriend or family, and still don’t know when you’ll be able to do normal things together. 

Or because you’re missing important milestones, like 18th birthday celebrations, and don’t know if they’ll be rearranged.

Maybe you’re feeling low because you’re missing out on everyday things like parties and sport, or exciting plans like travelling or work experience. Or feel sad that when you're back in school, college, university, or work, you won't get to do much fun stuff anyway.

You may also feel low or lacking in purpose because you're waiting to go back to school or work.

You may be feeling worn down if you’re not getting on with your family or the people you live with, and want to have a break from them.

Or you may have been hiding parts of your identity from them, like your sexuality or faith, and want to be yourself again.

You may feel that other people have more freedom than you, if your household is shielding or you live somewhere with tighter restrictions. Or you may feel that other people aren’t following social distancing rules, especially now the rules are changing. 

Perhaps you’re feeling pressure from friends to meet up and feel confused about what’s allowed. Or you may be trying to meet friends while social distancing and finding there’s not much to do, or they’re not sticking to the rules.

You may be scared or upset because someone you care about has to go back to work where they feel unsafe. Or you may feel worried about going back to school or college yourself. For example, you may feel that it will be difficult to socially distance, or that other people won’t follow the rules.

You may have existing difficulties around coping with germs or hygiene, which coronavirus and social distancing is making worse.

Perhaps you’re worried about how coronavirus will affect your education, career or other parts of your future. For example, you might be worried that college or university won’t be what you hoped for, or that you’re going to miss out on things.

Or you may be feeling anxious about finding your relationships have changed during lockdown, like with your friends, girlfriend or boyfriend.

"I’m worried that my anxiety and worries about germs will get worse once I go to college."

You may be feeling annoyed because the government guidance for young people isn’t clear. Or feeling powerless, like you don’t have a say in what’s going on.

You may be feeling cheated because you haven’t been able to sit important exams and determine your own grades, or feel like you’ve missed out on important time with teachers.  

Maybe your mental health support has had to change during lockdown. Or you’re frustrated because lockdown has caused you to take steps back in your recovery.

Or your family might be going through difficult money issues, and you may feel pressure to provide support, or fear that you’ll lose your independence.

You may have gone through something very stressful, frightening or upsetting during lockdown. For example, if you’ve had to stay somewhere that wasn’t a safe place for you.

Or you may be recovering from coronavirus or helping a family member to get better. Or someone you love may have died during this time, and you’re afraid to lose anyone else.

These are only a few examples of what you may be feeling right now. You may be experiencing several of these feelings, or be going through something completely different.

If you’re still struggling to understand how you’re feeling, you can visit our page on understanding my feelings.

What are positive and negative coping strategies?

Coping is our ability to respond to, and deal with, unpleasant, difficult or stressful situations. Our ability to cope with things can vary – we can cope well one day, and poorly the next.

Coping strategies are things we choose to do in unpleasant situations, to manage our emotions and help us get through them, or to lessen how it will affect us. There are both positive and negative coping strategies.

Positive coping strategies are healthy ways of coping that are good for our wellbeing in the long term. You can find some ideas and examples of positive coping strategies in the tips for coping and adjusting section below.

Negative coping strategies are unhealthy ways of coping that can harm our wellbeing or cause other problems. They may feel impulsive or urge-driven. We also may not realise at the time that we’re using negative strategies to escape from something.

The negative coping strategies young people have told us they’re using during the coronavirus pandemic include:

  • Eating too much, or not enough
  • Drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs
  • Legal highs
  • Smoking cigarettes or vaping
  • Self-harming.

To get support from organisations who can help, go to our coronavirus useful contacts page for young people.

Stay safe

  • If you're feeling overwhelmed, or like you want to hurt yourself, you can ring HOPELINEUK or text YoungMind's Crisis Messenger service and a counsellor will talk things through with you. 
  • If you feel like you may attempt suicide, or you have seriously hurt yourself, it’s an emergency. You or a trusted adult should call 999 and ask for an ambulance, even during the coronavirus outbreak.

Mental health emergencies are serious. You are not wasting anyone's time.

What could help me cope and adjust?

You may be facing lots of challenges now lockdown rules are changing, and some of the feelings you’re having may be hard to cope with.

While things remain uncertain, we can focus on what we can control and take positive steps to look after our wellbeing.

We asked young people to tell us what they’ve been doing to help themselves cope during the pandemic. You might find it useful to try some of the positive coping strategies they suggested.

Here are some ideas:

There are things you can do to help you understand and accept how you’re feeling, like:

  • Use an emotions wheel to help name feelings that are hard to pinpoint.
  • Expect to feel weird about re-joining the outside world. If you have a choice, try to re-enter slowly, especially if you’ve been self-isolating.
  • Talk to someone you trust about what ‘normal’ looks like for you right now, to help you accept what is happening. This could be a parent or carer, a friend, or a helpline such as Childline.
  • Write, draw, run, or do something else that will give you space to feel everything you’re currently feeling. Even the really unhappy, angry stuff.
  • Recognise and challenge unkind or unhelpful thoughts. Try to do this by talking to yourself as you would to a good friend. You could ask yourself: ‘How might someone else see this?’, ‘Is there anything that suggests this might not happen?’, or ‘What would I say to a friend who was thinking this?’ Answering these questions may help you to think more rationally and calmly.
  • Visit our page on understanding my feelings if you’re still struggling to understand how you’re feeling.

"Take time to reflect... be honest with how you think you’re managing lockdown, what strategies have worked for you in the past and how could you adapt them."

Spending time with friends and family, whether in person or not, can help us feel better and boost our wellbeing. You could:

  • Invest time in the relationships you want to grow and build – those which you rely on for support as well as fun.
  • Share how you feel with someone you trust – this can help strengthen your friendship as well as giving you both a chance to support each other.
  • Wear a mask in a design that you like, or design your own, to help you feel more comfortable when you meet your friends.
  • Choose an activity that you can play outside whilst distancing, like football, catch, or cycling. This could help you feel connected while been physically spaced out, so that social distancing doesn’t feel as weird.
  • Connect with others who understand – for example, you could try The Mix's community message boards.

"Find other people your age you can talk to. It really helps because we’re going through the same thing."

When things get tough, there are quick things you can try to reduce worry and panic, like:

  • A ‘grounding’ activity to stop your thoughts spinning out of control. Sit back and focus on what’s going on around you. Try and name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
  • Find a distraction that takes your mind off things, like going for a walk, listening to happy music or talking to someone. These can help you when you notice you’re worrying about the past or future.
  • Find a mindfulness activity to help you stay in the moment. You could try this breathing exercise – breathe in through your nose for four counts, hold it for two counts, and breathe out through your mouth for seven counts. If you repeat this, it can slow your breath and help keep you calm.
  • Ask for support from someone you trust, whether it’s a friend, family member, or helpline like Childline or The Mix.
  • Find more information on anxiety and tips on how to cope on YoungMinds website.

"Keep yourself busy, doing things you love and things that makes you proud of yourself for finishing."

Taking small steps to recognise what’s in your control right now, and what you can do to plan ahead, can help you feel more settled:

  • Make a timetable of your day or week, making sure you include fun or relaxing activities. This can help you plan ahead, and feel in more control of your near future, especially until you go back to school.
  • Write down your worries before bed and go over them in the morning. This can help you work out what no longer needs your attention, what things you can do to make yourself feel better, and what is out of your control.
  • Be involved in making decisions about how you’re keeping safe, like asking to choose the hand soap or shower gel you use, or picking your own face mask.

"I’ve now made my own routine to prepare for 6th form college and have become more independent. I’ve realised I’m more capable of making my own decisions without pressure from my school."

Looking after your physical wellbeing can have a big impact on your mental health, too.

There are simple things you can try to look after your physical health, like:

  • Have a good bedtime and sleep routine. For example, have time away from a screen before you go to bed and limit the amount of caffeine you drink.
  • Eat healthily and stay active – this will look after both your body and mind and help your thoughts to become clearer.
  • Make sure you still follow guidance from the government and NHS on washing your hands, wearing a mask and social distancing.
  • Be kind to yourself if you forget to do something, or you make a mistake. This is new for everyone and all we can do is try our best.

"Take care of your basic needs - try to eat and drink regularly, brush teeth, have a shower."

"I'm going to be starting college and I haven’t been to school or really away from my house since October (because I left school due to anxiety)… it’s probably going to be very difficult."

How can I cope with changes to school, college or my job?

We know you might be feeling lots of mixed emotions about going back to school or college. Or you might be trying to cope with changes to your job.

Here's some information which might help:

For GCSE and A-level exams, and other qualifications like BTECs, you'll be able to accept either your calculated grades, or the grades your teachers predicted for you – whichever are higher  

The government wants you to be able to move on to whatever you want the next stage of your life to be in autumn, whether that's further education, apprenticeships, or higher education. This means they'll be supporting you to do this as much as they can, by changing some of the normal rules. 

It’s not yet clear how universities will cope with the change in grades now they’ve already started accepting offers, but we’ll update this information when we know more.  

We know this is a difficult and stressful time for lots of young people. If you're struggling with your feelings and need to talk, you can text ‘Shout’ to 85258.

"One thing to remind ourselves is that what's happening is beyond our control right now."

Secondary schools, sixth forms and colleges are back open from September to all pupils. But you may notice some changes when you arrive. 

There may be new ways of getting around campus, smaller class sizes, and more checkpoints to use hand sanitiser or wash your hands. You may also be asked to wear a mask in areas where there's lots of students. Your teachers will be able to explain more to you. 

If you’re nervous or worried about going backyou can talk to your parent or carer, or a teacher, about how you’re feeling.

You can also try to prepare as much as you can before you go back, like planning in some fun or relaxing activities to look forward to. It’s important to be kind to yourself.

You should have been contacted to talk about ways you can get support now your school or college is opening again.

If you haven't, talk to your parent or carer first if you feel able to. Otherwise, contact your School Counsellor or Chaplain.

If youve been caring for someone during the pandemic, going back to school or college may feel like a stressful or scary time.

You might be worried about keeping up with your studies while you’re still a carer, or about how to keep the person you're caring for safe if they're shielding. 

The best thing you can do is talk to your teachers and let them know what's going on for you. You can then work out with them how they can best support you.

You could look up virtual tours or pictures of your future school, college or university online, if you’re moving to somewhere new.

This will help you know what to expect so you can start feeling excited.

You may see a break from work as a good chance to relax and take up a hobby or some training, but it may also cause you worries around money, security and the future. 

You may find you have less structure to your day, less motivation to do anything, or feel more lonely without the people you work with. Or you may have new responsibilities that are taking up lots of your time instead.

To look after yourself during this time, you could:

  • Set up a new routine, so you can rely on doing something at set times.
  • Keep in contact with your friends from work, sending them a message or arranging a socially-distanced meet-up.
  • Think about a goal you could set yourself, such as learning something new or setting up an online movie night with others. 
  • Create a budget, if you’re worried about money and you have bills to pay.
  • Ask your employer for wellbeing check-ins if you're on furlough. So you can talk about how you’re doing, and stay involved in team catch-ups and updates.

If you’ve lost your job, Citizen’s Advice has information to support you here.

How can I support a friend or family member?

If someone you care about is going through a tough time, it’s natural to want to support them. But with everything going on, you may feel like you don’t know how to help.

Here are some tips on supporting someone from a distance:

  • Remember that everyone is experiencing something different right now – what might be easy for one person may be really hard for someone else.
  • If you feel able to, ask them what you could do to help.
  • Offer them a time to talk if you think they need to hear a friendly voice.
  • Keep in contact. If they’re not up to chatting, let them know that’s okay, but try to stay in touch in different ways. For example, you could share a drawing or some art with them, or post or email them things that will make them smile.
  • Say thank you to them on social media through our #SpeakYourMind challenge on TikTok, and say why you appreciate them.

"Reminding them you’re there if they need you and properly listening when they choose to open up, while continuing with your normal lives, is the best balance possible."

Where can I find further support?

While lockdown changes, you may find you need more support, or want to connect with people who you identify with.

For a list of organisations who can help, visit our coronavirus useful contacts page.

"The important thing is remembering that you can’t control the situation, but you can control how you react to it and how you choose to think about it."

This information was last updated on 28 August 2020. 

  • The content reflects the best advice we have at this time. We will update it as necessary, particularly if there are changes to public health guidance.
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