How to help teenagers with 'zoom fatigue' and pressures of pandemic

Posted at 7:01 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-19 20:01:20-05

MILWAUKEE — “Zoom Fatigue” is used to describe the exhaustion and frustration of daily video conferencing, which for many of us, has become our new normal.

It’s not only adults feeling it. With most schools doing virtual learning, and social interactions limited, it’s even more of a challenge for children and teenagers.

Right now, teens are processing a big lifestyle change, while still maturing and often navigating new family stress. The ability to really unplug is not easy.

Biak Hlawn’s path to the top of her senior class at Reagan High School is not typical. She and her family are refugees from Myanmar.

“In order to escape military oppression, we wanted to seek refuge and peace,” Hlawn said.

Hlawn carries a lot of responsibility for her family, especially now.

“I do the translating,” she said. “I do whatever I can to best help and assist them.”

The pandemic has affected her parents’ work, and she’s the only one who can help her younger brothers with their virtual classes every day. Then, there’s her own academic workload.

“Classes are online, work is online, everything is online,” she said. “It’s a mental and physical drain.”

Hlawn’s trying to be the first in her family to attend college. But navigating admission applications and scholarship opportunities without in-person support from school counselors and teachers, is nearly impossible.

“It’s hard to only email back and forth all the time,” she said. “And the lack of social interaction takes the biggest toll on my mental health. As stressful as school is, I’ve always used it as a getaway from the stress in other aspects of my life.”

Milwaukee psychotherapist Lakiesha Russell counsels teenagers.

“Our teens are experiencing grief and loss during this time - of their old life, and of the experiences, they are not able to have,” Russell said. “That increases depression. It’s hard to stay focused because we’re all in this zoom fatigue.”

Hlawn has started doing some yoga exercises before virtual school. Russell also recommends getting outside every day, even for just a few minutes.

“Taking a step back from the screen because our brains are working ten times harder than they would if we were doing things in person,” Russell said. “We're constantly trying to focus, scan, listen and pay attention. It’s too much.”

Writing thoughts and emotions in a journal can be helpful. So can being honest and sharing your feelings with someone you trust, which is new for Hlawn.

“Usually, how I handle all my pain and struggles is to get by, by myself, and hope for the best,” Hlawn said. “I know that doesn’t work right now, because we’re all feeling this together and trying to figure it out.”

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